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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited
MAX technology helps speed deliveries
Software solutions for aerospace
MAX technology helps speed deliveries
Slough-based Bestobell Aviation is a make-to-order supplier that has been manufacturing ducts, joints, fire seals and thermal insulation for half a century. The company has applied advances in elastomer and fabric technologies to the development of flexible, lightweight systems and components. Developed under the company's "design-to-fly" credo and engineered by a workforce committed to quality, orders came thick and fast in the early 1990s.
Yet success brought fresh demands and the gloss began to fade. This was most visible on the delivery front and where, by 1992, customer patience was wearing thin in the face of often unexplained delays. With overdues representing a fifth of the company's turnover, new owners Meggitt PLC stepped in to avert a serious loss of confidence.
Eric Lewis, managing director at Meggitt Aerospace Components (MAC), had little difficulty establishing the root cause of the problem. The evidence was plentiful: a glut of paperwork, sky-high stock levels, runaway costs and, above all, a chronic deficiency of management information. "It was hardly surprising that decision making had been reduced to a somewhat hit-and-miss affair," he comments.
Closer examination of Bestobell's ailing control mechanisms revealed that its MRP2 system, a MAPICS package supported on an IBM S/36 small general-purpose computer, was well past its sell-by date. Lewis attached top priority to finding a replacement that had the capacity to handle an inventory of 18,000 line items, was fully integrated in terms of manufacturing and accountancy, and could generate management reports as and when needed.
Half a dozen possibilities were whittled down to three and evaluated against a detailed specification. Confidence grew as a software solution advanced by Bristol-based MAX International (then MCS) came under scrutiny.
This mid-priced UNIX option topped the scoring, both in terms of its MRP2 functionality and its capacity to handle key ERP-related tasks such as business planning, simulation, supply chain and financial management. The modular suite was closely integrated with an industry-standard database.
Barely six months later, and with on-site support from MAX International, the £250,000 system had been installed on an ICL DRS6000 UNIX server and rolled out to an initial complement of 32 users. The migration of existing records was handled remarkably smoothly, with automatic file transfer of bills of materials and sales ledger data and manual re-keying of the purchase ledger.
The inventory posed a particular problem in that such records as existed were far from accurate. With no obvious alternative, the entire stockholding was physically checked to arrive at a true valuation and then moved to a new warehouse where a bin location system could track movements.
An immediate impact of the MAX system was that it restored the essential element of control. "It gave us a single set of tools and a single repository for all our data. Moreover, the effect of any change is now immediately visible to all," says Lewis.
The ability to access and extract information when needed and in the desired format is, of course, fundamental to any database system. Here, MAX offers options for generating periodic and ad hoc reports using built-in report writer and SQL scripts. The month's free consultancy that came with the system proved invaluable in setting up reports needed on a regular basis. If there is a note of criticism, it is that the task could have been simplified had MAX been supplied with a set of standard reports.
System reliability has been maintained with a combination of good technical support from MAX and ICL and the provision of appropriate back-up arrangements to mitigate the effect of any hardware failure.
Reaping the benefits
Visibility of information is crucial when it comes to the order book and where a high degree of flexibility is needed to cope with AOG situations or call-off contracts extending several years ahead. The problems that once plagued Bestobell in this context have largely been eliminated, thanks to the 12-month rolling view furnished by MAX. It makes for more effective planning at a time when customers such as Aerospatiale are applying near-paperless JIT methods to global ordering and favouring suppliers with an agile manufacturing capability
The integrated nature of the MAX package means that the effect of any entry is immediately visible across all modules. It is one of a number of measures that have helped bring overdues down to a tenth of their previous level and make on-time delivery the norm. Spin-off benefits include:
Smoother flow of deliveries through the month.
Significantly improved stock turn.
Improved flow of information to computer aided design system.
Customer reaction has been predictable, and finance director Mark Bodeker can point to a 50 per cent increase in turnover and a significant boost in profitability as indicative of Bestobell's progress over the past three years. "That this has been achieved with only a modest overall increase in headcount is attributable to many factors, but there can be little doubt that MAX has made a significant contribution," he says.
Yet there can be little complacency in an industry where extended supply chains and EDI place a premium on information-based methods of working. The lessons learned at Bestobell have certainly been taken to heart within MAC, one result of which is that the MAX system is being implemented on NT platforms by subsidiaries on both sides of the Atlantic.
That said, MAX is but part of a wider picture in which Lewis goes about promoting efficiency in his own distinctive way. Drawing attention to a problem and asking a manager to explain how it has arisen and why may seem deceptively simple, but people soon get used to the idea that Eric Lewis will check so they check themselves!