Whether it’s washing the dishes or taking a shower, most of us use stainless steel products many times throughout the day. The substance is so ubiquitous and uniform that it’s tempting to think of it as a dull industrial commodity—if we even think about it at all. The truth is that stainless steel is a marvel of metallurgical science that’s extremely difficult to make. Producing it profitably, in high volumes, and with enough agility to keep pace with accelerating shifts in market demand is a tour de force of materials handling and production planning.
This was the challenge faced by Columbus Stainless when it decided to replace its aging production planning system. Columbus Stainless, part of the Acerinox group, is the only producer of stainless steel flat products in Africa. Flat stainless steel is formed in coils and used in the manufacturing of thousands of everyday products. Serving both domestic and global markets, the group also has plants in Spain, North America and Malaysia. Columbus Stainless operates in a competitive market, with volatile raw material prices and tight margins that require a highly flexible manufacturing production process.
Re-engineering production planning for rapid fire change, Columbus Stainless’ unique market conditions and production challenges necessitated an equally agile business system that could facilitate the planning, optimization and execution of the manufacturing process. However, the company’s legacy system for production planning was aging, and decreasing skills availability and high maintenance costs drove a decision to replace and re-engineer the production planning system with one developed in-house.
Re-engineering the production planning process would allow for rapid change and more effective working practices, which in turn would lead to an increase in production volumes. Because responsive control of materials flow is the key to a cost-effective manufacturing system, the design of the new system had to focus on tracking, controlling and optimizing these flows during the production process.
“There are actually too many variables to catalogue,” says Alfrieda Robertson, the former Technical Project Leader who is now an external consultant with a BPM firm. “To get the agility we required, we needed a business rules engine that could operate within a highly multifarious, technical environment. We evaluated all the options, and Progress Corticon ticked all the boxes. It could support all our rules, no matter how intricate.”