Top Grade breaks the scheduling mould

Six years ago, Top Grade Molds, a designer and producer of plastic injection moulds, was stuck in an operations rut.

The Mississauga-based firm, which employs more than 130 people at its 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, specializes in moulds for industrial containers, consumer products and specialized packaging products, including pails, food storage containers and plastic parts on car head rests.

According to Dave Flegar, the manufacturer’s production schedule manager, an average mould, depending on the size and design, might include between 20 and 60 parts, with 10 to 20 steps to make each part.

Keeping track of every step for every part proved to be a nightmare. “We were kind of running things 1970s style,” Flegar said. “The foreman had a little black book where he wrote everything down. It was hard for him to follow each piece and operation. We would even forget to make pieces sometimes,” which meant the product wouldn’t be ready on the expected shipment date, he said.

Forecasting production output was also a challenge. In contrast with mass production shops, which can predict how long it will take to make 100,000 of the same basic piece, Top Grade is a custom mould manufacturer, which made it tricky to calculate output time. This, in turn, made it difficult to track workload in each department and ramp up production in departments that were falling behind.

Top Grade selected NaView, an advance planning, scheduling and execution solution from Kitchener, Ont.-based scheduling software maker RSS Solutions Inc., whose products specifically target manufacturers in the aerospace, medical devices, casting operations and automotive testing/engineering verticals.

RSS president Michael Cox said Top Grade’s pain points were similar to those of other manufacturers who, in order to maximize shop floor efficiency, need to measure how well they are doing against their plans.

He said NaView, with its ability to generate capacity schedules, model how production flows through a manufacturing facility and document the capabilities of employees, machines and other resources, helps manufacturers progress through what he called the “plan-do-check-act” cycle of improvement.

“Our technology is able to measure whether you stay on plan, what you did or didn’t do, what your compliance is to your plan. Plus, it takes into consideration new or emergency orders, machine breakdowns,” and any other surprises that may affect product output time, Cox said.

At Top Grade, as soon as the designers send their drawings for the mould over to the production shop, Flegar now inputs information about every piece or operation into NaView. This has put an end to prior problems with forgetting to make parts, Flegar said. “Basically [the software] is a good reminder.

We could never forget (to make parts) because it is there (in the system) — each department can open it up every day and see what comes up. It is really almost like having an extra person.” Cox said NaView includes a history database that tracks information on what happened during the production cycle — and if something went wrong, the reason for the failure. Supervisors can pull up key performance indicators such as how work is progressing and how much a job costs to determine how the organization is performing as a whole, he said.

Flegar said Top Grade’s scheduling has become 90 to 95 per cent accurate since installing the software. “If [the software] shows me we are late (on a job), it will show me what are our bottlenecks and what we can or can’t do.” At the strategic level, Cox said manufacturers often don’t have enough visibility into their operations. “For example, 80 per cent of a company’s shipping might happen in last 20 per cent of month, which leaves them scrambling….It might mean they’re putting in 3,000 hours of over-time per week, which is tremendously expensive.”

Even an ERP system might not provide the manufacturer with enough detail to manage its operations. “A lot of it comes down to algorithms that don’t consider the true capacity of resources…in a small enough time window that is appropriate to the planning of the organization.”

NaView can provide accurate visibility by allowing manufacturers to set realistic goals according to capacity, said Cox. “You can say that on a weekly or monthly basis, this is what you need to do to ship the product out on a particular day,” and the software will alert the user ahead of time if production starts to slip.

Before installing scheduling software, Cox said manufacturers should first determine their high-level goals. It is crucial to understand those goals and the business procedures behind them. “If [business procedures] are wrong, you will just automate the wrong things faster.”

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