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Preactor Keeps Spec-Temp’s Temper Under Control
January 2003

Atwood / Spec-Temp GlassAtwood / Spec-Temp is a specialist fabricator of tempered glass products targeting the Recreational Vehicle, Manufactured Housing, Furniture, Architectural, and Marine industries. From a family business founded in an Ohio horse barn in 1978, It has grown into a $35 million leader in the Tempered Glass Industry and is a member of the Huddersfield-based Heywood Williams Group. The company’s dedication to exceeding customer requirements is demonstrated by its award of the prestigious ISO 9002 Certification for Quality over 7 years ago in 1995. When it came to addressing its scheduling requirements, Spec-Temp found a bulletproof partner in Preactor International.

The process of tempered glass manufacturing begins with large sheets of flat glass purchased from a variety of suppliers such as PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) or LOF (Libbey Owens Ford). These sheets are typically 2500mm X 3300mm (96” X 130”), range in thickness from 2.4mm (3/32”) to 12.7mm (1/2”), and include a myriad of colors such as clear, blue and mirrored reflective. Special coated glass products are also available for various applications. Specialized computer software transforms the various shapes and quantities required based on data in an order entry system into cutting programs for one of several CNC nesting glasscutters that cut the desired sizes and shapes from the large sheets.

The cut shapes are finished and have their rough edges removed by one of a number of sophisticated pieces of equipment depending on customer requirements. Options include a simple swiped edge where the edge will be hidden in the final application, automotive type ground edges, and bright polished edges typically found in furniture and display applications.

At this stage, each order may undergo a range of additional stages such as hole drilling, notching, and decorative silkscreen applications. The finished product is then either flat tempered or bent according to customer requirements with the toughening process providing a tenfold increase in strength, much greater flexibility and a minimal fracture pattern in the event of failure.

Brian Miller is Systems Administrator at Spec-Temp and has been with the company since 1986.

Atwood / Spec-Temp Glass“While we may produce a fairly simple single component product, as anyone in manufacturing is aware, that doesn’t mean that the production or scheduling challenge is simple.” He continues, “With a variety of sophisticated equipment available, any given part can theoretically follow multiple paths through the various manufacturing process resulting in a staggering number of permutations of a production schedule.”

This is further complicated by lead-time pressures, customers that operate on Just In Time (JIT) principles, and seasonal cycles with very high peak demand periods. Working as a Manufacture To Order (MTO) supplier, Spec-Temp typically completes between 75 and 100 orders a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year which is why Miller candidly admits, “Deciding on a ‘best’ order to run all of this work is a task that is virtually impossible for any person.” He adds, “And that’s before we have to deal with a Sales Force that doesn’t like to say no to a customer. Managers may love ‘em, but they’re a Scheduler’s worst nightmare!”

Prior to Preactor, Atwood / Spec-Temp operated what Miller describes as a “Scheduling method of last resort” which involved each of the Supervisors creating Work-To Lists for their own individual areas of responsibility. While this provided an effective picture relating to each work center, it was simply impossible for anyone to see the bigger picture – specifically the effects of running jobs in a particular order on their individual workstations would have further downstream ramifications.

Consequently they lacked the visibility required to accurately plan to meet its production targets and had no means of assessing and accommodating the impact caused by machinery breakdowns or rush orders etc.

In 2001, a decision was taken to source an automated scheduling solution which began with an extensive evaluation of the Finite Capacity Scheduler (FCS) market to see which would provide the best fit to the company’s identified needs.

The solutions reviewed included TACTIC from Waterloo Software, Proasis from Prescient Systems, Manu Sync from Pinnacle  and Job Time from Job Time Systems.

Miller remarks on the initial observations. “A couple of things quickly became evident. One was that most people were much more interested in selling an entire solution than in selling Finite Capacity Scheduling. The general approach was to scrap existing systems in favor of their own offerings. The second was that 6 figure price tags were very much the norm for this type of software.”

Fortunately at this time, they came across Preactor. Miller again, “At first I was convinced that Preactor could not do what the others did for so much less, but as we investigated further it became apparent that Preactor packed a lot of power for the price tag.”

A decision was taken to purchase a Preactor APS  in January, 2001.

In terms of implementing the system, Spec-Temp’s experience is very informative for other companies looking to undertake such an implementation. The development team including its ERP provider undertook the task of writing the interface between its software and Preactor. They knew what information resided in its existing systems and worked out the mechanics of getting that information into Preactor and in addition, back into its own systems.

However, it soon became apparent that neither Spec-Temp nor the ERP provider had an in-depth understanding of Preactor as a tool. As Miller explains, “In other words, we were not sure what to do with the information once we had it got into Preactor.”

This process modeling aspect of the implementation proved to be the greatest challenge and resulted in a series of model changes that then required changes to the integration links. Miller is very matter of fact when it comes to discussing this element of the implementation.

“After a fair amount of ‘back and forth’ we finally got smart and brought Quinn and Associates on board to help us pull the whole thing together. Once we added their expertise to the mix, we were able to pull the project together. The delay of 4-6 months resulting from our determination to go it alone could have been completely avoided if we had taken this step at the beginning of the project.”

Speaking to others in the same position Miller is adamant, “This should be a very useful object lesson to anyone who tries to implement any type of APS system and is in no way a negative reflection on Preactor itself.”

In addition to the technical aspects of the implementation, the business aspects of the implementation also provided several interesting challenges. This primarily concerned the impact that the system had on their existing Production Supervisors who, long used to scheduling their own operations, were fairly resistant to having Preactor tell them what to do.

However, Preactor itself played a significant role in overcoming this. Firstly, because of its inherently flexible nature, it could be configured to develop a schedule that looked very similar to the schedule the Production Supervisors would have created themselves. Secondly, in situations where the Preactor generated schedule appeared counter-intuitive to them, it also consistently allowed Spec-Temp to demonstrate that the changes made for a better overall schedule.

Miller summarizes his experience of implementing Preactor. “The implementation took longer than anticipated but that was due to our failure to bring in adequate expertise into the project at the beginning. Overall we are very pleased and continue to look for ways to tweak the model to make it more accurate and to expand Preactor’s capabilities to both optimize and inform. Better still, the implementation was done very cost effectively – and even came in under budget!”

Since its implementation, Preactor has eased the burden on Spec-Temp’s scheduling staff and has provided the company with a much greater understanding of the loading across the entire production facility. This has in turn delivered the ability to see the effects of schedule changes, planned and unplanned – something which was simply impossible beforehand. Consequently, Spec-Temp has been able to react in a much more informed way which has enabled the company to deliver these benefits on to its customers.

When it comes to estimating the overall value that Preactor has brought to the company, Miller is characteristically up-front.

“Assessing the $ throughput impact due to Preactor is a difficult proposition in a business climate where order volumes are volatile and cyclical and where other changes such as manpower levels can have such a drastic effect. That notwithstanding, we have held our own in the recent down business cycle and have seen record production levels in recent months and we do attribute that in some proportion to better resource utilization through the use of Preactor.”

And the future?
Like many Preactor customers, Spec-Temp anticipates that continued development of their investment will derive even greater benefits. Planned initiatives include the priority scheduling of work centers using available labor as a constraint, incorporating material availability as a scheduling constraint and implementing a custom trial scheduling process for promise dates.

There is also a plan to develop more sophisticated overview reporting of resource time available for target marketing purposes.

The final word must go to Brian Miller, “Whatever our plans, one thing is for certain and that is they will certainly involve the expertise of Quinn and Associates. They are a very professional, knowledgeable group of people. I have not hit them with a technical question or issue yet that they have been unable to resolve."