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Pechiney and Preactor Forge Strong Scheduling Relationship
January 2003

Pechiney AviatubePechiney Aviatube is an aluminium alloy extrusion company with an extensive UK site in Workington, Cumbria. It is primarily a manufacturer of parts for the aerospace market, for example, aluminium extruded wing supports known as stringers, which are supplied to Airbus UK. Because the bulk of the aerospace industry at the moment is sourced through stockists, the company supplies much of its output to third parties.

On a smaller scale, Pechiney Aviatube also produces aluminium extrusions for use in UK defence armaments and supplies a range of alloy extrusion goods to the general engineering market and other markets requiring high-strength aluminium products. In total Pechiney Aviatube can produce over 90 different aluminium alloys.

When the company needed a dedicated scheduling solution to manage its complex scheduling requirements, Pechiney Aviatube looked to Preactor International.

Prior to Preactor, Pechiney Aviatube’s production and scheduling practice comprised a sales order and financials software system, but relied largely on a manual scheduling process based around standard, and largely inflexible, lead times. The firm worked on the principle that when goods came off the extrusion press they would be available for delivery within time bands usually measured in two, three or four weeks.

With a view to cutting down lead times and making the production and scheduling process more flexible, the company implemented an MRPII system back in January 1998 when the company was still called British Aluminium Speciality Extrusions, part of the Luxfer Group. This system had some finite capacity scheduling facilities. However, the level of scheduling functionality was considered too limited for the diverse range of alloys and production processes that were a staple part of Pechiney Aviatube’s everyday activities. It was at this stage that the company made the strategic decision to source a replacement solution.

Pechiney Aviatube“The MRPII system was used to run all our sales order processing and financials side of the business,” explained Ian Bell, Pechiney Aviatube Supply Chain Manager. “But its planning abilities were far from advanced, relying on a rate of kilograms per hour. We load by volume rather than a particular throughput per hour, put multiple batches in a furnace and have set furnace times. Also, the system wasn’t able to cope with the requirements of our various heat treatment oven processes.”

Diane Graham, Master Production Scheduler, added: “Another problem with this system was that it couldn’t differentiate between alloys, and because we deal with so many types this often proved to be a problem. As we are now part of a larger group there may be an opportunity for greater scheduling integration over our various European plants. But this wouldn’t have been possible with our scheduling system as it was.” These shortcomings were some of the key reasons why the company realised it would have to source a more effective and flexible Advanced Planning & Scheduling solution.

Bell first heard of Preactor from a colleague at British Aluminium Plate based in Birmingham (now Alcoa Flat Rolled Products). “He was looking at Preactor as a possible bolt-on to the company’s EFACS system and suggested that I have a look at it,” said Bell. “After seeing the presentation of Preactor, and after viewing some other systems, I arranged a visit to Laura Ashley, which was using Preactor in conjunction with EFACS, and decided that was the way to go.” Bell added that the main reason for choosing Preactor above other products was its ease of adaptation and its easy graphic display.

Implementation of Preactor 400 APS began in July 2001. “Around this time we started to take some of the legacy data, including our order book, from the MRPII system and load into Preactor,” said Bell. “And there was a lot of information in our technical files such as solution and treatment times and the various alloy specifications.  The whole transfer process went smoothly however” he continued.  The system went live in July 2002.

In terms of training and backup support, Pechiney Aviatube has been impressed by the standard provided by Preactor staff. “They have continued to be actively involved in the ongoing customisation of the system. Any query we might have is quickly resolved over the phone or by email,” said Graham.

Bell added: “Both Diane and I went through the initial training at Preactor’s premises in Chippenham. We were guided through the finer points of the system and became familiar with the scope of the system’s functionality. We then looked to apply this functionality to our specific needs, and the customisation process began, with the help of Preactor.”

Since the system went live Pechiney Aviatube has established a more effective and reliable planning and scheduling backbone. Graham commented: “With such a reliable scheduling tool the level of organisation and efficiency has had a knock-on effect throughout our Workington plant, right through from casting, extruding, inspection, and packing of the end products. The system also allows us to use all our individual plant resources more effectively.”

Bell elaborates: “We didn’t really have any facility within our MRPII system to schedule plant labour to the most effective degree, and to work round various labour constraints. This is now all resolved with Preactor APS. Our manufacturing workforce has also seen much greater direct scheduling and production visibility since its implementation. Previously we were heavily reliant on scheduling batches that were already at the resources. Now we are able to say ‘don’t put this in the furnace until a given date or time’ because we know there are more orders coming in. This allows us to maximise load capacity.”

Graham pointed out the benefits of user-friendly nature of Preactor on screen. “The colour coding format makes the system easy to follow and generally more pleasing to the eye than many solutions. Other members of staff can look at the screen for the first time and easily gain relevant scheduling information at a glance. The graphic nature of the system is so much more beneficial than just a collection of data.”

Currently, Pechiney Aviatube is planning further customisation of the APS system to enhance the ability to schedule production in the casting areas of the plant. “This has been one area where we have realised for some time that there was a need for further bespoke work on the scheduler, we will be speaking with Preactor shortly. All other areas – extruding, heat treatment, finishing etc – are now largely where we want them to be and benefiting from seamless and fully visible scheduling right across the plant.

Since implementing Preactor, the difference in efficiency and general user friendliness, compared with using the MRPII system as our core scheduler, has been substantial,” Bell said. “The added advantage is that Preactor remains fully involved in supplying upgrades, making constructive suggestions for further improvement and ensuring any additional benefits through further customisation are realised within short timeframes.”

Since the original implementation Pechiney Aviatube has done a great deal of bespoke work and scoping with Preactor with regard to furnace loading scheduling, and has subsequently seen many advantages from this in terms of reduced lead times and greater throughput flexibility and control.

Graham stressed the advantages of the Preactor 400 APS system from the point of view of eventual integration over the Group’s UK and French plants. “Another consideration for us when initially choosing the Preactor system was the potential for linking our various plants in Europe, and allowing them all to benefit through integration and from a more uniform and highly effective scheduling strategy. Because the APS system has only been up and running in Workington since last July, we are still actively customising the system and learning more about its potential each day. Once we feel this process has largely been completed we will assess further the collaborative potential for Preactor within our Group. If all goes well, we will then make recommendations to our other plants in France that they look to benefit from the system in the same way we have.”

Bell added: “We are the first plant within the group to go down the Preactor APS route, and because of this we are probably the most advanced in terms of our everyday production scheduling practices. Once we feel we can convincingly convey the system’s benefits to our other plants we hope roll-out to other plants will follow.”

Preactor Managing Director Mike Novels commented: “We are delighted to have the opportunity of working with such a prestigious company as Pecheney Aviatube and we look forward to expanding the relationship further by working with other plants in the group”.