Acknowledgements

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Caliach Vision - BEKA associates Experience

Contents

Background
The ERP System Selection Process
Implementation
Customisation
Usage
Conclusion

Background

BEKA was founded in a spare bedroom in early 1983 to provide a design and consultancy service for intrinsically safe products. In 1993 BEKA purchased the Midland Bank building in Hitchin which has been gradually refurbished and now provides a custom home for more than 35 sales, production and design staff.

BEKA's products are renowned worldwide for their comprehensive features and unrivalled reliability. Although we manufacture all our products in South East England, we are able to compete globally on price against large multinational corporations. The nature of our industry is that every product is independently tested against international standards to ensure safe operation in potentially hazardous atmospheres.

As an independent company we have to choose our investments wisely. Everything has to contribute to a new product, a cost reduction or process improvement otherwise we could quickly become unprofitable. We have invested in key processes such as robotic adhesive dispensing, robotic conformal coating, automated test and inspection machinery and a comprehensive range of design and development tools.

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The ERP System Selection Process

The decision to change our ERP software was hence not taken lightly. We were running an old unsupported package heavily customised to the needs of our industry. The proprietary nature of that system meant that further updates could not be made without incurring unrealistic costs. The search started for an open system that would allow us to make amendments and additions, while retaining a proven core system. Having been locked in by one large vendor, we were reluctant to enter into a similar relationship with a "faceless multinational"; we wanted access to people who actually understood the system, and could make changes as necessary.

A visit to the 2007 IT Showcase event enabled us to talk to many vendors regarding compatibility, and judge the knowledge of their staff. After dismissing the more "closed" offerings, we ended up with a short list of 5 companies.

The software selection process was opened up to the core team of users, each responsible for their own needs. The short-listed companies were invited to demonstrate their software to the core team, and each team member was able to have a detailed discussion of the functionality that affected them. It was an intensive process, but the sales representative was given the opportunity to convince each member of the team that their software was the best.

We chose Caliach over other vendors primarily because the staff we dealt with understood our industry, and were able to challenge the way we did things and offer suggestions for how those processes may be improved. The depth of knowledge was evident from the start, and was essential to us.

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Implementation

An off-line area was set up where the software could be installed and data converted. This task was given to one staff member, fully seconded away from normal duties. Project time-scale was 5 months. We mapped our business processes onto one large flow chart on the wall. We then developed methods of achieving the same results using the new system, mapping that onto a new flowchart. This was then used to track progress.

Training was given on site by Caliach in several phases, supplemented by phone and email correspondence. The level of support was ideal for us, and we quickly established a good working relationship. The implementation process was conducted at our own pace, and came within original estimates.

We made things harder for ourselves by electing to use our in-house programming resource to write customisations to several key areas, but this was done with the full co-operation of Caliach, and we adhered to their programming guidelines. We also dedicated another person to customise every report and document we planned to use so that they took on a consistent appearance. Comprehensive training in the design environment and change management system was provided by Caliach to help us manage this process.

There were no major problems during implementation, and after splitting it into major tasks and assigning adequate resources it was quite straightforward.

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Customisation

We make standard products but customise them for each customer. We choose to use the same part number in each case, making things more difficult to control. So we modify the product description to the unique specification, and this is used in subsequent operations. We implemented a sales input form that lists all the parameters, which prompts the sales team to ask the customer to accurately define his requirements. Caliach Vision has in-built custom hooks at key process points to enable this level of customisation, without affecting the core program code.

Due to the open nature of the Caliach software, other processes are able to interrogate the data and use it for their own purposes. One such example is the product labelling system that can print out full calibration details for every product automatically. This low-level access to the data has eliminated many opportunities for human error.

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Usage

We fully use the financial modules within Caliach, supplemented only by a stand-alone payroll solution and a few spreadsheets. The software has been straightforward to learn and implement, with no issues that couldn't easily be solved. Even though Caliach is very different to the market leading UK financial software we have not experienced any difficulties, and our auditors have been impressed by the simplicity of producing detailed reports on demand.

Parts masters, bill-of-materials, process routes and purchasing modules are all used with no customisation. We are able to add unique certification information to each product master, which is then printed out by our labelling system, minimising human error. Works orders have been designed to include bar-codes which we use to track progress using an external database.

By far the most contentious change was the use of MRP, as we struggled to match it with our existing production methods. Introducing a computer system to take away the guesswork was difficult for most in production. Changing methods to demand more planning has been very difficult. We were advised to get to grips with MRP before going live, but we decided to defer it. Only now, after 2 years of running, has it settled down and become manageable. The main problem was not the software, but users making changes without understanding the full implications. In fairness, none of our staff had formal materials planning education, beyond the basic theory and functional training given by Caliach Ltd, so they had to work it out for themselves the hard way.

With persistence and the passage of time, we have managed to smooth out much of the production process, and make assemblies in the correct quantities at the correct time.

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Conclusion

The cost of ownership has turned out to be a significant but acceptable cost, as long as the software continues to be actively developed and support is readily available. A desirable development for us would be a browser-based front-end. However, a true cloud based system would be rejected by us for data integrity reasons, and we would always want to store live data on-site.

The choice of Caliach software was a good fit for us. Our in-house programming capability has been both a blessing and a curse; we have created a bespoke system that does exactly what our users demand, but perhaps it would have been better to change more of our processes to fit the available software.

It is difficult to know if any decision was the right one. However, the month after we implemented Caliach we heard that the number 2 choice on our short-list had been adopted by a major multi-national clothing company – they lost production for over 4 weeks as they struggled with their implementation. Our customers were unaffected by our decision to use Caliach.

Ben Brough, Managing Director, BEKA associates Ltd, April 2013

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