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Preactor International Provides Black and White Solution to Technicolor’s Scheduling Needs
January 2001

Technicolor has been synonymous with the film industry for over eighty years, having become immortalised in the phrase, “Color by Technicolor”. Acquired by Carlton Communications plc in 1988 and awarded its ISO 9002 certification in 1995 by SGS Yarsley, Technicolor is also seen as the world leader in video duplication. 

The acquisition of Nimbus Manufacturing (UK) Ltd, further enhanced Technicolor’s role in dealing with digital media. With a global production capacity of millions of units per week, accurate scheduling is essential to maintain Technicolor’s industry status.

Despite the established reliance on automation for the process of duplication, scheduling remained an entirely manual procedure until 1994, with each of the 5 European manufacturing and distribution hubs utilising its own method.

Rupert Holt, European System Applications Manager describes briefly how things used to be done at the UK hub. “Scheduling was and still is a 24 hour requirement for Technicolor. Given the scale of information to be processed manually, this needed to be broken into 3 shifts of 8 hours. Each shift would require 4-5 people, who between them would take 5 hours of the shift to work out the schedule based on the current order book, before writing this onto an A3 sheet broken into time squares.”

The limitations of this system were eventually addressed in 1995 when a software company was approached in Reading to provide a bespoke system to account for the peculiarities of Technicolor’s requirements. The proposed solution was to develop a system that would directly link the company’s JBA AS400 system to specific PC’s throughout the site. The project slowly progressed for 2 years before the Software Company went into liquidation leaving Technicolor with a huge bill and nothing salvageable from the project. It was at this time that Rupert Holt came into the manufacturing side of Technicolor, and acquired the project mantle.

While obviously cautious, the need still existed for a computerised scheduling solution. It was at this time that Rupert met Graham Hackwell of Preactor International at a trade show in Birmingham, UK which was followed up by an invitation to a day’s seminar in Coventry.

Rupert was impressed by the inherent flexibility of the product and moreover, the willingness of Preactor to entertain Technicolor’s requirements and to work with them to provide a customised solution. Technicolor was introduced to Preactor Service Provider, Kudos, who undertook the system development and integration.

Having convinced himself, Rupert then had to overcome the anticipated internal resistance within Technicolor. The first stage was to conduct a thorough review of the competition but in each case the price was much greater while the product was less flexible. Following this, a rudimentary system was put together containing actual Technicolor information and limited customisation.

This was presented in Holland to a key European Management Meeting where it received approval and led to Technicolor signing up for a Europe-wide model. This itself entailed drawing up a 40 point “wish list” comprising specifications and considerations for each European site. Once Kudos had confirmed that these were possible, it was agreed that the UK site would act as the test site. If it worked here, then the system would be rolled out across Europe.

The Preactor solution has had to overcome some key obstacles to meet Technicolor’s primary objective to achieve awareness of current and potential production capacity at any given time. First was the sheer scale of the actual production. The UK site use 10 source machines linked to 20 copying bays, each of which contain 1500 machines per bay, with an additional 22 sprinters. Combined these can result in a production rate of 250,000 units, with up to 300 titles being duplicated per day. Variances of machine speed also needed to be taken into consideration.

Of major concern however were what Rupert described as “vertical time concerns”. For example, material of an 18 rating can not be copied at the same time as material of a U rating. The same applies for different language versions of the same title, and even rental and retail versions. Furthermore, the communication links between source machines and copying bays have to manually be set whenever changes occur which can affect the whole copying process. Finally, the nature of the operation requires that shift changes be staggered, resulting in times where there may be a variable number of operatives available.

Overcome them it has, and the Preactor solution comprising 2 Preactor APS systems is now running live and successfully in the UK office, with the Dutch office having gone live on October 9th 2000.

Denmark, Spain and Italy are anticipated to go live within the following 2 months. Rupert describes the system now in place.

“The live system is very Technicolor in form and content which is a credit to Preactor’s flexibility. One of the fundamental requirements of the “wish list” was to retain a standard program core that allows a standard upgrade procedure. No other product we know offers this combination of customisation and standardisation. We have internally written a complete on-screen help facility based on training received from Preactor and a custom Visual Basic report generator for each site’s system to compliment the Preactor report facilities.”

The Preactor solution is already liberating substantial benefits for Technicolor. For the first time, the company is now able to deal with a true 24-hour schedule as opposed to 3 8-hour mini-schedules. Compared to the 5 hours per mini-schedule, the entire 24-hour schedule can be composed in less than 10 minutes. This allows for much greater response time to sudden changes to the ongoing schedule due to client or manufacturing circumstances.

Further cost savings have achieved by being able to redistribute valuable employees throughout the company. Management reporting has also been significantly enhanced, allowing more effective short, medium and long-term optimisation of resources. This itself will be even more invaluable when the system is fully operational across all sites as management will be able to get a top down view of the entire European scheduling capabilities of Technicolor. Cross training of key scheduling personnel will facilitate for example, the planning supervisor of the UK site to be able to run any of the European sites remotely and vice versa.

So successful has the Preactor solution been, that Technicolor is planning a second phase which would look to integrate all the elements of its manufacturing, logistics and distribution process into the scheduling process.  

Mike Novels, Managing Director of Preactor International is delighted at the success of the project. Our inherent customizability, without the need to change core code, was a key factor in making this project a success.  One of our most experienced Preactor Solution Providers, Kudos, have done an excellent job in configuring the application to exactly meet Technicolor’s needs and we are obviously proud to be associated with a company with such a prestigious pedigree”.  

Rupert is likewise impressed, “Preactor wasn’t the cheapest, but was a long way from being the most expensive. It’s a great product and their openness to suggestions and flexibility mirrors our work ethos at Technicolor. If I was going to do it again, I’d do it again with Preactor.”