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The die is cast for Preactor in Ferra Engineering
July 2003

Ferra01.jpgFerra Engineering is recognised in Australia as one of the leading companies supplying precision machined, high pressure aluminium die cast components. Founded in 1992, the company has developed an excellent reputation in the USA, Canada, China and Japan for supplying high quality precision tele-communication and electronic components. Supplying to such high profile customers as Boeing Australia, Pratt and Whitney, British Aerospace and Tenix Defence, quality control and on-time delivery are paramount considerations for Ferra. When it came to ensuring that its scheduling software could deliver, Ferra turned to Simulation Modelling Services Pty Ltd (SMS) and Preactor for assistance.

Ferra02.jpgThe nature of Ferra's business is a taxing combination of medium to high batch quantity, repeat business and specialist one-off jobs.  Currently Ferra handles between 600 and 800 jobs a month but the company is geared up to take advantage of business projections which show massive growth in the die-casting market over the next 5 years.  With a substantial investment in high-speed machining equipment and advanced die-casting equipment, it is essential that Ferra optimises the scheduling of works orders to make best use of its resources.

The majority of Ferra's unique concerns stemmed from the use of its existing database.  This was an in-house developed, ACCESS database.  While it had served Ferra well, it had not been constructed with the need to integrate to a sophisticated scheduling software product in mind.

Ferra's existing scheduling method struggled to keep track of the progress of all jobs through the shop.  Particular problems were imposed by jobs involving the manufacture of sub-components for assembly and by the need from time to time to split a batch of components into several sub-batches for processing at different times.  This led Ferra to investigate implementing an automated scheduling system.  Primarily, any new system would have to massively increase the visibility not just of orders in the system, but also of how these orders relate to one another.  This latter is especially important when achieving total batch visibility.  This would enable Ferra to provide more accurate due and delivery dates for its customers.  It would also lead to improved DIFOT (Delivery In Full On Time) – a measure of critical importance to Ferra.

Ferra03.jpgFerra began its shortlist process in 2000, having drawn up a comprehensive matrix of "must have" and "would like to have" requirements.  Having selected Preactor, Flair and Hat Trick as the 3 key solutions to investigate, each was rigorously cross-referenced against the requirements matrix.   Preactor was the only product which fulfilled all Ferra's "must have" criteria, and the highest level of the other requirements.  Ferra therefore took the decision to invest in a Preactor solution comprising Preactor 300 FCS and several Preactor Viewer licences from Preactor Solution Provider, SMS.  This configuration would provide visibility of the schedule to management and to the sales team.

Phil Evans is Business Development Manager for SMS.  He explains the challenges of the implementation process and how they were overcome.  "When we first got to know the Ferra people, they were very nervous about the task of software selection.  This was their first purchase of software to support manufacturing operations and they recognised the potential danger of a bad choice.  They were also concerned about the ability of any off-the-shelf product to integrate smoothly with their "home-grown" database.  While there were some enhancements required to the ACCESS system, we worked closely with the team at Ferra to ensure that these were minimal.  Most importantly, we were able to show them how Preactor could address the assembly and batch-splitting issues and provide a solution which met and even exceeded their expectations.  After a period of parallel running which enabled some further fine tuning, they are now well and truly up and running."

Ferra04.jpgMarc Meili is Production Manager for Ferra.  He describes the early days of the Preactor implementation and the benefits it has subsequently gone on to deliver:  "Defining and matching the system requirements is essential to the development of the optimum solution.  The configuration and interfacing of Preactor 300 was our most important step during the implementation process.

The expertise and professionalism offered by SMS was exceptional and very responsive during the implementation and start up phase.  The capacity planning of our workshop has become much more efficient and stabilised our master production schedule by 25%.  The visibility of the jobs on the planning board is one of the main advantages as we are able to react quickly to customer’s lead-time inquires.  Preactor has proven itself as a good, flexible scheduling program that allows us to be in control of our production facilities."

Ferra05.jpgFerra is understandably very pleased with its investment in Preactor and with the service and support provided by SMS.  As for the future, Ferra is evaluating a new ERP system for implementation within a 2 year time frame and it is fully expected that Preactor will be integrated to this and go on delivering the benefits Ferra have been enjoying so far.

Mike Novels, Managing Director of Preactor International comments.  "This is just one example of the excellent capabilities of SMS in translating a client need into a practical solution not only in the manufacturing sector, but also in metal processing, mining and logistics operations.  And because Preactor is designed to enable rather than replace ERP software, Ferra will be able to leverage the experience they have gained so far by integration of the Preactor solution with whichever ERP system they select."