GEA (known as Grasso in Den Bosch, and now a part of a German multinational with more than 18,000 employees and a turnover of 4.6 billion Euros) produces roughly 1000 industrial compressors for refrigeration systems each year. Although these industrial machines, which constitute the heart of a refrigeration system, resemble each other, no two are the same. "We have demanding customers in various industries," explains ICT manager Kees Klerx. "Our compressors are used in slaughterhouses, skating rinks, breweries, food factories and in any other place where specialized and intensive refrigeration is required, such as with CO2 and heat pump applications. They are complex devices, not to be compared with the simple compressor in your refrigerator or deep freezer. Those are made in large batches, almost all alike. We make industrial reciprocating compressors, with hundreds of different components: motors, various types of refrigerants, valves, pressure sensors, temperature sensors, pressure switches, pressure gauges, crankcase heaters, oil separators, frames, controllers and dozens of other components. Each compressor is made to order according to the customer’s specific requirements."
VARIATIONS AND COMPLICATIONS“The variations are endless, about ten to the fiftieth power. This is also because we deliver to contractors who then incorporate the compressor into a complete refrigeration system. You are then again confronted with differing dimensions, requirements, and even colours. If you wish to continue producing such a product range efficiently, then you must automate extensively." That realization was already present in 1990 when Kees Klerx built himself a configurator with some external IT assistance. Stretching the imagination a bit, this can be compared with configurators such as those used on car manufacturers’ websites in order to assemble the desired car from an array of different versions and accessories. "Yes, but our configurator was for our own use. It maintained a database with all available components and parts. Armed with this, our salespeople could put together a detailed, error-free, and implementable quote without prior consultation with our engineers. After approval, the output served as a basis for the CAD construction drawings and the parts list held in the ERP system. The various parts were obtained from the warehouse after which the compressor and the complete unit were then built in the factory. In itself it was a fine working method, but one still had to make do, even after two revisions. There were complications with the interface to the ERP system and it was often difficult to incorporate new components and variations into the system. Also, simultaneous production planning and production of compressors turned out to be difficult in practice. Kees Klerx continues: "In 2008 we came in contact with Sofon experts via our sister company Goedhart, a producer of coolers and evaporators." They had developed a standard program designed to configure a device or machine, regardless of its size. The simplicity of it appealed to us. To use it you need no specific IT knowledge or support. The program effortlessly interfaces with one's own ERP system. The sales person puts together a quote based on customer specifications, reports back, and after approval the CAD drawings for the compressor are generated, after which the production, logistics, and purchasing departments can get to work."COST SAVINGS AND REDUCTION OF TURNAROUND TIMECommissioning followed in 2009, just after GEA had implemented a new ERP system. Now, seven years later, the German parent of the Den Bosch company swears by the configurator. "Recently, we made the calculation: compared to the situation prior to 1990, our savings amount to 18 FTEs on a yearly basis. Of course we had already achieved savings with our own software, but with Sofon our engineers and work planners lose far less time – time that now can be devoted to innovations and improvements. Our sales people now spend a quarter of their time working on quotations, thus allowing them more room to acquire new customers. " A less measurable gain is the reduced error margin. Bert de Vries, sales executive at Sofon, explains: "Under the label Sofon Guided Solutions, our systems are set up so that every modification or change is immediately processed." New parts and engineering modifications are entered into the database. Prior complications or errors are processed. "Every assignment for a compressor is first run through the configurator; even for existing customers, to whom compressors had been previously delivered."
That's true, says Kees Klerx. "With the help of the configurator, the production process is managed by documents produced by Sofon. The technicians receive precisely targeted instructions. This fits in with our lean production strategy. In this way the production time has been shortened, clearly with less chance of errors, and this helps us in our first time right endeavour. A prior mistake is prevented the second time round. Modifications made by our engineers are immediately visible. Every morning each department (office, production, logistics) holds a shop floor meeting to discuss the order intake, production for the day, etc. Everyone has the same, current information and everything is transparent. No mistakes, or almost no mistakes, are made. We also deliver more quickly. The turnaround time from order intake to the start of production has been reduced from nineteen to three days. This software makes it possible. We deliver customized products using standard software that interacts effortlessly with our own ERP."
SERVICEOne more added value to be had from Sofon's solution is the insight gained in maintenance and servicing. According to Kees Klerx, "Via the input of various parameters we can now make a fairly precise computation of compressors’ maintenance costs. Normally one works according to a standard maintenance schedule, but based on operating hours and conditions one can draw up improved service plans. This also applies to contractors who use our equipment. This is interesting, since one is also concerned with the total cost of ownership and long-term maintenance contracts in the world refrigeration systems. In this way, contractors can set more competitive prices and draw up better plans." At GEA, Sofon's configurator has been a valued asset for seven years already. Of course there are regular updates and modifications, confirms Bert de Vries: "In principle, our customers notice none of this. With our software we wish to help organizations operate more smoothly."
If you have any questions, please contact me.
|Bert de Vries|
|+31 (0)6 53 64 45 66|
Source: LINK november 2016, Site 74/75, http://www.linkmagazine.nl/geas-engineers-en-verkopers-gaan-anders/