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Preactor Supplies a Fresh Scheduling Solution to Tilmanstone Salads
October 2003

Tilmanstone SaladsTilmanstone Salads, part of the Geest Group, is a specialist producer of value added packed salads. Fresh salad produce is supplied to the company from accredited growers in both the UK and Continental Europe.

With around 1000 varied orders arriving every day, the Dover-based company realised it needed a more flexible scheduling software solution as part of its overall business process software suite. The company also realised that, as part of its transition to a multi-million pound investment in new facilities, it had the ideal opportunity to make the cultural leap to a more flexible and efficient business software suite. Consequently the company became reliant on Preactor International for the scheduling of its critical planning operation.

Fresh food produce enters the site at Goods-In. It then moves to the preparation stage, from where it goes through a state-of-the-art wash system. After drying, produce is weighed and put into crates. These are then issued to the company’s production lines. From here products are assembled, sealed and taken to the collation area where they are packed into despatch crates, and then strapped on to pallets.

At its previous Northbourne-based site, the company (then known as Kent Salads) used an Excel spread sheet as its scheduling software tool. On the whole, this proved to be a highly reliable and versatile system, and Excel continues to be used to some degree for order boards at the new site in Eythorne, Dover.

However, the company had an issue with the system’s data integrity. “This was because the bills of materials were held in the spread sheet, and these BoMs didn’t necessarily match those that were held in the core stock control system,” explained Planning Manager, Richard Parr.

“So, we found that although the planning system was generating buying and labour requirements for the factory, this often bore little relation to the costings and as such was very difficult to keep things up to date running two systems in this way.”

As far as basic scheduling was concerned, Richard felt the Excel spreadsheets scheduled the large areas of the factory, such as assembly and prep, very well.

“However it couldn’t cope with the ‘gap’ in the middle; where important different processes should interact smoothly,” he said.

“So, for example, we could schedule prepped pepper but not sliced pepper. Basically, we had a ‘hole’ in the factory where we had no visibility, and we would often end up with schedules that couldn’t work reliably in practice.”

Richard and his team first heard about Preactor and its Advanced Planning & Scheduling (APS) solution through parent company The Geest Group back in 2000.

Tilmanstone Salads“Geest had a preferred Best of Breed planning suite of software tools mainly comprising a Recipe Generation Program (RGP)/MRP and Preactor APS. This was being put in place at various sites around the country,” he said.

After the decision had been made to move Tilmanstone Salads over to a version of this suite, Richard visited Preactor in Chippenham, Wiltshire, and attended its training course to become more familiar with the APS system.

“When we transferred from Kent Salads to this site in 2001, and renamed the company, I used the opportunity to put in place a new planning system, based on the Geest suite,” Richard explained. “It is much easier to change culture when you change sites, rather than change the planning sheets etc. in a culture that’s used to a different methodology.”

System implementation was undertaken by an in-house IT team. IT Manager Mike McCarthy together with Richard Parr cleaned up the BoM and put in place the infrastructure that would allow Tilmanstone Salads to schedule production in a more efficient way. The implementation period including scoping took only two months during late 2000/2001. “The short timeframe was largely because we had put a lot of time and effort into getting the detail right before progressing with implementation,” said Richard. “Actual implementation of Preactor took a mere four weeks. We finished the process some ten weeks ahead of schedule. This meant we went live well in advance of making the first products at our new site.”

Because we took a configuration that was already in place at Bourne Salads, another Geest-owned company, Tilmanstone Salads avoided having to do a substantial amount of adjustment and customisation. As for the benefits provided by Preactor, Senior Planner Debbie Macrae commented: “Preactor’s Gantt charts give us a high level of visibility in terms of how much time has been allotted for each line on the shop floor. It is very easy to see how much time has been utilised and how much time is still free on the plan. It is also a lot quicker to use all round than previous systems I have used.”

Prior to using the current suite of software tools, the company manually transferred Work in Progress (WIP) data from an Excel spreadsheet to other systems. “We have now automated this process, so the Excel data can be pulled automatically into our Recipe Generation Programme (RGP) MRP system and ImpCom core stock control MRP system,” said Debbie. “Preactor then pulls it directly out of RGP. This means there is no duplication of data and little chance of storing conflicting data. So Preactor has all relevant WIP and order information ready to schedule.”

Since early 2001, Preactor 400 APS has been in constant operation. “Since the system went live it has only failed to operate twice for short periods of time,” said Richard. “And one of these occasions was because of a general in-house power issue. Apart from this, it has proved to be a very stable and robust piece of software. When you consider that it is used every day of the year it has acquitted itself admirably.”

One of the major benefits of Preactor is its ability to show both the past and future related to any particular point in time.

Debbie commented: “The software allows us to see clearly what is lined up for the future and how the past would or could have been. This means we can easily tell if we have a potential bottleneck or other constraint that will need addressing.”

Debbie also cited the system’s ability to act as a capacity modelling tool. “We can take a peak day’s capacity expectations, and if not use the data to drive any capital expenditure requirements.” In addition, Debbie commented that Preactor APS’s drag and drop function meant scheduling adjustments can be made within seconds on screen.

She also emphasised that the system was very easy to master from scratch. “The system was up and running when I joined the company in 2001, and it was a delight to work with from the outset. It is a very visual-based system.” 

Preactor Managing Director, Mike Novels, said of the project: “The experience gained in the other Geest Group plants was a major factor in getting up and running in just a few weeks. Fast turn-around fresh food processing is a demanding, cost competitive business and Preactor has capability to help our users beat their competition.”