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Cosworth Racing Expands Scheduling Formula with Preactor
February 2004

Cosworth RacingCosworth Racing is a world leader in the design, development and manufacture of ultra-high performance engines for racing, rally and road car application. Founded in 1958 by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, the company has been wholly owned by Ford since 1998, employing a workforce of over 650. Cosworth provides engine technology and design solutions for Formula 1, CART, World Rally car and motorbike racing, as well as racing engine technology transfer to the Premier Automotive Group of Ford Motor Company. With its increasingly mission critical applications, Cosworth turned to Preactor International for its specialist scheduling solutions.

Cosworth’s original decision to use Preactor stretches back to 1997. This coincided with the decision to create manufacturing core teams specialising in producing particular components. Each core team is self-contained with respect to machines and manpower, with their own production engineers, schedulers and Team Leader. Before implementation of Preactor began in 2000, Cosworth had relied entirely on a ManMan mainframe Infinite Capacity System that was part of an MRP system dating from 1971.

When the decision was taken to split into core manufacturing teams, tough new lead times were assigned to each team. To aid this, Cosworth took its next step towards automating its scheduling requirements by purchasing Microsoft Project. It had originally used Excel spreadsheets with a rough 12-month forecast, but when personnel moved into core teams the team schedulers needed a more visual planning solution if they were to reach their targets. To this end, Microsoft Project enabled Cosworth to make a significant leap forward. However, while the system was very visual and had delivered definite benefits, it was still very manual and time consuming.

Cosworth Racing Cosworth’s Production Scheduling Manager Darren Dowding explains.  “For example, when a job had to be moved, the links between all the processes associated with that job had to be re-established manually. And while it had brought a greater degree of education into the company as a whole, it still took a great deal of skill to interpret the answers provided. There was also a risk of alienating valued staff from their decision making roles and we were concerned that they would end up more like clerks than thinkers.”

It was this, combined with a desire to acquire Finite Capacity Scheduling functionality that led Cosworth to investigate an FCS solution. Like many companies, the search began at the Computers in Manufacturing (CIM) show in the UK and Dowding recalls visiting a significant number of vendors at CIM back in 1999.

“At the time we had to decide between an ERP solution with FCS functionality that closely matched our requirement, or buying a standalone FCS system. However, 60% of all ERP vendors I spoke to all used Preactor for their scheduling functionality. The other 40% didn’t appear to understand how FCS worked at all. Even the other standalone FCS vendors just looked like younger versions of Preactor. A convincing conversation with Stan Jonik of Preactor Solution Provider SFJ Systems essentially finalised the decision.”

In June 2000, Cosworth bought a Preactor P300 system that would be run in a standalone context but alongside the existing system. It was decided to install this in the most challenging section because the company realised if the system could successfully handle the scheduling requirements here, it could handle them anywhere. The implementation consequently took longer than if it had been in a simpler environment, Dowding estimates eight months as opposed two. During this process, it was decided to upgrade from the P300 to the APS system due to the complexity of the processes involved.

In early 2001, a new scheduler was appointed and a decision was taken to train him solely on Preactor. Within a month, this section was running on Preactor alone and confirmed to Cosworth that this was the right way forward.

Two more APS systems were purchased in addition to two P300 solutions and the entire implementation was completed on budget, and on time. This included some sophisticated customisation written by SFJ Systems to meet Cosworth’s particular requirements to view flow and overlap of manufacturing operations, to get to even shorter lead-times. Jonik describes what this entailed.

“The real challenge was to create a generic system for each of the six installations, one that would meet everybody’s requirements but which could be moulded into a unique tool for each scheduler. In this way support is kept to a minimum and modifications and improvements can be rapidly spread to all applications”.

Dowding recalls the surprising place that Preactor’s benefits first became apparent.

“We were having a core team meeting in our ARP section which has to handle the most immediate changes and requirements. Before Preactor, the meetings would be full of ‘what if” questions that were answered largely by gut feeling or intuition which would or wouldn’t be borne out over the weeks. This time, the scheduler simply took the ‘what if’ scenario to Preactor and returned to the meeting a few minutes later with a hard copy of what actually would be the consequences. In that meeting, we saw not only the transition from ‘guestimates’ to ‘definites’, we also saw the beginning of a very short process by which all the teams came to trust completely the information from Preactor.

Because of Preactor, ‘what if’ scenarios are now so easy to work through that we now exercise this function just about every day. By generating quick, reliable, accurate information that is easily interpreted, the workforce was given back a degree of self-determinism that had been impossible with the ManMan system.”

Early in 2003 Cosworth decided to incorporate its three Preactor Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) software systems and two Preactor 300 Finite Capacity Scheduling systems within its electronics assembly section.

“The scheduling method used within electronics assembly used to be solely reliant on spreadsheets for its scheduling requirements,” says Dowding. “And trying to accommodate what everybody wanted to do at the same time was proving inconvenient and inefficient.

Because it is all assembly work rather than having resources as machines or static work centres we have called them after people who work there,” explained Dowding. “For example, John Smith might be the name given for jobs one, two and three commencing next Thursday.

There were also a few issues regarding skill levels, but again these have been identified because the name is just the resource. It is in effect a work-to list for each person. We have more work centres than people. In electronics assembly the people are the resource, hence the use of the person’s name. However, in the main manufacturing area there are more machines than people, so we still scheduling the machine in terms of moving a person to that machine when required to fulfil that part of the process.”

Also in 2003 the introduction of Dynamic Materials Control, a feature available within Preactor APS, meant Cosworth could begin automatically peg individual processes on individual components within a works order.

“In some areas we generate works orders that then evolve into a different part or work order further down the chain, while still remaining essentially the same order thing.” says Dowding. “In one area, for example, we might have two components that we join together to become an assembly. Previously, with Preactor and with our mainframe system we couldn’t link these works orders. We simply had item A linked to item B. However, we can now link these works orders easily and quickly. Preactor effectively recognises the link as one work order and appends a zero onto the operation numbers. Now, we never get a lower-level component arriving after the assembly count is made.”

Back in 2001, Cosworth Racing had planned to pass more responsibility to Preactor for generating all relevant scheduling and shop floor production data. Although full consolidation has not yet taken place Preactor has now been positioned at the heart of the company’s data control.

Dowding elaborated: “On our mainframe system we can look at the value of work in progress, the value of outstanding purchase orders and stores value in pounds Stirling. From Preactor we export the finite schedule to an Excel spreadsheet document. The flexibility of Preactor means it can even export such detail as the hours required for each of the machines, times it by the value/rates of those machines, then determine how much money we would be due to earn that week. This then transposes into the value we will receive into inventory.”

Dowding points out that the company can even peg it back to when it actually committed to spending money on raw materials. “And that’s something the financial department is very happy about,” he says. “It is a very precise financials tool and provides us with a lot of process and financials visibility. We can say to the financial department, for example, that next week we expect to recover £89,425. And at the end of the week we can inform the department that we actually recovered, say, £89,421. The by-product of having such an accurate scheduling tool is that we have not so much a sales forecast tool as a production forecast tool that works in pounds. During 2003 I gained additional responsibility for the storage areas. So knowing Preactor can keep me up to speed regarding the level of activity on a week-by-week basis is very reassuring.”

Cosworth is currently considering extending Preactor further within the company. “Preactor could, for example, control part of the stores activity by the amount of material that arrives at goods in, and eventually we would like to add shipping activity and forecasts as well,” says Dowding. By linking Preactor across the company in this way he hopes continually to move towards complete process visibility.

In summary, Dowding has been delighted with the raft of current benefits and future potential offered by Preactor. “The systems are now firmly established as invaluable and highly respected components within our production and scheduling processes. But there is so much more that could be achieved. There is so much extra potential we are yet to utilise fully,” he says.

Mike Novels, Chairman and Managing Director or Preactor International, had a number of comments to make.  “There are a number of lessons that can be learnt from Cosworth’s experience.  Firstly they have realised that Preactor should be employed as a decision support rather than a decision making tool, ensuring that planners can provide fast answers to ‘what if’ questions to help the company meet very demanding production targets.   Secondly, they have found that Preactor should not be though thought of as purely a sequencing and finite capacity scheduling tool.  It is flexible and precise enough to be used in a number of different ways that provide visibility into all parts of the business.  It can be used as a crystal ball for management to forecast what will happen and thus make better decisions that will result in better customer service and higher profitability.  It’s what all companies are looking for and I can think of a no better example of what can be done by empowering staff to do a better job.”