Small steps to big gains

Rover Group’s body and pressings division in Swindon has spent about £1m on document management and workflow systems since the early 1990s. In that time it has overcome many of the common problems associated with workflow. The business has learnt the value of starting a workflow project with a simple, repetitive process. ‘You should not […]

Rover Group’s body and pressings division in Swindon has spent about £1m on document management and workflow systems since the early 1990s. In that time it has overcome many of the common problems associated with workflow.

The business has learnt the value of starting a workflow project with a simple, repetitive process. ‘You should not try to eat the whole elephant at once,’ advises Phil Ockwell, project team leader in the information systems department of body and pressings.

The division, which makes most of the pressings for Rover and Land Rover vehicles, employs 3,000 people. When it first considered workflow in the early 1990s its ambitious plan was to automate and control the product change request process. This looks at requests for change from car body designers and assesses the cost and time implications for their design, development and manufacture.

‘We introduced the Cimage document management system and workflow at the same time,’ says Ockwell, ‘but it failed.’

One reason for the failure was the organisational changes that were taking place in Rover. Instead of product change requests being managed sequentially, they were beginning to be handled by teams of people getting together to discuss the changes. The other reason was the lack of engineering and tool design data in the document management system to support the product change request process.

The business decided it should first try to use the document management system properly by setting up a formal process for entering information into the system’s database. It would then apply workflow to the simpler process of design issue the process that authorises designs leaving the drawing office before going to the toolrooms at Swindon.

In summer 1996, the Cimage document management and workflow system was reintroduced, but by the end of last year further changes were needed. Cimage had decided to stop development of its own workflow system and to support Staffware’s instead. So Rover had to switch, but it ended up with a workflow system which was much easier to use.

In the early 1990s, the aim of the project was to save time. This has been achieved, along with many other benefits. ‘We now have a lot of rigour in the design issue process; there are no time delays and no questions about who has received what and when they received it,’ says Ockwell.

Having an electronic library of drawings has saved time, money and storage space. Previously designers in Rover’s CAD office plotted their drawings on paper and sent them to the print room where they were duplicated 10 times and then sent for authorisation. Ockwell estimates that issuing a paper drawing took between 30 minutes to an hour.

With a paper filing system, it was impossible to guarantee that everyone had filed the same drawing. This meant someone could be working with incorrect information.

‘With a document management system, we know that everyone is looking at the same information,’ says Ockwell. ‘No one can makes excuses about having received the wrong design.’

Body and pressings is now reviving its plan to automate the product change request process. ‘We have a document management system containing all the relevant drawings, more capable workflow software from Staffware and a lot of experience,’ says Ockwell.