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Preactor Provides Platform for Growth for Sandvik Mining and Construction
décembre 2006

Sandvik Mining and ConstructionSandvik Mining and Construction’s facility in Alachua, Florida, is part of the Sandvik group of companies and specialises in the assembly of drill rigs for surface mining. The company’s assembly unit in Alachua, employs over 200 people, with 150 of these used in the production of the wide variety of drill rigs for supply throughout the world. With key markets including Australia, South Africa, and the US the Alachua facility needs to have its assembly processes as streamlined as possible.

When the facility needed computerised scheduling to assist this, it found a firm foundation to build on with Preactor 300 FCS and system implementer RMS.

The world of drill rig assembly presents many business challenges which start with the very nature of the product itself. With each rig comprising over 1500 individual parts and sub-assemblies, co-ordinating the flow of materials becomes a mission critical requirement. In addition to the complexity of each rig, the sheer range of possible permutations available also places heavy demands on the company.

Thomas Duffaut is Vice President Supply Surface Mining expands on some of these challenges.

“Given the bespoke nature of the majority of our products, it is essential to accurately forecast appropriate stock levels of a continuously flexible range of parts. Moreover, because we work on a cell manufacturing basis, any problems or assembly bottlenecks progressively get more challenging the further the order completes. And with each rig taking on average some months to fully assemble, the effects can be cumulative across many different orders. We are always facing the possibility of a cell being either left empty or having to deal with an overcapacity of work.”

In additional to material resource problems, the assembly plant also faces considerable human resource challenges.

Sandvik Mining and ConstructionDuffaut again, “Some of most acute planning and scheduling difficulties come at the end of the process, specifically with respect to the Testing and Painting stages. Unlike the other cells involved in the assembly process where much of the human skill sets are interchangeable, these two stages require very specific skills. Therefore it’s paramount to ensure that our human resources with these skills are being used in a most effective and efficient manner and not being tied up elsewhere in the assembly process.”

As if this wasn’t enough, the Alachua facility face additional challenges resulting from assembling such a complex end product and therefore having to work with so many suppliers. Late delivery is a constant threat to the overall flow of a job throughout the facility, as is the very real possibility of customers changing rig specifications after the job has commenced. In a like manner, at times the company will commence a job building to order from forecast, only to find that again, specifications change.

As Duffaut realistically summarises, “It is simply a part of the industry we operate in, the best you can do is manage it, and manage it effectively.”

In 2004, the Alachua plant attempted to make use of a widely used commercial project planning software to help with its planning and scheduling issues. From the outset it was clear that this software was very complex to use, not just from a strategic solution perspective, but also from the perspective of the average user who would have to make use of the system.

As Duffaut remarks, “It demanded a lot of IT and system knowledge, which is not something you’d find in the average user.” In addition to the complexity, there was not a lot of flexibility in the product or any attempted solutions derived from the product. All in all it was clear that there was not a good fit.

In early 2005 Duffaut therefore began conducting some research into alternative computerised planning and scheduling solutions which led them to a number of contenders, including Preactor from RMS.  Whereas the solutions all showed some potential, what really stood out for Sandvik was RMS’ much more service-oriented approach in comparison to the other companies.

As he makes clear, “In addition to being much more knowledgeable about its solution, they were much more willing to work with us, and also showed a strong understanding of our industry and our requirements.

Sandvik placed an order with RMS for a Preactor 300 FCS system in July 2005 and commenced on an ambitious implementation timetable. This involved Warren Roberts from RMS spending a number of days with all key planning and stakeholders in Alachua. RMS’ wider IT system skills were used to provide the required integration with Sandvik’s AS400 based System 21 ERP system which in turn, provided an extra benefit because it meant that there was very little demand put on its own internal IT resources.

A period of parallel running for a month went smoothly with RMS providing any final fine tuning that was required. The system went live 2 months after the implementation began. Duffaut is convinced the speed and smoothness came from RMS’ attitude to working with the people in Alachua. “At every level, RMS clearly wanted to work as fully as possible with us. Even during the parallel running, any minor issue we had was sorted out straight away.”

Since using Preactor, the Alachua plant has noticed a number of major benefits although these are hard to quantify for two reasons. Firstly, given the previous lack of visibility in the company concerning its planning and scheduling, there was very little to measure against as a definitive benchmark. Secondly, the plant had also undertaken a whole range of process changes since Preactor has been installed.

Sandvik Mining and ConstructionDuffaut takes this further. “We have not just changed our processes because of Preactor, Preactor has actually enabled us change our processes in ways that have provided additional efficiency and effectiveness. We wouldn’t have been able to make these changes without the control and visibility that Preactor provides us with.”  

In terms of visibility, the Alachua production planning group now has much greater accuracy in terms of what is happening across all jobs live within the factory. It also can react much more quickly to any late deliveries or changes in specifications, with Preactor’s “what-if” scenarios providing the planners with allows the company to be deliver much greater accuracy in terms of delivery times.

The ability to be much more proactive in terms of communicating with customers about how their job is progressing has also proved to be very helpful in managing customer expectations and ultimately keeping customer satisfaction levels to a high level. Preactor’s visibility has also proved very useful to Alachua’s supply group because it is now much easier to compare projected forecasts with what is actually happening within the production facility, and to make adjustments accordingly.

Preactor has also helped improve the factory’s human resource scheduling challenges, as Duffaut explains.

“Whilst ensuring that the most skilled workers are scheduled to maximum effectiveness will always be a challenge, with Preactor we now have a much smoother flow of drill rig assemblies into the specialist cells which makes scheduling the appropriate personnel that much easier.“

He cites an example of overtime use to illustrate this. “Prior to Preactor, we might have to notify people 5 minutes before the end of shift that they may need to do overtime. This was far from satisfactory. Now however, we can ask a week in advance which not only smoothes the work flow, but keeps the workers much happier and at ease.”

As for the future, Duffaut’s main aim is to work with RMS to develop some of the more complex elements of reporting, specifically to publishing web schedules around the facility via the company’s intranet. As for Preactor and RMS,

Duffaut has no doubts of their worth to Sandvik. “The whole experience has been a very positive one. Both Preactor and RMS have been extremely flexible and fulfilled everything promised.”