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JAVELIN manages all of Nicholsons Sealing Technologies changing operational activities

When Nicholsons Sealing Technologies, the UK arm of Nicholsons Group, recognised the need for the automated collection of company-wide data on production processes, the general opinion was that such a system did not exist. One that could cover the wide range of highly formalised operations that the company carried out, support a flexible manufacturing environment and enable volatile customer order requirements to be met – seemed a tall order. The solution that covered all these and more, was Jobshop.

Nicholsons Group is a global specialist in the design and manufacture of high temperature metal seals, gaskets and ancillary components for the aerospace, automotive, offshore oil and gas, nuclear and process industries. With companies in the US, Poland and the UK and close representation in Canada and Europe, the group provides a turnkey mechanical engineering service from design and prototype to full volume production. With more than 80 years’ experience of metal seal design and production allied to leading-edge technology and a highly skilled workforce, Nicholsons provides quality components and service to its customers.

Nicholsons Sealing Technologies (NST) is the UK arm of Nicholsons Group. Formed in October 2002 from the merger of Nicholson's Aircraft Seals and Nicholson Seals, the company has an impressive pedigree in providing precision engineered metallic sealing solutions and services to the highest standards since 1923. The use of these components is extensive – the majority of military and civil aviation programs use the companies' parts and expertize. They can be found on the seabed, in power stations, on large earth-moving equipment, in truck and marine power plants and turbochargers, and even in CT scanners, vintage and F1 racecars, and nuclear cores.

NST has a stated commitment to excel in the provision of these components and services and to exceed the technical, quality, delivery, safety and relationship expectations of its customers. After the successful merger, which consolidated and brought widespread synergies to the business, the primary focus to achieve this goal was the drive to achieve the highest Quality & Business Systems approvals: ISO9001:2000 to be followed by AS9100 (Aerospace), TS16949:2002 (Automotive) and Nadcap Special Processes (Specifically AS7102 Heat Treating, AS7110 Welding & Chemical Processing). In order to meet these arduous quality requirements, separate, in-house developed IT systems had been replaced by an interim single IT system, again in-house developed and delivered. This had been implemented successfully and allowed Nicholsons to continue its aggressive improvement activities. The most ambitious of these was a total company transfer from three separate manufacturing units into a single-site modern facility completed during 2005.

Focus on lean manufacturing

With the premizes move complete, implementing lean practices and targeted investment in effective tools throughout the business, became the next business focus. In-house development of IT business systems, although highly successful, was not a core part of the company’s activities. Nicholsons business was also expanding rapidly – the range of manufactured products was changing from simpler single component parts to multi-component assemblies. Lean improvements in the developing production facilities meant that carrying out sub-con treatments was becoming an attractive proposition but one that could not be readily catered for. The development of the Polish operation as a low-cost economy sourcing base and the resultant supply chain integration activities that were being developed, needed to be supported by a robust purchasing system.

All of these new activities were beyond the scope of the incumbent in-house developed IT system. With the customer sectors as a whole pursuing cost-down and supply-chain consolidation aggressively, NST needed an automated method of collecting company-wide cost data on production processes. The replacement with a commercial, third party industry best-practice system was identified as a critical business improvement.

The search for a ‘manufacturing business management’ IT system revealed a plethora of potential solutions. The package had to cover all of the NST Operational activities from receipt of order through planning, purchasing, material issue, manufacturing operations, sub-con operations, stock management, despatch, release and invoicing. The orders needed to be either ‘discrete’ (one-offs) or a volatile (and therefore regularly maintained) customer schedule.

The specification for the planning module was a bit of an unknown – Nicholsons as a company had never used Bills of Material, computer based Scheduling or Manufacturing Resource Planning! Purchasing need to be linked into manufacturing requirements and the planning system if the business was to run Just In Time and Lean wherever possible. The production module needed to be both formalised to meet arduous quality requirements and at the same time highly flexible to cope with NST’s cellular layout, multi-skilled workforce and both very large and very small works-order batch sizes. Stock management needed to be controlled, visible and easily reported on. Despatch and release, from a quality aspect, was to be crucial. Certificates of Conformity are not only an essential part of the delivered product to Nicholson’s customers, they should detail the full, traceable trail of the batch, including special processes and sub-con treatments carried out. The chosen system would need to link up, preferably seamlessly, with a suitable third-party accounting package.

The general opinion was that there didn’t exist a system on the market that could cover the wide range of highly formalised operations that Nicholsons carried out, support a flexible manufacturing environment and enable volatile customer order requirements to be met.

Selecting the best solution

The packages reviewed seem to take on a number of forms. Accounting packages which had grown to include stock management and some aspects of purchasing. Sprawling ERP packages that required substantial and costly consultant configuring. Very basic packages that covered only some of the essential features identified. A shortlist of three intermediate level packages was chosen – a US- based ‘jobbing’ system, Jobshop, and another UK-based ‘jobbing’ system. Based on them meeting the above minimum requirements, further investigation was carried out. This involved at least two demonstrations of the software (one at the providers’ site and one at NST), at least one reference visit to a company already using the system, a credit check and business overview to ensure the financial health of the provider and the likely risk to continuity of support of the product. It was decided that minimum customization and close, well-resourced, UK-based support for the planned very aggressive short timescale implementation of the package was of primary importance. Nicholsons also admitted to one final, rather ‘soft’ but deal-making criteria – that they liked and trusted the provider sufficiently to feel comfortable enough to work with them as business development partners in this very risky business activity of system change.

The go live date was set for 10th April 2006, only eight weeks after the announced decision to replace the IT system with Jobshop. The system would go live for the start of the financial year along with a new accounting package (Iris Exchequer). Every standard module in Jobshop bar Estimating was to be implemented immediately, albeit the focus being on safe transfer – the finer points of MRP were to be understood and worked through later. A team of eight was chosen to spearhead the implementation, covering all the major operational and QA areas. Core information to load was identified and prepared. Where data didn’t exist (eg Bills of Material), rapid business decisions (that would have major business operating implications) needed to be investigated and made quickly.

Going live with Jobshop
The implementation was led by Nick Green, technical director of NST, and Jobshop’s senior consultant Ian Cartwright. Software installation on NST servers was carried out by Jobshop technical support personnel working alongside IRIS Tec Support. Custom modification was carried out by Jobshop programrs, specifically on the Release Notes. Seven 1-day training sessions were sufficient to provide the core NST team with an understanding of each module within the system. Internal training was then rolled out by the NST team to the wider organization. Within eight weeks, the data set had been loaded on to the trial system and the Jobshop system went live.

Jobshop was initially installed with 15 seats for the core users. User demand to roll out the system throughout the shop floor areas has led to a further 13 licenses being purchased, with the system covering all operational activities without exception. Product routings and components (Bills of Material) are regularly and randomly audited by third-party assessment body Lloyds. Whereas before, shop floor data packs were compiled by QA personnel, the routing card, supporting drawings, inspection record sheets and other documentation, have been loaded onto the system and printed out automatically as part of the data pack. Planning, purchasing and sales order processing areas use the configured MRP system to determine and approve manufacturing and material requirements. Shop floor personnel clock on and off jobs, accruing time and therefore cost to a batch of parts. Material and components received into Nicholsons are booked into the system and issued to works orders, enabling stock tracking and inventory management.

Along with sub-con costs and issued material costs, an accurate picture of the cost to produce parts is now available, enabling lean initiatives to be assessed in their effectiveness. The Factory Model is constantly being refined to provide better Scheduling, Capacity Planning and Employee Utilization feedback. The content on the Release Documentation to the Customer is automatically generated to include material components and special processes used, irrespective of the complexity of the routing and materials used. A large range of standard reporting functionality comes ‘out of the box’, but all of the collected Jobshop data is available to query via Crystal Reports.

Benefits of a central supported business system

“The system not only handles all the operational activities of Nicholsons admirably, but is also providing strategic and tactical insight into the company’s operations that was not available before,” comments technical director Nick Green. “The benefits of a single, central, stable, supported business system cannot be over-emphasised.”

The Nicholsons team was unsure whether a system existed that could manage all the company’s changing activities – so far they are glad to be proved wrong. The system continues to grow with the business – using the Estimating function, implementing EDI to bring in Customer’ schedules, and keeping up to date with the latest developments by upgrading to V9.3, are the next identified priorities.

“We really appreciate Jobshop’s support in carrying out this business change,” says Green. “The implementation and evolution of the system in Nicholsons would not have been possible without Ian Cartwright’s guidance and the consistent, unflagging and most importantly, cheerful technical support provided by the whole team.”


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