Metal bashers get high tech just in time support

4 mins read

Texol, the NCR metalworking MBO formed two years ago, is meeting aggressive plans for growth, and improving efficiency, costs and customer service following implementation of an NT-based modular enterprise system. As Brian Tinham finds, it’s already confident of a 50% cut in inventory

When Texol Technical Solutions was formed in September 1998, following a management buyout of the metalwork division of cash register/dispenser company NCR by 80 staff, it had just one client – NCR. Today there are more than 40, all the result of the firm’s investment in people, processes, machinery and IT. Texol’s is an impressive story: in its short life the firm has had to move fast. From the outset, its business plan promised revenues trebled within two years – by moving swiftly into new industry sectors (telecom, food, semiconductors, electronics, pharmaceutical and automotive) and dramatically increasing its assembly work with design and electronics assembly. Investment in, for example, laser cutting equipment, means that today it offers precision manufacture and assembly of metal parts. But there’s a lot more; the firm sports engineering design and electronics fabrication supported by an array of production, toolroom, CAD/CAM and inspection equipment. But it hasn’t been trivial. For a start, almost from day one the company found it needed new enterprise IT (ERP) – and quickly. Because although it had been offered access to the existing NCR parent computer system and its IT staff for the first few months, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to work. It was a single customer system and Texol needed IT geared to multiple new customers with the ability to support flexibility and customer responsiveness. Texol needed to think quickly about getting its own system – a system capable of delivering a full suite of commercial software and fast and efficient production support with traceability of 1,000 different parts. But as operations director Brian Frame says, it wasn’t going to be easy. “We needed something to fit an SME, but we were used to having a sophisticated MRP system that gave us everything. “We didn’t have much time and we didn’t have much experience.” In the event Texol got a new system installed, implemented and live within four months. It did so with the help of a consultant provided by Scottish Enterprise and a supplier that related quickly to its needs, identified the required system components and helped to handle installation and training. Bill Jack was the consultant; RAD Software the supplier. Jack trawled through the ERP systems in the market, quickly whittling these down to three for quotation. Then it was demonstration time, and Jack and Texol plumped for Efacs from Glasgow-based reseller RAD. “It was well integrated on the financials side and it was NT-based,” says Frame. And Jack adds: “RAD could supply the PCs and software, training and an impressive support system all within the required time-scale.” With a budget of £100,000, Texol purchased a combination of Efacs manufacturing, distribution and financial modules. Frame says it went for a ‘vanilla’ implementation apart from slightly customising for EDI. “We had very tight time scales: it would have been nice to tailor more, but there wasn’t time.” In fact, there wasn’t even time for a conventional pilot implementation: following project planning, Texol went straight for modular go-live on standard Efacs processes. As a result, accounts were up and running within three weeks, with sales, purchase and nominal ledgers all operational. Six weeks later, in January 1999, the company went live on manufacturing management, with purchasing, estimating and quoting, MRP, material control, engineering control and sales order processing – everything except payroll. Frame says it all went smoothly, even to the extent of data entry: “We managed to drop the NCR database straight into Efacs.” Ken Ingram, Texol managing director, is pleased with the result. “Efacs has allowed all aspects of our manufacturing process and business management to be integrated into one system, from accounts to engineering. It is very user- and administrator-friendly, and provides an ideal platform for interface with our other systems.” He adds that it’s sophisticated, yet easy to use and has plenty of safety nets. “No one feels apprehensive about making a mistake. I feel that this is very important; when tackling a new system, confidence is a must.” Frame adds that the system is delivering the big picture, also providing warehouse management, good traceability and good stock accuracy. And he says the implementation included full back flushing, instead of stage-by-stage transactions, to maintain material accuracy and production control. It also supported the firm’s Kanban and JIT (just in time) processes, and its choice of no inventory stores as such, with material called off against blanket orders instead going straight into work in progress. And there’s more. Ingram: “Even with a much reduced staffing level, Efacs is giving us the ability to continue to improve our efficiency and effectiveness, and I now realise that the spin-offs will be even more pronounced when everything is fully integrated. The reporting system is superb, it helps with the movement of consignment stock and gives excellent capacity planning with a super graphical interface”. Interestingly, through all this, Texol has only taken on design staff, not administrators or IT staff to manage the system: RAD does that. As RAD managing director Andrew McAllister explains: “They don’t want to be spending time and money running a network. It’s more effective to outsource that and, as consultants, we need to make sure they’re getting real value for money and adding to the development of their business.” RAD is now developing e-commerce for Texol. The firm already works with EDI for NCR, its main customer, but the next project will be to make its Web pages interactive for order taking, with customers eventually able to look right into the MRP system. Beyond that, Frame says Texol is going for bar coding and shop floor data collection, with barcoded despatch notes and all the rest, covering everything from the shop floor to electronic payment. The firm is also considering finite capacity scheduling, although it may prefer to carry on working with the flexibility of infinite capacity. Also, Texol looks set to do more with its Cognos business intelligence (purchased up front) as the customer base and business complexity grow – although Efacs standard reports have been fine, and custom reports can deliver all sorts – like getting “margin per part number.”