Preactor Provides the Right Scheduling Chemistry for Whatman International

18 Dec Preactor Provides the Right Scheduling Chemistry for Whatman International

Whatman International is a global leader in separations technology. It is recognised throughout the scientific community for providing innovative products and solutions, many paper-based. Indeed, for over 250 years the Whatman name has been synonymous with the finest quality paper. It has been a brand preferred by heads of state, artists and other luminaries almost since founder James Whatman first began production in Maidstone, Kent in 1740. Napoleon wrote his will on the company’s paper in 1821, Queen Victoria chose Whatman paper for her personal correspondence, and the peace treaty with Japan was signed on Whatman paper at the close of World War Two. Still based in Maidstone, Whatman International now also operates from a number of locations throughout the world.

Its product range has also diversified over the years, a key example of which is the company’s world renowned filter paper. In 1944 Whatman No.1 filter paper was a key medium in the pioneering experiments undertaken by research scientists Consden, Gordon, and Martin. Their work in chromatography, coupled with the parallel work that earned Martin and Synge a Nobel Prize, resulted in the scientific breakthrough that enabled hospital pathologists, forensic scientists and biochemists to put separate chemical compounds into individual components for analysis.

In addition, with the recent development of FTA technology for the paper archiving of biological samples for DNA analysis, Whatman International is now highly active in supplying FTA paper to researchers and scientists in laboratories throughout the world. With a growth in production demand coupled with an ever greater diversity of product lines, Whatman International’s production scheduling requirements had become increasingly exacting and complex.  To ensure an effective and reliable production scheduling IT infrastructure was put in place, the company contacted Preactor International.

Before officially retiring in late 2005, Production Planning Manager John Mayger had been Whatman International’s longest serving member of staff, beginning work at the company’s Maidstone mills at age 15. Just post his retirement, Mayger found time to speak about the production planning constraints suffered by Whatman prior to sourcing Preactor: “We had relied on a very basic planning software tool from the mid ’90s up to 2001.

The system’s functionality was rather limited, so we had to feed it our works order information manually. It was little better than writing everything on cards, a method we had used previously.” Mayger added that the planning software did little in terms of helping the company to determine the work-in-progress status of particular jobs among its paper making machines.

“As you can imagine, this became highly frustrating when we were particularly busy juggling various jobs around between paper machines. We would often find ourselves trying to schedule two jobs on the same machine around the same time. Also, if we altered a schedule we would have to remember to change the production slot for just about every other job. This was largely a mental process, with a lack of active support from our planning software.”

Mayger also explained that Whatman sometimes found itself agreeing to customer delivery dates that couldn’t be kept. “As a new job came in we were often less than sure about when we could start work on it because of a lack of general scheduling visibility. We realised that a new planning and scheduling software system was long overdue.” Back in 1998, Whatman went live with QAD’s MFG Pro ERP software solution.

“This improved things a lot in terms of greater visibility of our bill-of-materials requirements,” explained Ian Pestell, Whatman’s Manufacturing Support Manager. “However we knew that we still needed a Finite Capacity Scheduling (FCS) software solution to manage demand and capacity in our paper mill.”

The IT partner that had supplied Whatman with MFG Pro recommended Preactor as its preferred scheduling software supplier. “This is how it all began with Preactor,” said Pestell. “Our MFG Pro supplier built the interface for us to link the ERP system to Preactor. We then proceeded to implement two Preactor 300 FCS software solutions, one for our paper production scheduling operation and the other for our paper slitting scheduling requirements.

The implementation process began in 2000. In total this lasted around six months. “When the Preactor 300 systems were linked to MFG Pro we finally had a seamless production software system in place, ready to help us with our production routine from materials requirements planning to production capacity scheduling. We now use Preactor to determine the optimal scheduling route for a number of jobs within a certain timeframe before passing a print out of the information to our manufacturing and slitting mills. All concerned have found the coloured Gantt chart format of the Preactor graphical interface very easy to follow.”

As soon as the Preactor systems went live the benefits were immediately apparent, according to Mayger: “For example, Preactor helped us to schedule production of grades of paper in the most time-efficient manner. It had always been our wish to be able to schedule the purer grades for production first wherever possible within the lead times promised to the customer. This allows us to ensure the paper making machines are as spotless as possible for the purer grades before moving on to other grades. Doing the process the other way round naturally entails extra time spent cleaning the machines. Now, with Preactor, we can plan the order of production more efficiently.” Pestell spoke of Preactor’s flexibility in terms of allowing Whatman International to plan production much further ahead: “Previously we had suffered many problems in getting production sequencing as time and cost-efficient as possible with our original planning software module.

However, with Preactor we can plan production two or three months in the future – or even longer if necessary.” Pestell added that Preactor also helps ensure the company can schedule production around its 12/2 shift pattern. “This is so our staff can stop work every other weekend,” he pointed out. And as Whatman International has more paper making machines than operators, Preactor has helped the company to manage plant resources and appropriate staffing levels for each job more efficiently.

As for the future, Whatman has been so impressed with the performance and benefits of Preactor that it is currently planning to roll the system out to its other locations around the world. The company is also planning to bring top-of-the-range Preactor Advanced Planning & Scheduling (APS) software on stream.

“It is early days for this, but we are looking to eventually replace one of our existing Preactor 300 systems with Preactor APS, and then link both MFG/Pro and our remaining Preactor 300 solution to the APS system,” said Pestell.

“When APS is linked to Preactor 300 and MFG/Pro we will not only know what is due to be made, what is being made and at what stage the current production process is at, but also secure even better coordination between our paper production and slitting processes. For example, the slitting team will know more precisely when it can expect a particular paper roll and prepare its schedule in advance.

The slitting team will then be in an even strong position to ensure machines are prepared in a timely manner to conduct a particular slitting process for a particular job. This will of course not only aid us in the process of becoming more and more cost and time-effective, but also ensure our customers receive an even better service, from placing the initial order right through to receipt of finished goods.”

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