JAVELIN Delivers The Best Of Both Worlds To Iona Unitool
With customers predominately in the aerospace and medical equipment sectors, the Iona Unitool Group faces the combined problems of producing complex prototype components alongside repeat batch work for two of the most demanding markets in the UK.
No surprise then that it needs a high capability manufacturing system to meet the conflicting requirements of both types of activity. The company’s selection of Jobshop has proved ideal to meet these challenges - and to manage both sides of its operations successfully.
Based in Cheltenham, the 45-strong Iona Unitool group is a company of two distinct halves. Both specialise in manufacturing complex, high value, high precision components in materials ranging from aluminium alloys to high carbon or nickel steels and titanium. Both operate to aerospace quality standards; and both utilise common manufacturing equipment and resources. But that’s where the similarity ends.
Iona is the group’s batch manufacturing operation, dedicated to supplying production parts and sub-assemblies to dynamic monthly schedules. In contrast, Unitool specialises in producing one-offs and prototypes, such as wind tunnel scale models for aerospace customers including Airbus, Messier Dowty and Smiths Industries, as well as MOD work for the likes of Qinetiq and Devonport Marine Ltd.
“It is a recipe for chaos,” says the organisation’s Managing Director, Mike Sullivan; “And to some degree that is what we had before installing our Jobshop systems.”
“We first started to investigate the use of MRP systems about 20 years ago as a means of automating the production of shop floor documentation - primarily for repeat batch work. We subsequently installed a proprietary second generation system in the nineties. This certainly proved more reliable than our initial system, but still involved manual data collection.”
“As we approached the millennium, we realised we were vulnerable to Y2K issues,” Mr Sullivan continues. “This gave us the impetus to re-evaluate the market again and led us to install Jobshop in preference to several other competitive systems.
“We wanted something with a proven track record. However, it had to be backed by the flexibility to fit our operations, rather than requiring us to adapt to its way of working.”
Mr Sullivan recognises that good information is a pre-requisite for making good decisions. “And we need plenty of it in our business,” he notes. He believes Jobshop’s ability to drill down to provide detailed information on part numbers and raw material is an invaluable feature of the system. “Not only in-house, but as a sales tool as well,” he continues. “For example, it enables us to instantly answer queries from customers regarding the availability of a particular grade of material, or to investigate potential alternatives while they are on the phone. This builds confidence in our abilities, and undoubtedly is a factor in enabling us to win more business.”
Production Control is King
According to Mr Sullivan, production control is king at Iona Unitool. “It provides a pivotal role; sitting between our sales team - who want the work - and the manufacturing departments producing it,” he explains.
Works orders are also at the heart of the company’s operations. They can be several pages long and contain detailed information on the complete manufacturing process, including tools and set up data. With a typical batch sizes of around 30 components, set up and change-over issues are clearly important to the company’s capabilities. In addition, works orders contain scheduling instructions and act as a quality record for each job.
Mr Sullivan is particularly impressed by JobShop’s ‘quick load’ feature, as it represents a key point in the progress of any order. It not only creates a sales order, which is forwarded as a confirmation to the customer, but also generates the works order. In addition, the complete specification for the part is produced - its multi-level structure, including its routing and control of subcontract operations, its raw materials, tooling kits and finally, the required shop floor documentation - all in one operation.
In parallel, the stores area at Iona Unitool is another core element of the company. It is not only responsible for allocating the required raw material, but also assembling the necessary tool kits, gauges, fixtures and consumables, as well as ensuring the job is delivered to the first work station on the shop floor.
It’s not surprising to find aerospace industry procedures are the norm throughout the company; with operators using self-certification stamps to sign off each stage of the work as it progresses to completion. In parallel, barcode-based shop floor data collection feeds updated information to the Jobshop system to ensure close control of costs, along with the identification of potential bottlenecks.
“We also use information from Jobshop to produce tailored reports, such as a graphical representation of machining capacity by individual work centre,” adds Mr Sullivan. “This is a particularly useful tool for our sales team, as it enables them to see at a glance the loading of particular machines up to three months in advance.
“It is important for sales staff to avoid pouring work into what may already be full buckets. The report enables them to see where the buckets are full. What’s more, it arms them with accurate information when they discuss future projects with customers and therefore builds confidence in our ability to deliver what and when we say we will.”
With a missed operation in any of its aerospace jobs potentially capable of causing a catastrophic failure, control and traceability are consistent themes running through Iona Unitool’s activities. They are reflected in the ongoing monitoring of route cards and works orders by inspection staff to ensure that operations are completed - and stamped off correctly - by operators. Interestingly, the inspectors in turn, report to production control staff, who are ultimately responsible for undertaking a ‘completeness check’ on every works order as part of the company’s ISO 9000:2000 certification.
“It gives us accurate and up-to-the-moment information on which to run the business. I am impressed that it has the capability to knit together both sides of our operations - and their different requirements,” he comments.
He also welcomes the unlimited availability of Jobshop's Helpdesk facilities; noting that when operators of any powerful system become more proficient, they occasionally need ‘advanced driving’ tuition in order to get the best out of it.
“Jobshop is at the heart of everything we do, from initial estimating and costing through to despatch, invoicing and contract review. Our company has never made an operating loss in its 25 year history and I am convinced that we simply could not retain our position in such competitive markets without Jobshop’s help,” he concludes.