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Strong and Lite – Kenco Shows that Titanium and Preactor have Something in Common
August 2002

Kenco Techniques LtdKenco Techniques, based in Kensworth, Bedfordshire, is a manufacturer of precision-machined components for the aerospace, Formula One, and micro surgical industries. Founded in 1972 under the name Kenco Engineering, it currently employs 15 people. The company’s main processes involve CAD/CAM design, prototyping and finished product manufacture. Specialising in the machining of Titanium, Kenco Techniques has an extensive itinerary of CNC milling, CNC turning and CNC wire erosion plant. Although product quality has always been consistent, the company found scheduling jobs on the shop floor increasingly challenging as its workload increased.

Much of the work was designated time slots by word of mouth or on paper distributed from department to department. However this often resulted in bottlenecks and failure to deliver goods on time. Kenco Techniques needed to ensure staff were kept fully informed about workload and scheduling by providing access to real time data via a state-of-the-art scheduling system.    But the system required also needed to be competitively priced and ideal for the needs of a small, precision engineering company. Preactor Lite+ was the package that fitted these criteria.  Just like Titanium the product was strong, durable and Lite (on price).

“In the past too many members of staff were coming to me and asking whether we could fit in a quick job or aim for an unrealistic delivery date for a customer,” said managing director Ray Rockley. “We would then work incredibly long hours to make this possible, and even then there was no guarantee we would get the job completed on time. There was a certain lack of consistency and forward planning. So this, together with our customers’ demands of increasingly tight lead times, urged us to look for a software solution that could provided us with more transparent scheduling and forecasting capability. Basically, we needed a system that ensured the workshop had a better chance of hitting customer delivery dates.” 
The previous scheduling method used by the company comprised written notes and a list of jobs recorded on an old MS DOS package. “We spent many hours tracking each job and asking the operators whether it looked likely that we could deliver on time,” said Ray. “And to make things even more complicated, by the time we’d entered all the orders and delivery dates on the system on a Friday it was out of date by early the following week.”

Kenco Techniques LtdRay realised his company needed a solution that could provide real-time data. One enduring image Ray had in mind when looking for a replacement package was the arrivals and departures display board at an airport. “When you walk on to the concourse you look at the screen and can see immediately when a plane’s landing and when it’s taking off,” he said. “I wanted that level of visibility in my workshop.” Having researched the scheduling software market and available functionality against purchase price, Ray decided on Preactor. “As soon as the demonstration CD was delivered I realised this was the package for us,” he said. “It comfortably satisfied our requirements including cost effectiveness, ease of use, real-time visibility and overall flexibility.”

Kenco Techniques’ factory comprises two main manufacturing cells, Turning (basic shaping) and Milling (surface-machining).   Implementation of Preactor began in early 2001 in the Turning cell. “This is where most of our work gets underway,” said Ray. “Lew Orr, the Turning cell manager, studied the Preactor user’s guide and within two months the system went live.” Ray knew that Preactor had to run at workshop level to make it work, and so established cell leaders within each workshop – Lew in Turning and Andrew Harris in Milling.

“Despite it being a live running package and unlike anything we had used previously we adjusted within three or four months and are now used to adding real-time updates with no delays,” said Ray. Kenco Techniques originally planned to integrate Preactor with the production schedules in both the Turning and Milling cells at the same time. However, although both cells use the system, the cells are yet to be networked together. “System integration between the Turning and Milling cells is high on our priority list for the remainder of the year,” explained Ray. “We are currently upgrading all our office systems to Windows 2000 and this will help us to connect up the cells over the next few months with the help of Preactor. Because we are one of the frontline firms for such demanding companies as Jaguar Formula One we simply have to deliver on time. So, I hope we don’t go much past September and October before both cells are networked and fully operational. There is quite a lot for us to achieve.”

Once Kenco Techniques integrates Preactor over the two cells, its next step will be the transfer of its main database to Access. “Preactor can import from Access, so within the next 12 months we are going to save Lew a lot of data keying,” said Ray. “As each stage is completed the benefits to our company will increase exponentially.”

In terms of system functionality, Ray is particularly pleased with the clarity of the on-screen display and the ease with which new orders can be added. “The real-time aspect of the system is superb,” said Ray. “Instead of putting everything on a system at the end of the week, data can now be added at the end of each day, or even during a tea break. Potential bottlenecks within the machining area are now clearly visible and this all means we are now far more likely to succeed in honouring customer due dates.

Communication between members of staff has also improved although further progress will be made once we have full cell integration.” However, without Preactor’s affordability Ray would not have risked the capital outlay. “We wouldn’t have gone down this route had it not been such a competitively priced package. We can afford to take a chance with a few hundred pounds but couldn’t risk a £3000 outlay that failed to deliver the goods. In the event the package has proved itself many times over, and both Kenco Techniques and our customers have seen improvements in lead times over the past few months. This has been largely down to Preactor.”

The Preactor project is just one of the business enhancements that Kenco Techniques is currently involved with. The company is also in the process of having new state-of-the-art manufacturing machinery delivered. “We are a small firm, but my brother Les and myself are putting most of the profits back into the company in the form of manufacturing plant and office improvements,” said Ray. “We don’t want to grow as a company in terms of size and manpower, only in reputation for quality goods that are delivered on time. However we also want to make our lives easier. If we are able to turn round more work without having to work unnecessarily long hours, and be able to keep to promised due dates into the bargain, everyone within the company will be delighted.”