Fullwood Packo has been providing the most diverse solutions for the dairy, pharmaceuticals and food-processing industries from Zedelgem in West Flanders for more than 50 years. This Belgian company, which is part of an international group, specializes in the production of stainless-steel cooling tanks and silos for the storage of liquids, especially milk products.
After the crisis in 2008, however, the pressure on financial and operational performance increased. Several challenges also arose in production, including permanent overcapacity, a focus on ‘make to stock’ with high WIP and too much stock as a result, while the delivery performance was too low and the lead time was at least eight weeks too long.
There was an urgent need for a new approach to turn the tide. In 2017, following the appointment of a new CEO, the entire company received an initial introduction to quick response manufacturing (QRM). Some staff members attended the necessary training sessions, which were jointly organized with Sirris.
An initial series of adjustments made by the company included a reduction in WIP and in the number of mounting positions and the introduction of the QRM control software PROPOS. Furthermore, laser-cutting orders were no longer planned per week, but per day, and the aim was to achieve a ‘one-piece-flow’ production. The company gained the necessary insight into its lead time thanks to an MCT analysis (MCT stands for ‘manufacturing critical-path time’, i.e. the time in calendar days from customer order, via the critical path, through to delivery).
In addition, priority was given to automation on the one hand and to initiatives to improve the flow on the other. For example, the welding process became partially automated, and this is monitored by a camera system. Under the QRM strategy, some specific measures were taken. For example, QRM production cells were set up and controlled by means of POLCA. (POLCA is the QRM controller that limits the WIP between the cells.) Given the size of the products, these are relatively large cells, consisting of three production lines. For the time being, paper POLCA cards are used for control purposes. Later on, PROPOS software will be implemented.
Thanks to these initial measures, the lead time was almost halved after just one year, the same turnover was achieved with fewer staff and the quality was improved. There is still a lot of room for further improvement and many useful ideas in this regard come from the people on the shop floor.
Fullwood Packo has learned a lot about implementing QRM in the past year. For example, it was found that there could never be enough communication with the parties involved. Aligning personnel with the QRM strategy is quite a challenge.
Stumbling blocks in the transition to QRM appeared to include discipline when using PROPOS, reverting to old habits, and the ongoing inadequacy of cross-training. An additional challenge was the unexpected 25% growth in turnover, as a result of which the lead time increased again.
Thanks to QRM, impressive results could be achieved in a relatively short period, in a fairly large company. In the future, Fullwood Packo aims to increase productivity by 10%, to further shorten lead times by reducing the number of interruptions and to build up 20% spare capacity to avoid bottlenecks, while also aiming for on-time delivery of finished products and parts. The first step towards a Q-ROC – a cross-functional office cell for internal sales, planning and logistics – has already been taken and will be further expanded.