Preactor Provides Spicy Scheduling Solution for Indian Cuisine Company

09 Oct Preactor Provides Spicy Scheduling Solution for Indian Cuisine Company

Linc’s Cuisine (Sutton Bridge), part of the Bakkavor Group, was established on the site of an existing industrial complex in Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire. This complex was largely demolished to make way for the current facility. The site opened in January 1999 and has been in constant production since then, currently employing around 200 staff. The facility specialises in the production of high-volume, chilled recipe dish products such as Indian Cuisine. Ingredients are sourced from both the UK and the Continent. With a wide variety of orders arriving each day, and with an increasing number of products having to be processed, Geest realised the plant needed to utilise the most flexible scheduling software solution from the outset as part of its overall business process system.

This is how the company came increasingly to rely on Preactor International for its complex and time-critical planning and scheduling operations.

At Linc’s Cuisine (Sutton Bridge), all ingredient preparation is undertaken prior to delivery of material to the site. Produce is continually received by Goods-in each day. The company runs what is essentially a Just-in-Time system and doesn’t have, or need, a large storage area due to the highly limited shelf life of the products. At the site the rice and proteins are kitted and packed into bulk units before being cooked in two high-pressure retort chambers. The bulk units are held as short-life Work in Progress (WIP) and transferred to the packing lines as required. The sauce ingredients are assembled before being cooked in large vessels that hold a minimum of 400 kilos and a maximum of 1100 kilos.

The complete cooking system is enclosed and comprises a series of vessels and pipes, so little or no steam loss is released into the factory space. Once the ingredients are placed in the cooking vessel the cooked product is contained in the vessels and pipework until it is deposited into the plastic tray on the packing line. There are three packing lines that bring the proteins and sauce together for packing.

These lines automatically add the chicken or lamb to the tray and the sauce is dispensed over the top before the tray is film sealed. The product is then sleeved, date coded, and placed in an outer case that is also labelled before being put on a pallet by robots ready for despatch. The same packing lines are also used to pack the bulk rice into trays as required.

“From the moment the factory began production, we used what was essentially a Geest (now part of Bakkavor) best-of-breed suite of software tools,” explained System Projects Manager John Tye. “This comprised the company ERP system, an Excel spreadsheet based system for determining required production volumes, and a Recipe Generation Program (RGP) system. In addition we implemented Preactor and a job-status database. At this time Preactor Advanced Planning & Scheduling (APS) system was largely used simply for entering data into the job-status database to be accessed by the kitting-scales system, the sauce plant SCADA system and personnel on the shop floor. However Preactor has been constantly developed from the early days to the present, and now plays a key role in our planning and scheduling routine.”

Early in 1999 Tye attended two one-day introductory courses for Preactor users at Preactor’s headquarters in Chippenham. “After completing these two short User and Configuration courses, I was fully competent in the main functionality of the system,” he said. However, Tye soon found that the training on the standard edition of Preactor 400 APS was somewhat different to the system in use as it had evolved at Linc’s Cuisine (Sutton Bridge).

“When we started out it was pretty much guess work as to what elements of our production processes we would have most problems with. However we now have the experience to anticipate what production or scheduling problems are likely to arise but we continue to customise and tweak Preactor 400 APS in order for it to better fit for our current operations and production constraints.”

Linc’s Cuisine (Sutton Bridge) had a number of constraints from the outset. One was rice production; a number products required a rice and a curry to be assembled in one box, “As we were developing our production operations we had to pack the rice first before the main meal such as curry,” explained Tye.

“We couldn’t schedule in the meal until we had scheduled in the rice on a different line. When the rice was finished we moved the curry to the other line where it was assembled. Because of some specialist development work by our Product Development team, and the introduction of two large retort cooking units, and with the help of Preactor, this constraint is now largely overcome. Now we can pack rice today and curry tomorrow then bring them together. We no longer have to ensure the rice is packed first followed by the meal the same day. Basically, we now have greater production flexibility.”

Another constraint concerned the level of available stainless steel Euro-bins used to hold and transport the assembled ingredients.

“Assembling the ingredients consumed bins and the sauce cooking would free up the bins, but we often had a shortfall in Euro-bin availability in most parts of the factory on a regular basis,” said Tye. “This naturally slowed production and cost the company money. To solve this we initially used Preactor to ensure jobs were not scheduled to be kitted until an appropriate level of bins were freed-up. Preactor was also used for what-if scenarios that were instrumental in establishing how many Euro-bins we should have on site for optimum production efficiency.”

Linc’s Cuisine (Sutton Bridge) also had labour constraints in the early days. But as it grew as a company and employed more people this was largely resolved.

“Preactor 400 APS is useful for planning and scheduling labour requirements for peak periods etc.,” said Tye. “In a nutshell, Preactor has proved to be invaluable in highlighting constraints and giving us the tool to resolve them. Tye also commented on the user-friendly nature of Preactor. “The drag-and-drop functionality of the system is a pleasure to work with. It is far quicker and convenient than cut-and-paste in terms of making quick adjustments to our schedules, although because we went straight in with Preactor some of our staff had no terms of comparison. Also, the Gantt charts are very visual and easy to follow, and the colour coding adds to the feel-good factor.”

Preactor International’s Managing Director, Mike Novels, said of the project: “This shows how Preactor can support not only the day-to-day operational needs of a company but also provide a tool to help improve the production process, minimise the need for expensive equipment, and generate the labour requirements depending on daily demand.”

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