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Manufacturing, like many sectors, has been disrupted by COVID-19, but smarter planning solutions from sofco means Saft is confident it will be able to respond to changing customer needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns across the world this spring led to the steepest manufacturing decline in more than a decade. However, according to research by IHS Markit, business activity is returning and companies are turning their attention to recovery.
Yet coming back after disruption is not as simple as flipping a switch and having everything return to how it was. The pandemic has increased customer demand in some sectors and decreased it elsewhere – and it remains unpredictable. As a battery manufacturer, Saft is essential to business continuity for their partners so they have had to be ready at all times to supply emergency products.
As with customer demand, there is also uncertainty in the supply chain. Saft’s manufacturing processes were already complex; running their facilities smoothly means managing everything from the supply of materials and demand for their products, to the available equipment and manpower, and vital safety and quality constraints. Additional safety measures introduced following the pandemic, such as extra space for workers, added another consideration.
Managing all these elements efficiently is a challenge that demands good data and a reliable, flexible planning tool. Operations were managed with a combination of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, spreadsheets, and the individual knowledge of site staff. However, this wasn’t ideal, especially for Saft’s most complex facilities. In Bordeaux, for example, Saft produce nickel- and lithium-based batteries for several different markets, including rail and aviation. Thousands of batteries are produced from hundreds of components and there is complexity at every stage, from assembly to chemical formation.
The best-laid plans
Saft wanted to be able to minimise backlogs and give more accurate delivery estimates to its customers. As a result, in 2018 Saft looked at Advanced Planning Systems (APS), a new generation of technology tools, and selected sofco.
The APS solution from sofco has allowed Saft to generate strategic start-up plans considering the new Demand, Order Back Log, available Resources in terms of Production Lines, and associated Equipment and Raw Materials. These Resources can also become constraints, and it is vital that the planning system and processes consider finite constraints to produce a feasible plan. In addition, it is important to have the flexibility to quickly re-plan against continually changing demand and supply networks.
In early 2019, before going live with sofco Supply Planning, it took two months for the Bordeaux site to re-plan its client order book to clear a backlog in the rail business. Any re-planning because of an unexpected event, such as a broken machine, would be a major headache, too.
Now, Saft can re-plan in two days at their Bordeaux and Poitiers sites; it’s a tool that actively helps keep production running efficiently. Now Bordeaux and Poitiers sites re-plan every month, which means they can respond quickly to new requests and give customers more accurate delivery estimates, which manages expectations better and ultimately improves customer satisfaction.
COVID-19 inevitably caused a complete re-planning of Saft’s customer order book. However, for Bordeaux and Poitiers this was not a major effort, both sites were able to forecast demand, anticipating future peaks so they can decide either to smooth their workload or hire extra labour, thanks to the solution from sofco.
It will take approximately six months for Saft to see the full results of the sofco project, but the outcome so far has been encouraging, and the plan is to expand the sofco solution to other facilities.
Recovery from the pandemic is not easy or simple, and the uncertainties are not necessarily behind us. However, businesses have always had to manage uncertainty and risk. Improved planning processes and with the support of French Group WindJee Consulting and sofco’s Application & Technical Consultants this means that Saft can face these challenges with confidence.