West Midlands-based subcontract machining firm Scott & Baldwin has boosted profitability and customer service using estimating and process-planning software on top of its CAD/CAM and MRP systems. Brian Tinham reports
Like many successful companies, Corby-based Scott & Baldwin started with little except expertise and energy. That was back in 1972 when founders, managing director Martin Scott and technical director John Baldwin started the company in a shed at the end of Scott’s garden near Stamford. The army auction at Bicester provided the first machine, and they were in business providing general subcontract machining to firms in the Peterborough area.
Since then the company has gone from strength to strength: it’s now a £1.2 million turnover precision machining firm with 30 staff, making small to mid size batches (one to 1,000) of components in steel, aluminium, plastics and brass, as well as titanium and castings for hundreds of clients. Production is for everything from the oil and gas industry, to food and beverage, marine diesels, metrology equipment and scientific instruments. Says sales manager Richard Scott: “We’re talking about everything from big marine diesel cylinder heads (weighing 50kg) to small parts for measuring equipment (50gm), and telephoto lens bodies for digital cameras.”
It’s mostly make-to-order with repeat business, and the workshop reflects this – a number of manual machines for jig and fixture work and a range of CNCs, including a Biglia mill/turn and Brother mill/drill. Good equipment, but Martin Scott insists that while investing in machinery is important, for them “back office systems are also vital.”
Because there’s more: for Scott & Baldwin there is a small but important and growing 10% of production that’s engineer to order. With more than 20 years CNC programming experience, Baldwin says part of the service is finding better and cheaper ways to manufacture complex components. But that takes time, organisation, integration – and IT. And here too it’s a well run ship: the firm uses AutoCAD for design and Pathtrace for computer aided manufacturing (CAM), along with Caliach MRP for business and manufacturing management.
“Caliach MRP pretty well runs the company; it’s been in for eight years and we’ve had all the major updates,” says Richard Scott. The system covers inventory, all the ledgers, and MRP (“although we tend not to use it to its full capacity”) covering purchase and works order processing, with multi-level BoMs and so on – all on an eight-user license.
It’s simple enough: as orders are received, the system immediately checks inventory and generates material purchase orders, also loading scheduled factory capacity – and everything starts to happen. And integration with the shop floor is also good: operators key in the works order codes and their ID on any of the computers dotted around the factory, and the system delivers traceability and basic work in progress tracking – also maintaining a full history of production.
“Caliach also does the capacity loading charts,” says Scott. “It’s not as sophisticated as, say, Preactor – it’s infinite scheduling – but you can see the loading and bottlenecks, which helps with subcontracting and bringing in more machine operators.” And on inventory, “it’s very accurate,” he says, and it reconciles despatch quantities, scrap and all the rest, providing pre-configured and ad-hoc reports and statistics.
It’s all helped the company to bring lead times down from the several weeks of a few years ago to today’s common two week requirement. And Scott expects further improvements in the next (imminent) release which, he says, will enable better scheduling and Web-based customer order tracking, linking right into the firm’s database.
So much for manufacturing and business management. The picture of product engineering IT is similarly robust, with conventional AutoCAD and Pathtrace – and the firm taking in digitised CAD drawing files of complex components like turbine blades from email, with none of the oft-cited digital conversion difficulties. “Most of it is in IGES,” says Scott, “and we have no problems with compatibility.”
But there was scope for improvement. With an increasing design/engineering workload, Martin Scott was finding that too much of his time was being taken in providing detailed and rigorous quotations, particularly as the company had to quote keenly but at a price that maintained service levels and quality. “We wanted to improve accuracy and speed of quoting.”
So in 1998, the company chose the Estim estimation and process-planning package from Wetherby-based CES. Estim was selected, says Martin Scott, for its quality and support, which included a year of telephone hotline cover, and a two-day training course. CES also configures systems with user-specific data including resources, materials and tasks, so it can be used virtually ‘out of the box’.
Richard Scott says it’s made a significant difference: “accuracy of quotes has been increased by 50%, and speed of quoting is up 25%.” And it covers materials, cycle times and the rest, given the usual data (materials, holes, distances, feed rates, etc). Indeed today, even where the firm’s experience means the best machining route is quite clear, Estim is routinely used to give precise costing: small errors in large batches make a big difference. As Martin Scott says “I certainly wouldn’t want to be without it – now we can be sure that our pricing is consistent. When we win an order, we know that the price is right.”
Author: Brian Tinham