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Flexible Solution to Scheduling Problems for Silflex
October 2007

SilflexThe introduction of a SYSPRO 6.0 ERP system from K3 Business Technology Group (K3), with an integrated APS solution from Preactor International, has enabled leading silicone hose manufacturer Silflex to overcome operational constraints that were restricting business growth.  

Employing around 100 people, Silflex Ltd. is a leading manufacturer of multi-application silicone hoses. The company, which is part of the Currie & Warner Group, is a typical British manufacturing SME, in as much as it develops and produces, in medium volumes, high quality specialist products whose production is both knowledge and skilled labour intensive.

A sustained programme of investment has enabled Silflex to stay at the forefront of product development and improve its ability to custom design and handle special customer requests for complex forms on short time scales. As one of only a few silicone hose manufacturers to put such emphasis on research, development and testing, this approach has brought business success and growth.

SilflexSilflex has also very successfully grown its performance hose product line – Samco®Sport - into the market leading brand.

However, the rapid growth of the business over the last 5 years, particularly with the success of the Samco®Sport brand, resulted in the business becoming increasingly constrained by ineffective production and inventory control systems that were essentially limiting the operations ability to meet demand.

Recognising these constraints, the company embarked about two years ago, on a programme intended to establish a product delivery process that would match its engineering excellence. A major and successful part of this operational development has been the implementation of a fully integrated ERP system from Manchester-based K3, integrated with Preactor’s APS product. As a direct result of the new operational control mechanisms now in place, the company has seen important improvements in lead-time, production efficiency, and capacity and inventory management.

Gaining Control
The basis for the company’s previous production control difficulties lay in a number of key factors. The first being the vast products range that it has to try to schedule and produce on a regular basis. Silflex predominantly produces coolant, heater system, turbocharger, lined fuel and oil, wire reinforced, convoluted, castellated and special shapes hoses for two distinct groups of automotive customers. For a number of commercial diesel engine OEMs, the company supplies parts that have been specially designed for each customer and these are made to order against advanced schedules. Manufactured in the same facility is the branded performance hose Samco®Sport. This is a range of hoses supplied in either complete car kits (over 350 different kits), or as universal ‘Race Part’ forms (straights, bends and reducers) for custom application; and all in seven different colours. These are sold to both enthusiasts and serious motor sport teams, including Formula 1 and World Rally.

Silflex“The development effort by the company has seen the Samco®Sport range become a brand leader, and this side of the business has grown to now represent 60-70% of the company’s turnover”, notes Andrew Lloyd, the company’s IT manager.

But, meeting this increasing demand was further hindered by a lack of effective production control systems and ‘visibility’ throughout the product delivery process.

Lloyd elaborates, “It had long been recognised that the most efficient way to manage the branded products was to consolidate orders to increase batch sizes, introduce economic batch sizes and stock levels, with the aim of supplying ex-stock. But, unfortunately, the business’s current systems simply could not give us this control.”

Instead, all production used to be managed on a job-by-job basis, with the lack of visibility and control meaning that even sequentially placed orders for the same product could not be consolidated and were treated as one-offs. Not surprisingly, this had a severely adverse effect on efficiency, and lead times, and overall throughput.

With the implementation of SYSPRO ERP, with fully integrated processes covering sales order processing MRP, WIP and inventory control, the company is now seeing significant changes. As Lloyd confirms, “We now run MRP for the branded products, and this is key to order consolidation and being able to produce larger and more economical batch sizes. Combine this with visibility from sales through to inventory and we have gained the basic controls necessary to make it viable to meet our need to produce for stock.” 

Taming Complexity
However, in order to ensure the feasibility of make-to-stock, a further major operational complexity - the production process itself - made it essential for the company to compliment the SYSPRO 6.0 ERP with the integration of a best of breed APS system from Preactor International.
 
Silflex’s high performance hoses are manufactured by hand using steel or aluminium mandrels, which represent the inside shape of the hose. The composite rubber/fabric material is wrapped around the mandrel in a pre-determined number of layers (plies) and then finished using wrapping tape. When fully wrapped the hoses are treated to a high temperature vulcanising treatment. The vulcanised hoses are then removed from the mandrels and treated to a final curing process, before inspection.

Lloyd reports, “With many manufacturing operations the constraints that have to be planned for, and which dictate sequence and build lead times are often relatively straight forward in terms of machines and human resources. But with our almost unique production process we have to schedule an intensively manual process with concurrent jobs being worked on at any one time with secondary constraints such as number of mandrels and mandrel availability and baking and cooling cycles.” 

While this complexity was beyond the old systems, the implementation of the ERP and Preactor APS is now enabling Silflex to effectively plan and optimise the use of all of its resources. Once MRP is run on SYSPRO, the new works order data is fed to the Preactor APS system and this automatically and very rapidly schedules the new jobs, by applying rules based on all key constraints, including mandrel availability. It then produces updated and optimised production plans that detail the jobs that can be undertaken, and their planned start and end times.

“As well as eliminating what was previously a slow, labour intensive and ultimately often ineffective planning task, the reports produced by the APS system now enable us to easily review jobs, often well in advance of their start date, that might potentially become late. We can identify jobs that are contending for the same tooling, and determine the manning levels we require for our work in progress. Overall, the combination of SYSPRO and Preactor’s APS has enabled Silflex to completely overhaul its product delivery process".

The company now has established stock level triggers for parts of its product range and is able to far more efficiently manage the production, stocking and supply of its branded products.

Lloyd concludes, “We are seeing significant improvements in lead time and delivery adherence, and the better batching and sequencing of the right jobs through production has also resulted in efficiency improvements. Essentially, we now have the systems in place to enable us to fully utilise our production facilities and so provide the capacity needed to effectively meet future business growth.”