Flue firm stacks up

Selkirk was a traditional non-integrated manufacturer of chimneys, flues and exhaust systems, with a parent company, Zurn, in the US, two sites in the UK at Barnstaple, Devon and plants in France, Germany and Italy. Though it had some bespoke systems and an old Mapics DB system which catered for individual departments, links between sections […]

Selkirk was a traditional non-integrated manufacturer of chimneys, flues and exhaust systems, with a parent company, Zurn, in the US, two sites in the UK at Barnstaple, Devon and plants in France, Germany and Italy.

Though it had some bespoke systems and an old Mapics DB system which catered for individual departments, links between sections were poor, and there was no integration between systems or employees.

But in just five months, project manager Emma Warren and her team, working with consultant Procon, implemented an integrated manufacturing management system based on Mapics XA, trained all the users and remotivated its staff.

With 400 European employees and global computer traffic, there was an urgent demand to improve communications and make the system more integrated.

The company’s 10-year-old Mapics DB manufacturing and purchasing system handled accounts, sales and production functions. However, it lacked the capability to work with the latest just-in-time and Kanban systems and inter-site logistic packages to integrate planning and distribution through dispersed plants.

The old system was linked to several bespoke programmes and had numerous manual ‘bridges’.

‘The system worked, but was very dependent on manual intervention, which made extracting information difficult and time consuming,’ says Warren.

She aimed to bring all four international Selkirk companies on to the same system, make information more available to managers and employees, and improve the service to the customer.

‘Though we had some crude links between sections, on the whole, order entry had no relation to invoicing, and stock inventory management was not talking to product development management. There was no ability to keep track of records from start to finish.’

The UK plant was chosen as the first site for integration as it handles manufacturing and sales. ‘We wanted to install a basic system in the UK, then standardise the system so it could be used as the basis for roll-out into the European operations,’ Warren says.

There was also a pressing need to make the new system year 2000 and Euro compliant, to create global synergy and make management information retrieval easier. A tight target was set to achieve IT integration for the UK site between September 1997 and January 1998.

Following discussions with a number of consultants, Woking-based Procon was appointed as system consultant in May 1997, to advise and support the new installation.

An IBM 620E server was installed in September to serve up to 80 users in the UK, with a Windows integrated management system.

Mapics XA was selected because the project management team felt it was a standard system with the flexibility to meet specific business needs. It provides more than 40 business modules, though Selkirk initially chose only 13, including sales, purchasing, manufacturing, customer and order management, financial management and product data management.

Further modules including market monitoring analysis and forecasting and electronic commerce, which offers electronic data interchange (EDI) capability, will be added later.

There were several obstacles to installing Selkirk’s integrated manufacturing management system. A distinct change in culture was required.

Warren says: ‘We found that personnel were more task related than process related, due to the difficulty of getting information from other sections. There were operating gaps between each part of the company and the separate pieces had to be drawn together.’

People would change tasks in ignorance of the effect on others, and there was no central control of procedure changes. Systems and work methods at the 25-year-old firm had not changed for years.

Recent reorganisation by plant manager John Lane meant there was an opportunity to introduce new work practices. However, employees were demotivated because there had already been a lot of change.

Warren found there was a lack of management communication skills as the on-site management was too busy running day-to-day business to think of the impact of changes.

‘One of our objectives for the new system was to empower users to become active members of their department,’ says Warren.

‘We wanted to keep management involved too, so we appointed a team of implementers, who then recommended users within the departments who became pilots across the business.’

Fifteen pilots were drawn from a range of disciplines, with experience in each department, including manufacturing, cost accounting, planning, purchasing, shipping and distribution, customer services, warehousing and an implementation management team with representatives from European sites.

‘Throughout the project, we educated the users about their effect on others. They were constantly put into situations where they were reliant on each other for information,’ says Warren.

A training room was set up at the Mullacott Cross site in Devon. Following detailed overview training for about 120 people, six people at a time attended workshop sessions, using non-Selkirk data to explore all the facilities of the management integration system. Then they progressed to a conference-room trial where the team applied their new knowledge to Selkirk operations. This tested the ability to run information from start to finish and built team spirit.

Warren says: ‘It was comprehensive IT training for users who had never been involved in developing an integrated system before.

‘With installation of the management integration system, information systems have been improved throughout Selkirk. ‘Communications about orders have improved throughout the factory, and areas which still need improvement are highlighted more easily.’

Developing an integrated management system is only the start of the story. Warren admits: ‘The system is just the information tool. It’s how you use it that makes the difference.

‘Mapics offers excellent business functionality, but the project continues well after switching on the system last February.

‘Since then we have been enhancing our working practices to get the maximum benefits.’

Talk early, talk often

Project manager Emma Warren has 10 tips to implement an integrated manufacturing management system.

1 Communicate early and often. Once people know that a new computer system is planned, they’re curious. Get literature out about it early on.

2 Involve people who use the system. Use employees who are enthusiastic and hard-working, because it’s another pressure on their day-to-day work.

3 Pick good consultants who listen to your point of view and who will develop the project with you, not impose it on you (Suppliers can recommend affiliate consultants).

4 Have clear objectives. But don’t be afraid to modify them if unforeseen circumstances arise. Recognise that the business needs to carry on running while you install a new IT system.

5 Note for board members: it is imperative to have top-level support.

6 Regarding technology, make sure you ‘future proof’ your buying decision. The system has to be upgradeable. Stick to the standard system as much as possible as it helps upgradeability.

7 Keep an eye on costs. This will also keep the board happy.

8 Timing is important in order to help people cope with change.

9 Keep positive. Ensure that the project team can stand together and remain positive in the face of adversity.

10 Simplicity is the key to success. Don’t be afraid to say no. As they become experienced, some individuals demand more functionality. Be firm. Don’t let the system become too complex before going live. You can build on the basics later.