Established in 1969 by its current owners, Destec Engineering Ltd has been at the forefront of “Clamp Type Pipe Connectors” design for over 30 years. The company manufactures a range of high pressure fittings used extensively for high pressure Top-Sides, Sub Sea Piping, Manifolds and Risers. Destec also designs and manufactures Remote Operation Vehicle (ROV) operated Single Bolt Clamp Connectors and provides a range of on-site services, primarily to the oil and gas, petrochemical and power generation industries. With a turnover of £5.3 million and 65 employees, the company attributes its success to competitive pricing, excellent service and technical expertise and aims to become the leading independent supplier of sub-sea connectors. At the heart of the company’s growth has been its long term reliance on the planning and scheduling capabilities of its Preactor system.
The clamps and couplings manufactured by Destec are subject to extreme physical and environmental conditions so quality is understandably of paramount importance. Given the critical role played by such components, so also is the ability to supply to the customers exact time requirements and it is here that Destec faces many of its key business challenges as each component can come in a multiplicity of sizes, materials and be comprised of many different component parts.
John Hulme is Destec’s Production Manager and has worked for the company for a total of 8 years at 2 different times and explains in more detail the scope of these challenges. “80% of what we produce is Make to Order (MTO) with the remaining 20% being Make to Stock (MTS). While some suppliers do have semi-regular orders, demand is hard to estimate and complicated by the fact that materials and specifications continually change. Lead time is highly variable, from 2 days to 26 weeks and is determined by complexity of the final product, the availability and nature of raw materials and subcomponents, and any outsourcing stages involved. For example, a Cameron Clamp has 29 different parts, each requiring 7-8 processes per part, and typically takes 6-8 weeks to complete from commencing manufacturing to delivery.”
The physical process of manufacturing also provides further constraints for a number of the 20 production centres are size and material specific which, given that Destec manufactures seals from 1 inch up to 800 mm, raises the potential for costly bottlenecks. This is compounded by the fact that many products require outsourced processes which means supplier availability and delivery accuracy have to be taken into account. A number of products require exotic and highly expensive raw materials which cannot be kept in stock and therefore must be ordered per job and can take a considerable time to source and then have delivered. As Hulme says, “Our biggest problem is managing capacity across the entire production process.”
Destec has long since therefore recognised the importance of accurate planning and scheduling having moved from magnetic boards and spreadsheets to a Shuttleworth system as long ago as 1985. Hulme, who was employed by Destec at the time, recalls the system well. “It was a typical DOS system, simple but effective. The biggest drawbacks were the lack of any graphical representation of work in progress, no drag-and-drop capabilities and very weak reporting functionality.” He also recalls the system on his return to the company in May 2001, some 16 years after leaving. “The system was largely unchanged and this was a growing problem. We were paying a maintenance fee yet getting no real support updates. A new windows-based system was developed but instead of an upgrade, this was something we had to buy and then spend more money in order to learn how to use the new system. When I reported back to senior management I was told in no uncertain terms to go and get a different system, and one which would do what we really needed it to do.”
This led to a thorough search for an alternative and after discounting JobShop for being too complicated, Hulme attended a Preactor Evaluation Session in October 2002. “What swung it for Preactor,” remarks Hulme, “was the ability to experiment with the free disc. We could see for ourselves how it worked using our own data.” This enabled Hulme to show Senior Management how the system worked and also the increased functionality over Shuttleworth. The final influencing factor was the ability of Preactor to be upgraded whilst retaining all customising and individual tailoring of the solution. With Shuttleworth, every upgrade overwrote all of Destec’s bespoke work and replaced it with standard settings. A positive decision to invest in Preactor was made in February 2003.
Implementation was simply a process of activating the licence and continuing to load all the required information into the system. This was assisted by a day’s training on-site at Preactor although with hindsight, Hulme would have preferred the training to have been at Destec. “We had over 13000 templates to enter onto the system and the more we got to grips with system, the more we ran into real life issues which we hadn’t covered in the training. However, the support team at Preactor were always helpful and always helped us work through any difficulties.”
At this stage, Hulme was using Preactor to forward schedule. New jobs and progress were updated and every couple of days the system would forward schedule again. This however was leading to significant difficulties for Destec as there was no real visibility about the current state of jobs on the shop floor. As Hulme recalls, “we had no way of knowing the degree of mirroring of the projected schedule with the actual schedule.” Furthermore, the huge amount of templates that needed to be created was causing time problems.
The solution for Destec was to move to a ‘drag and drop’ method of planning and effectively backward scheduling. This immediately alleviated the problem of loading materials incorrectly and provided immediate visibility of where jobs were, and more importantly in terms of capacity planning, when they might potentially run into problems. Hulme describes the difference this made; “Now we’re not looking at what might be happening, but at the real world of what IS happening.”
And the benefits to Destec have been significant. Not only is the company able to provide 100% accurate delivery dates to expeditors, accurate progress reports that drill right down into the progress of each part within a job can be delivered either on request, or pro-actively, all of which provide markedly superior levels of customer service than previously possible. This has not only been important for maintaining existing business but has also had a beneficial impact on new business generation. Delivery dates as a whole have also become much more accurate, and the ability to fine tune the schedule in response to real-life situations such as delays in delivery of raw materials, or machine problems etc is something the company simply couldn’t do before with Shuttleworth. In the same way, the graphical display makes it immediately clear where there is under-utilization of resource which allows Destec to move jobs forward when this is desirable. A final area of benefit is the ability of Preactor to plan and schedule during holiday periods and to respond to unexpected changes or the need to work weekend shifts, again something which was not previously possible.
As for the future, Hulme is characteristically direct. “We haven’t been overly adventurous with what Preactor can do yet because so far it’s done exactly what I want. We recognise it as central to our future business strategy by being the means by which we keep our resources fully utilised. And the more we use the system, the more we’re getting out of it.”