In a Q&A session, Redthorn’s director of operations, Tom Rootes explains why the aerospace sector is demanding an increased requirement for visibility of data and connectivity to other systems, both internally and up and down the supply chain.
Redthorn specialises in the development and distribution of MRP software solutions and business consultancy services. Established for over 30 years, the company’s success has been driven by its skilled team, many of whom are experienced aerospace professionals with extensive working knowledge of OEMs and the variability of demand and capacity management within the supply chain.
Q) In general, what are the latest trends and demands driving aerospace customer requirement for your software solutions and why?
Aerospace has always been very specific in its requirements for data accuracy and traceability and this hasn’t changed, however we’re seeing increased requirement for visibility of data and connectivity to other systems, both internally and up and down their supply chain. Customers are recognising the benefits and cost efficiencies of having multiple specialist systems that are interconnected rather than one all-encompassing and often cumbersome large-scale ERP system.
Purchasers of software systems are far more knowledgeable than they used to be, so it’s no longer viable to do a generic demonstration of software. Price and quality are key, but we have to understand what the customer wants from the system and address any list of requirements. Flexibility in the style of implementation and also payment structure are always key factors in the sales process. We recognise that people still buy from people, and a good relationship will lead to a long-term customer.
Q) Are you still surprised to see paper-driven systems being used in customer facilities, or are these days long gone?
Paperless job cards are still very much the norm in most of our SME customers because they form part of a simple process. For many customers there is no substitute for being able to walk up to any job on the shopfloor, pick up the card and instantly know what it is. We do have paperless customers, but it is certainly not the standard practise. Work schedules are more commonly electronic now, and we have had EDIs on our systems running for order book in-load for twenty years.
Q) What specific areas in your suite of modules are proving most popular with your aerospace customers?
Customers who may have traditionally taken a relaxed approach to recording and reporting shopfloor efficiency and productivity data are now investing their time in looking at this in conjunction with OEE data to ensure they are putting the best resource into continuous improvement on the shopfloor. This has resulted in a far greater interest in what our data capture and quality modules can do for them.
To assist this process, Redthorn is seeking funding for a project to identify how SMEs will benefit from increased understanding of OEE, how to measure it with access to a prototype digital toolset and techniques as part of a scalable standardised continuous improvement platform that can be rapidly deployed by multiple tiers in the advanced manufacturing and engineering supply chain and other high value manufacturing sectors.
Q) What involvement does Redthorn have with industry and governmental legislative bodies, such as the ADS Group or an aerospace cluster?
Redthorn was selected to become a Leadership and Management development provider in September 2018 to support the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Levels (NMCL) in the aerospace and automotive sectors. This was endorsed by both the ADS and SC21 boards. The programme will be rolled out to over 400 advanced engineering companies over the next four years. Redthorn is a member of the NWAA and the consulting arm of the business was a key Strategic Service Provider within the £8.4 million NWAA Aerospace Supply Chain Excellence Programme launched to create a ‘World Class’ aerospace supply chain in the North West of England. Redthorn’s CEO, Mark Hughes joined the Welsh Aerospace Forum Steering Board in 2014 and became a director in 2017.
Q) In terms of training and support, is one of the major obstacles helping customers overcome their 'comfort blanket' attachment to legacy systems?
MRP systems, even dated legacy ones, tend to be very embedded within customers and it’s always a challenge to get users away from the comfort blanket of doing something because “that’s always how we have done it”. The most important key to a successful implementation as far as Redthorn is concerned is the quality of our staff who deliver it and the supporting documentation and video resources. The trainers and helpdesk have many years of experience providing online, classroom, and one to one tuition. Customers are additionally supported by our UK-based helpdesk and Redthornzone.com, our web-based knowledge centre which contains system videos, manuals, FAQs, and latest development news.
Q) In terms of positive customer feedback, do you have any success stories you can relate to our readers?
One of Redthorn’s success stories is Field International, a privately-owned Poole, Dorset-based independent global engineering company, and the UK’s only official Airbus Tier 1 supplier and a Boeing aircraft tooling licensee. Three years after formation, Field purchased its first MRP system with us. As it has grown, the company has upgraded its systems in line with our development journey. Field now has Redthorn MRP installed globally and in the last few weeks we have transferred it to our cloud service to allow continuity of usage during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Q) How do you see these systems integrating with Industry 4.0, automation, robotics, additive manufacturing and AI in the future?
The MRP system will be a critical cog in the evolution of Industry 4.0 as it contains, manages and processes so much data related to the manufacturing process. The MRP systems will evolve so they are constantly communicating with the systems around them, whether they are machines, robots or other AI related systems.
For example, we have a number of customers who use our systems for additive manufacturing and we also have a project running to deliver scheduled job data to a Fastems Pallet Production system. This is a system which automates the delivery of work to a cluster of machines via an automated conveyer system, so in many ways it is in advance of DNC and a reflection of Industry 4.0.
Q) Finally, what differentiates your company from the competition and why should a customer use your products over your nearest rival?
Redthorn is unique in that we have an extremely well-established and cost-effective software solution that is supported by a team with years of experience working or consulting in high value engineering. This combination means we can add value across a far broader area of the customer’s business, ranging from subject matters such as MRP system best practises to leadership and management training.