Significant investment by Total Glass in new IT hardware and software at its Liverpool factory is delivering operational efficiencies with more customer-facing facilities planned for the future.
For more than three decades, Total Glass has always taken a progressive and innovative approach to investing in its PVC-U and aluminium fabricating business, whether that’s been in people, plant or premises.
It’s a strategy that has helped the company grow year-on-year to a steady £25 million annual turnover with nearly 200 employees. Now, major investment and implementation of new IT systems, spearheaded by Adrian Girling, is taking the business forward in ways that can only be regarded as unique for the fenestration industry.
Adrian’s appointment in 2013 as a Software Development Manager was unusual for a window manufacturer. But by removing the barriers presented by the time and cost-constraints that can be associated with external software consultants, his in-house role would enable him to develop long-term bespoke solutions that could benefit both Total Glass and its customers for years to come.
“Not many companies of our size have a specialist like Adrian,” comments Frank Deary, Total Glass Group Chairman, “but having worked with him over the past seven years, we realised that he would be a good fit for Total Glass. He was excited by the opportunity and scope that he would have to develop our existing software products further and seeing through the benefits these could deliver by taking them to the next level and beyond. And that’s what is happening now.”
Initial work undertaken on internal production and delivery tracking has provided very detailed data that is accessed from a customer-oriented viewpoint. This Non-Conformance Reporting (NCR) System supplies accurate management information that helps to speedily identify and resolve any issues that may arise throughout the entire production process.
“Integrating software packages and departments means everyone works off the same data and because information is instantly shared, we can respond to any changes immediately,” explains Adrian. “It’s also helped us to tweak the way we purchase goods because it highlighted a few issues with suppliers’ lead times. This was resolved with working more closely with these suppliers and understanding potential pitfalls in ordering at certain times.”
Frank further explained that ‘in a nutshell’, the NCR System has eliminated the ‘gut feeling’ factor by supplying ‘black and white information’ which has helped to quickly identify and resolve issues. Seasonal fluctuations are more easily identifiable and can be evened out by better stock planning.
Adrian has rewritten large sections of existing software programmes that is helping to build towards further integration of data and departments. The Customer Services department is now linked via software to the manufacturing and delivery system. The next step is to tie the accounting department into that system too.
“For example, frames in despatch will automatically trigger invoicing. We’re also researching different hardware solutions, such as mobile scanning solutions. We have done much work in terms of new technology on the shop floor, going above and beyond what you expect to find there,” continues Adrian.
Technology changes on the shop floor are highly visible with more than 40 touchscreens providing tailored information for operatives via barcode scanning at every production stage. This interaction enables them to input and update information that is fed back to the Management System, allowing individual frames to be precisely tracked and any production issues resolved promptly.
“It enables us to focus on improvements such as training provision, or it might show a fault with a machine that’s running out of tolerance and this shows itself through that set of results,” says Adrian. “That’s why the data is key; we capture data at every point we possibly can so that we can analyse it later.”
According to Frank, the touch screens are ‘ground-breaking for this industry’. “They are an integral part of our business as the information they provide forms the basis for many of our management decisions. Our weekly to-do list is invariably based on the previous week’s reports.”.
A major area of work that ties in all areas is the custom-written Ancillary Tracking System. On the ‘paperless’ shop floor, ancillary items are cut, packed and tracked using the fully computerised system that accounts for every item, in every pack. This ensures orders are fully complete before leaving the factory and greatly reduces the margin of human error.
“It presents accurate and current information to the people dealing with the ancillaries at the ‘coalface’,” explains Adrian. “If a customer changes an order, when the operative goes to cut those ancillaries, say one minute later, then they’ve got the most up-to-date information.
“The previous ‘paper-based’ approach presented the operatives with a snapshot of the order as it looked yesterday, the ‘paperless’ approach, working from live-data, shows them what it looks like right now. So the benefits of going paperless aren’t just focussed on cost savings, there are gains to be made in the timeliness and accuracy of what we produce due to the reduced ‘data-lag’.
On the hardware front, Total Glass has tripled its data storage and computing capacity, effectively future-proofing the company for planned improvements in its customer-facing services. Having migrated onto a fully-virtualised cluster of servers, its physical hardware has shrunk from nine to just two servers, saving space and reducing power consumption.
Further energy savings are being achieved with ultra-low power PCs that use a fraction of the power – around 10% - of the models they replaced. Despite a doubling of computers and screens on the shop floor, alongside the increased data density, power usage has dropped dramatically.
Going forward, the upgraded hardware will deliver important benefits for Total Glass customers with the development of newer more powerful customer-facing facilities, such as a customer portal.
“Long-term goals are to create more visibility for customers so they can log in and see their accounting details, review and track what they’ve ordered as well as make payments online,” concludes Adrian.
“Ultimately we want to build closer relationships, integrating their businesses further into ours. They’ll be more self-sufficient because they can access data that would have previously entailed a phone call.
“Our list of future plans is not on a page, it’s on a scroll!”For more information, contact Total Glass on 0151 549 2339 or visit the website at www.totalglass.com