One-offs mastered

Aberdeen-based offshore equipment company AJT spent more than 18 months searching for an integrated software system to help manage its manufacturing work. It had found conventional MRP II systems failed in the one-off or jobbing-shop environment. Several options were offered. But none met AJT’s demanding criteria until February, when TWI’s Consultancy Services Group suggested it […]

Aberdeen-based offshore equipment company AJT spent more than 18 months searching for an integrated software system to help manage its manufacturing work. It had found conventional MRP II systems failed in the one-off or jobbing-shop environment.

Several options were offered. But none met AJT’s demanding criteria until February, when TWI’s Consultancy Services Group suggested it should contact a software producer which had developed a product for the small-batch producer.

‘We’d been looking for a system since mid-1996,’ says AJT works director Bill Boyd. ‘And by October we even started to compile our own database based on Microsoft Access. But it was far too time consuming, so we went back to the marketplace to seek a proprietary package.’

AJT is part of the Linton group and employs about 70 staff in Aberdeen, repairing, refurbishing or manufacturing components for the North Sea oil and gas industry.

Its operations are mainly one-off projects, with different contracts progressing at the same time through the facility. Previous attempts to integrate an MRP-based system to control the diversity proved futile.

MRP II systems are typically used to process information at large-batch manufacturers where the manufacturing process is very different, and involves standard parts and numbers drawn from large catalogues, and often held in stock.

The systems can handle tasks from the receipt of an enquiry, through quotations, to job planning, scheduling and progress tracking, to final inspection, delivery and invoice.

Boyd had tried to use the company’s old Micross MRP system but says: ‘It was no use as we work on one-offs and every job is different. Conventional MRP systems are driven by part numbers. These are irrelevant to our type of operation, and we also have to react quickly to client demands.’

Boyd had a checklist of selection criteria. Top of the list came ‘ease of use’ as the system had to be accessible to hands-on project engineers.

‘We also need instantaneous feedback on any projects in the machine shop, which typically involves up to 220 projects,’ Boyd says. Finally, the system has to produce quality reports for other managerial staff.

AJT’s review of available systems included a long study of supplier documentation, anticipated costs, presentation of systems and user visits. Systems examined included DCD-Vista from Dataworks, Manjob, Redthorn and Jobshop.

There was an intensive evaluation of each system, running a typical job package at the Aberdeen site. The results were analysed by an in-house computer development team which included the works director, the production manager, projects manager, IT project engineer and others.

‘Though all systems were found to be priced similarly, only one eventually stood out in performance terms,’ Boyd says.

The turning point came from discussions with TWI, which was carrying out a DTI-funded study of AJT to find production enhancements. They suggested contacting Merryweather, a Darlington-based software supplier which produces a system called MC2000.

Boyd says: ‘We liked what we saw. We didn’t have to change the way we operated and a lot of our existing paper systems could be incorporated in the MC2000 system.’

Ahmed Abbas, Merryweather operations director, says: ‘We soon established that MC2000 would probably meet most of AJT’s needs.’

The system was put through the gamut of presentation, demonstrations, user site visits and commercial negotiations, and AJT placed an order at the end of June.

A 15-user facility is being installed this month, made up of three modules of the MC2000 system, at a cost of £17,000, to handle planning and scheduling, materials control and order processing.

This will be followed later this year by ‘time and attendance’ and shop-floor data collection modules, costing a further £9,000. The system runs on 15 PCs linked to a digital server running Unix.

‘The MC2000 system is specifically geared to meet the needs of one-off and small-batch manufacturers. There is no need to use part numbers because every part or material is order-specific,’ Abbas says. ‘Details and sources of manufacture can be changed readily to accommodate a client’s design changes.’

MC2000, originally developed in the UK by process industry supplier Whessoe, has a range of low-batch operation specific features. The production, planning and scheduling module enables each contract to be planned with a fast and flexible network entry, scheduling all jobs against available capacity, performing resource smoothing and highlighting overloads.

The material control module follows the material through the entire order cycle from requisitions, to purchase orders, goods receipt, inspection and invoice-matching.

Sales order processing produces estimates from enquiries, firms these up into orders and controls invoicing and despatch of completed jobs.

‘We will now have a much more up-to-date appreciation of how the company is functioning and can respond to client enquiries far faster,’ says Boyd. ‘We also anticipate significant cost benefits in retrieval of archival information and can supply speedier quotes.’