CPS Flexible is one of the leading UK manufacturers of plain and printed flexible packaging materials, supplying high quality packaging solutions to customers throughout the UK and beyond. Trusted by a wide variety of household names including all the major supermarkets, the major DIY chains, newspapers and magazine companies, etc., the BRC/IoP accredited company also supplies food packaging to many major UK food manufacturers and retailers. Specialising in low volume, quick turnaround work, accurate scheduling and capacity optimisation are ciritical considerations. This is why CPS Flexible turned to Seiki Systems for the perfect job scheduling and shop monitoring system.
The Manufacturing Process
Despite the incredible range of products that CPS Flexible produce, the actual manufacturing process can be broken down to four key stages: Extrusion, Printing, Conversion and Warehousing. The deceptive simplicity of this process actually masks a complex scheduling challenge. As Production Planner Sean Bloxham, who has almost 30 years experience with the company explains, “Any of the 350 live orders we have at any time can be for just one stage or any combination of stages. This puts tremendous pressure on our capacity management as well as scheduling capabilities.”
It’s no wonder that Sean’s motto is “we can’t stop and we can’t run out”. Achieving this means managing the company’s 6 extruders, 2 printing presses and 9 bag machines to maximise their individual resource utilisation and the company’s overall capacity. All of this however is complicated by the rapid turnaround nature of work that CPS Felxible specialises in, where orders can range from individual items up to millions with delivery deadlines ranging from the next day to a number of weeks. Sean explains, “With several of our key customers, we have to be able to provide the capability where they can not only provisionally reserve capacity, they can be 100% assured of delivery by an agreed date.”
Planning & Scheduling Challenges
CPS faced a series of interlinked planning and scheduling challenges in a high pressure, short lead time and quick turnaround environment. As Sean remarks, “Our biggest planning headache is that for many jobs, the time pressures are so tight there is simply no margin for error. Every process step has to be jsut right or the customer doesn’t get their order when they expect it.” There is therefore continual pressure for Sean to eke out every bit of capacity from each resource and from the production floor as a whole. This means needing to know exactly which job is where, not just on an individual resource but in terms of the plan as a whole. To this Sean adds the usual scheduling headaches of planned and unplanned maintenance, worker absenteeism, raw material delays and balancing optimum batch size while minimising set-up times.
Prior to investing in the Seiki planning and scheduling solution, complete with Shop Floor Data Collection (SFDC), CPS Flexible had attempted to address these challenges in a number of different ways. When Sean began to take responsibility for planning almost 7 years ago, he described the starting point was “the information living inside my head.” As the business grew they experimented with a simple paper-based system, T-Cards, spreadsheets and a complicated magnetic planning board that stretched the length of several walls. Because of the continual updating of live jobs, these methods failed to provide the required longer term forward view of the plan, which still left a considerable element of guesswork in deciding whether new jobs could be taken on and delivered on time. It was also a very complex process to see the impact of any job amendments on the rest of the plan. Jobs which sat on the board outside the immediate 5-6 week planning window were literally “out of sight, out of mind.”
Not only did the Seiki solution, comprising Seiki Scheduler, SFDC, work queues and Seiki Planning board for WIP tracking, convincingly have the functionality and flexibility required it was clear that Seiki as a company had a real depth of manufacturing experience. A graphical representation of work queues generated by the Scheduler software is provided by the additional Seiki Planning Board module. The Planning Board is configured to display a visual representation of the current works orders by different coloured statuses. Started and overrunning jobs are displayed along a timeline showing where the job should have progressed to by the present time. This provided an automated version of the visual information Sean had been trying to achieve with the magnetic planning board except that here, the Seiki solution would do all the updating work.
For the first time ever, CPS Flexible had 100% accurate visibility of what was actually happeningin production and it wasn’t what they were expecting at all. They could also see the real factual implications of every job change or addition, and the data collection is invaluable to ascertaining not only how machines are performing but also helps with costing a job more accurately in post analysis.
The ability to instantly see the impact of any changes meant the Sean could quickly and easily run a range of different “What-if?” scenarios to make planning decisions that weren’t just optimised for production, they aided the business as a whole. In addition, the Scheduler View Only option enables CPS Flexible to display the current schedule, resource utilisation and available capacity on PCs located throughout the company to increase visibility to the wider team. In fact, in a very real way, the Seiki solution has helped unite the role of Sales, Planning and Production.
The versatility of the Seiki solution has also helped CPS Flexible get closer to its aim of 100% capacity utilisation because as soon as capacity becomes free, Sean can then proactively discuss with Sales the exact details of what new work the company can take on which enables Sales to target new business with the confidence they can deliver. This confidence extends to the shopfloor where SFDC monitors display updated work queues next to each resource so that workers can see not just what job to do now, but which jobs are coming down the line. Reflecting on the overall scale of improvements, Sean estimates that prior to the Seiki solution getting 50% of planning decisions right would be a good day. Now he says this is consistently about 80-90%.
Sean is also keen to add that CPS also benefited from the excellent customer service and technical support provided by Seiki. This was especially appreciated in the early days of the system being up and running. “I rang customer support and they were always happy to oblige and explained to get the most out of the system.” Sean has only positive things to say about Seiki. “We thought we knew where we were in production, but we didn’t. Now that we can see exactly where everything is, it is like Planning is the heart, the pulse of the company. We keep the company running smoothly and any time there is any threat to this, Seiki helps us deal with it. We simply couldn’t do the level of work that we now do without it.”