In a series of Q&A articles from top production control software developers, Geoff Gartland, managing director of PSL Datatrack, discusses the advantages of the latest Material Requirement Planning (MRP) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software systems used by aerospace manufacturers.
Q) What are the fundamental benefits of MRP or ERP systems?
Any MRP/ERP system should streamline the entire production process from quotation to invoice and reduce your business administration. A good system should help the business owners stay in control of their business to make sure they can manufacture quality parts that are right first time, delivered on time and sold at the right price.
PSL Datatrack provides a modular approach so you can tailor a system to work the way you need it to for your business.
Q) Are the days of the paper job card and paper management of contracts and work schedules over? How broadly have these types of production scheduling software and business management systems been adopted by manufacturing?
The days of paper are certainly fading but it may be a while before paper disappears altogether. Many businesses will still send a paper process layout around the factory with the goods for traceability purposes and this is unlikely to change without using some other means for labelling or identification of the goods. However, the management of contracts and work schedules doesn’t need to be paper based at all any more. Contracts/drawings received can be stored and viewed as many times as needed throughout the production process saving the need for printing at all. Work-to schedules do not need to be printed but can be displayed on screens at suitable points around a factory; jobs in production, jobs scheduled to be run over a given period of time, who is working on which job and when it is due to be finished are good examples of live production data.
Manufacturing businesses large and small have adopted, or are in the process of adopting scheduling and management software suitable for their businesses. In the day and age of instant information it is no good to sit down with a pencil, paper and calculator to do a quote that then needs to be typed up, albeit onto an email. The job may well have been won by someone else in that time. All businesses are under pressure to get as much done with as little staff overhead as absolutely necessary.
PSL Datatrack is a system aimed at helping small and medium manufacturing businesses do just that, by offering a system that once the initial quotation is done information is reused, wherever possible, to provide accurate reliable information on paper, if required, and on display screens if not. Drawings can be saved and viewed at various stages of production.
Q) What are the specific benefits for ERP/MRP in the aerospace sector: traceability, adhering to industry standards and practices, managing materials and resources? How can they help in an industry with a highly global supply chain and cross industry cooperation between companies?
A good ERP/MRP/Production Control system, whatever term you like to use, is vital. Aerospace requires total traceability to defined standards and there is no basis on which this can be deviated from in order for the industry to maintain the safety record that it must have, whether for commercial or military purposes. The supply chain must be monitored at all levels and information must be available about every last component in an aircraft. Managing this without a system would historically have been a massive task involving high overhead costs. With the current drive to make/keep commercial air travel affordable an efficient system is a necessity for both safety and pricing.
Any system used in the aerospace industry must enable the company using it to keep detailed accurate records about every supplier used, their accreditations, and their track record for producing parts without non-conformances. With this information being recorded to a defined level it does not matter where the supplier is located around the world as long as they can deliver the parts on time, to the right standard and at the right price.
Any good system will help manage the supply requirements to make sure they are available just in time and avoid the costly business of stock holding. Suppliers need a system to make sure they can meet these demanding delivery deadlines.
PSL Datatrack is a system with a proven track record for customers needing to meet AS9100 and ISO 9001 accreditations. By achieving this, no manufacturing business is too small to supply the aerospace industry and meet their exacting standards.
Q) Are MRP systems now superseded by more broadly capable ERP systems?
One size doesn’t fit all, whether looking at MRP, MRP II, ERP or ‘Production Control Software’.
Business requirements vary tremendously and may not necessarily slot into any of the terms above. Systems that are too small and cannot be expanded can prevent business expansion without being replaced. Systems that are designed for larger businesses can be onerous to use in a smaller business. It is important to assess your requirements and invest in a system that suits your style and size of business. Systems should be able to be extended as and when needs arise.
PSL Datatrack is a modular system designed to be scalable, offering a range of features so businesses can pick and choose what is right for them.
Q) How do these systems help manage the actual management of work on the shopfloor? How do they incorporate systems such as distributive numerical control (DNC) and Shopfloor Data Capture (SFDC)? How can they help schedule and prioritise jobs and ensure the most efficient use of machining time, for example?
Any good system will incorporate a scheduler to enable management to plan the workload for shopfloor staff based on a number of factors including due date of the order, job priority, staff and machine availability and then produce work-to lists for staff which can be displayed around the factory so everyone knows what jobs are in production at any given point in time, as well as what is planned next.
The scheduler should show each and every operation to provide a realistic representation of the production work flow but it should also be easy to use to manage unforeseen events such as a machine breakdown or staff sickness.
The scheduler should provide up-to-date information about the status of a job and do this easily provided it is given up-to-date production information through Shop Floor Data Collection (SFDC). For dynamic information this is best logged straight into a system rather than being paper based.
Many companies have their preferred choice of specialised DNC software. Factors to consider would be the range of equipment and controls used on the shopfloor. It is important for end users to be able to evaluate what they see as the pros and cons of each system and maintain the flexibility to choose the best DNC system for their business.
PSL Datatrack provides options for different size businesses by offering a full scheduler or a Work In Progress (WIP) module for capacity planning based on available resources. This enables a business to choose options that fit them best.
Q) How do you combat the natural anxiety for staff not used to using these systems or transferring to a new system after they have become familiar with an old one? How does training and the software’s own interface and ease of use help, particularly for SMEs.
Change is embraced by some and resisted by others so it is important for any system provider to offer flexible training options. Some people are happy to sit in a classroom style environment, some prefer bite-sized web sessions or a combination of the two approaches can be used. Whatever the preference, it should be catered for.
Initial training must also be underpinned with good support that can be accessed in a timely manner with accurate responses being received as soon as possible. Transferring from one system to another should be managed with minimum fuss but maximum support which may need to be ongoing, as well as during the initial transition phase. As staff come across tasks that do not fit the norm they may need support to work out how to deal with them in a different system.
If the system is easy to use and the interface is user friendly then whether a user is new to a system or changing from one to another it should be easy to get to grips with.
One last option that should also be available is ongoing consultancy as change can be constant and rapid. No business can afford to stand still or ignore challenges that they may need to deal with. Having support from your system provider for all these options means the system can grow and develop as the business grows and develops.
PSL Datatrack provides support, training and consultancy services to help customers implement and adapt their production control software system as quickly and efficiently as possible in a manner that suits their business.
Q) How do you support your customers after they have implemented these systems?
All PSL Datatrack system users are offered an annual renewable support contract alongside their investment in the software. Users with a valid support contract are able to access PSL Datatrack’s support services at any time between the business working hours of 09:00-17:00, Monday to Friday. Sometimes a support call highlights a need for specific information required in a specific format and customisation can be undertaken to get the information in exactly the format required, be it on a report or a visual option such as a status board.
The PSL Datatrack support team pride themselves on being UK-based and aim to provide a high level of customer service not available from many support services in other industries.
Q) Ultimately the returns must outweigh the cost but how is this measured and what feedback regarding this do you get back from your customers?
Cost is always a major consideration and can be hard to quantify. Although there is the initial capital outlay of a system the cost to the business is not limited to just paying for the software or training but is also down to the time taken to become familiar with the software and the speed with which users are able to navigate around the system. It is vital to ensure that whatever software you choose, it is suited to your business and not just your budget.
One PSL Datatrack customer stated that if his company didn’t have PSL Datatrack he would have needed to employ three additional members of staff. On that basis he estimated the savings to be £100,000 per year.
We have numerous quotes from customers along the lines of ‘we don’t know how we would manage the business without the system’. Testimonials are available from our website.
Q) How do you see these systems in the future integrating with Industry 4.0/ the Smart Factory, automation, robotics, additive manufacturing and AI?
Systems will no longer be reliant on somebody running or printing a report, there is a growing expectation that information will be at your fingertips. As soon as a document has been printed it is potentially out of date. Being able to identify in real time when an operation is taking longer than planned is key to driving efficiency improvements. Dynamic information boards are already used throughout many sub-contract precision engineering businesses to provide action required and monitoring information about many aspects of production control, not just on the shopfloor but for monitoring stock, scrap, non-conformances and any other area of the business as required.
The smart factory is all about working together so a system that can interface with your ancillary equipment, your CNC machines and facilitate a live feed for shop floor activity in a timely manner has to be the way forward.
PSL Datatrack already interfaces with tool vending and material carousel systems and will continue to work alongside other specialised solutions to provide the best tools for our customers.
Q) How can you help smaller companies integrate all these systems processes? How are you developing your software for the future to incorporate these changes?
PSL Datatrack always has and always will develop hand-in-hand with our forward-looking customer base developing ways of getting and displaying real time information as well as integration with other equipment. Ideas for future development are limited only by imagination.
Q) Is there anything else you can tell us about PSL Datatrack?
PSL Datatrack is a highly configurable business product where the sub-contractor and PSL effectively work in partnership to ensure the customer gets maximum benefit from the system. Implementing a system of this nature is not a one-off exercise but a process of positive constant improvement. With customers that have been using PSL Datatrack for over 20 years, the system is very stable, proven and provides a great basis for making a sub-contractor’s business ever more efficient.