Running hot in a global market

Making bespoke production tools for a fast-moving global plastics manufacturing sector, Mastip Technology Limited have used Abel® to master a discombobulating array of production and planning requirements.

Speed and adaptability are bywords for every business’ success. But few perhaps have had to show quite as much of both as Mastip. As, in recent years, success in supplying hot runners to a global plastics manufacturing sector has meant moving with an industry whose timescales are forever being compressed.

Traditional “cold” runners pour plastic and leave it to set. But hot runners, consisting of a heated steel manifold holding several nozzles, fire plastic heated to 300 degrees directly into the cavities of a mould, reducing wastage and saving valuable production time. Hot runners are now used to make everything from electric light switches to car bumpers, but their technology is complex, and many customers increasingly want them designed and delivered fast.

With a subsidiary in the United States, the company has customers in 38 countries. About five years ago Mastip decided to focus on a growing demand for fast turn-around bespoke components, particularly in producing fashion-sensitive items such as mobile phone casings. But to meet it, Warwick Dawes, Mastip’s Chief Financial Officer, says they knew their in-house systems also needed to change. Previously a new hot runner went from design to delivery in months. Now customers want that time cut to 15 days.

Look down the length of Mastip’s factory in Avondale in Auckland and you can see two separate businesses. On one side a jobbing shop mills steel into manifolds, on the other a production line makes nozzles. The company needs to draw on as many as 5,000 components at a time. But demand fluctuates so wildly that the monthly requirement for any one item can vary from just two to 500. Most manifolds are purpose-built, and only about 60% of nozzles use standard sizing. Planning, Mr Dawes says, “is the most important thing for us, because if you get it wrong you get it horribly wrong, and if you get it right you can make real gains.”

Previously, finished manifolds would lie waiting to be shipped because their nozzles hadn’t been made. Overcoming this meant much finer planning, so when they sought a better ERP system, Abel was the only system able to track and record every step of all their processes.

From the moment an order is signed, Abel now shows them instantly the availability and location of all components. (“Abel tells us where the bits are.”) To minimise retooling, Abel groups “families” of jobs in sequence, and also ranks components by urgency so jobs can be reprioritised to meet orders. Bringing planning and scheduling together for what is effectively Just in Time production, Abel also integrates all processes into the company’s financials. Says Mr Dawes, “We could not have grown as we have without an ERP system like Abel.”

They also like the way that Abel allows them to switch on new functionality without significant upgrades and the associated cost. The Abel team continue to identify areas where the company can make gains. When helping them resolve an unexpected urgent internal planning issue, Chris Renfree, Mastip’s General Manager, says Abel went well beyond the call of duty.

“They dropped everything and had people here straight away to help us find an answer. There was no back and forwards, or delay. It was a level of service that is much more than I have seen from any other software company. The job was just done.” This is, of course, what speed and adaptability are all about.