Finding readily adaptable ‘off-the-shelf’ production management software for special machine building and jig and tool manufacture is not easy. Brown and Holmes (Tamworth), however, became the first jig and tool company to use the PSL Datatrack system, which provided well-supported production control modules for the complex operation.
Brown & Holmes (B & H) produces customised work holding fixtures, builds special production machinery and is the UK agent for Forkardt precision chucking systems. Founded originally in 1939 by the Brown and Holmes families, the company was acquired by today’s owners in 2003, with Carl Baker and Kevin Ward as joint Managing Directors. Today, B & H employs around 48 personnel, including 32 on the shop floor. Annual turnover is around £3.5 million.
Introducing production control software came in early when a local IT consultant developed in-house computer software to replace, as Carl Baker said, “A very good paper-based system.” Problems arose when the ‘IT man’ changed career. “The system had run very well for four years,” said Carl Baker. “But without the guy who had written the system we suddenly had no IT support. Production control is the key to our successful operation, and we therefore had to look for a replacement, specifically an off-the-shelf system if possible”
In 2002, Carl Baker’s team had narrowed production control software suppliers down to three. One provider was PSL Datatrack of Bracknell, Berkshire. “PSL Datatrack showed us some existing users, mostly producing higher volume batches than we were used to. But we could see a promise of flexibility and tailoring,” said Carl Baker. “We knew that as the system stood it was not ideal, but it could be easily and readily tailored to our needs. We also noted that the software undergoes constant improvements and was competitive in price.”
Carl Baker explained: “We wanted a ‘user-friendly and easy-to-learn production control software system that would not stop day-to-day business during the learning period. Our operation was too big for an excel based system and we felt it would take ‘an age’ to bed in a larger MRP/ERP type system in an operation like ours. This, and the flexibility of design of the software, is why our ultimate decision to purchase PSL Datatrack was made.”
As Carl Baker also explained, the jig and tool and special machine building business varies constantly. Very few manufacturing jobs are similar and rarely repeat. Some workholding fixtures may need a lot of special machining and assembly. They may be made up partly from machined parts, standard components and ‘bought out’ items. So over a period of time, it is very difficult to achieve any kind of proper balance on the shop floor between the different machining processes.
An example is a three-face, hydraulic clamping, workholding fixture ‘cube’ for three separate workpiece holding positions. At the quotation stage, the engineering team, including jig and tool designers would agree the best solution. They would discuss details like workpiece locations, orientation, clamping systems and perhaps whether the workpiece needed slight modification to simplify location and clamping.
From this, the quotation would be entered into the PSL Datatrack system and a proposal sent to the customer. Following an order, a detailed CAD drawing would be produced and process layouts for every manufactured part input into PSL Datatrack. This PSL Datatrack information would then produce work orders for use on the shop floor to book manufacturing time, allowing comparison between actual costs and calculated costs. At B & H the system also controls the purchasing function as well as producing delivery notes and invoices.
In addition to their many manufacturing customers companies, B & H also produces fixtures and work holding systems for major machine tool companies providing ‘turnkey’ systems (machine tools plus fixtures, handling systems), such as NCMT and Mori-Seiki.
Most of the CNC machine tools used by B & H are integrated into the PSL Datatrack system. ” In addition, all our toolmakers are skilled in at least two disciplines,” explained Carl Baker. “We have a core of toolmakers and machinists who can move around the shop floor. Some men can switch from prismatic machining to grinding, and then to turning, which minimises bottlenecks in production. Our investment in training three graduate design staff and two current apprentices is further evidence of our commitment to customer support through relevant skills.”
Over half of the machine tools used are CNC, including multi-axis turning and milling, jig-boring and large bed surface grinding. Also linked into PSL DataTrack is the co-ordinate measuring machine where the company's quality engineers also book inspection time into PSL Datatrack. This, together with on-going investment in new machine tools, keeps B&H at the forefront of technology and competitiveness.
Production data is entered into PSL Datatrack daily to provide accurate end-of-job costing which, together with purchased items such as material, subcontract and finishing operations, ensures we constantly monitor our production effectiveness and estimating procedures.
At present, B & H operates 10 seats with PSL Datatrack running in Microsoft Windows XP and Windows7. “We occasionally throw challenges at PSL Datatrack,” said Carl Baker. For example, B & H recently acquired the UK agency for Forkardt precision chucks, collets and mandrels. “We wanted to separate the Forkardt operation from the jig and tool operation, using different customer codes,” said Carl Baker. Work measurement, margins and sales levels had to be separated too. “PSL Datatrack very quickly tailored the system enabling us to run virtually two businesses with a single system.”
In addition to the jig and tool and Forkardt operations, PSL Datatrack has helped B&H through the recent recession by keeping the operation lean, controlling purchasing costs and giving instant feedback on operating costs. It also enhanced the company’s ability to support new markets such as Aerospace and Power Generation, resulting in membership of the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, a vastly increased customer base and a rapid recovery from the recession. All of this was achieved without any redundancy and without the need for additional management personnel.
In conclusion, Carl Baker commented: “For me, the system we chose is right, and PSL Datatrack has developed their systems in line with our development of our business. The software is flexible enough to be tailored to suit our changing needs, communication between our companies is excellent and they have proved themselves to have a good understanding of our business.”