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Introduction

Colourcare use WITNESS simulation software from the Lanner Group to generate a 15% reduction in unit costs at the Newmarket plant

Background

Lanner’s WITNESS simulation application was used by ColourCare to analyse plant operations and predict the interaction between processing volumes and staffing levels as part of a company wide initiative to reduce operating costs without compromising high quality standards.

“We use simulation to predict staff levels on a day to day basis,” says David Stevenson, Production Manager at ColourCare, Newmarket. “Our objective is to maximise the number of orders processed each hour, minimise unit costs and meet delivery commitments. We could lower the unit price fairly easily, but that might mean we would not come up to the level of service required.”

ColourCare is the largest independent photo processing company in the UK. It provides a range of develop and print services to customers through camera stores, high street retailers and chemist shops. The Newmarket plant covers the Eastern Counties, East London and East Kent and is one of seven operated by ColourCare throughout the UK.

The core of ColourCare’s business is its’ overnight develop and print service. Demand is highly seasonal, with peaks throughout the Summer and immediately after Bank Holiday periods although special occasions, such as the 1999 solar eclipse, can also create a surge. The plant is generally busier at the beginning of the week when people send in their weekend snaps and the Newmarket plant turns round up to 20,000 rolls of film each night.

Films collected by ColourCare’s fleet of 70 delivery vehicles arrive at Newmarket each day from 2pm onwards. The processing operation is driven by the number of films that arrive and the time they must be dispatched the following morning, usually from 5am on.

Each film passes through a number of develop and print processes. Many of these are automated although staffs are required to supervise each piece of equipment, move films between machines, replenish materials, and pack and sort films for dispatch as well as undertake a range of quality control checks. The plant’s ability to process films to its demanding quality standards in time for scheduled dispatch is therefore dictated by the capacity of the equipment, which is more or less fixed, and the number of staff available to undertake or supervise each operation.

A Simple Problem with a Complex Solution
“The problem we have is that on any given night we don’t know the exact volume to expect, so we are not always sure how many staff will be required,” says David Stevenson.

Although film processing is not labour intensive, staff is a key variable in the cost equation. If there are too many people on a particular shift, the cost of processing each film can rise by a few pence and reduce ColourCare’s profit margins. If there are too few people, the company would be unable to process films in time or would have to compromise its quality standards, neither of which is acceptable.

Of the 250 people employed at the Newmarket plant, some are permanent and others casual. This provides a degree of flexibility in the system and, while many are willing to fit in an extra shift or come in early at short notice, anything which can help predict demand in advance has obvious benefits in terms of labour scheduling and costs.

Choosing Simulation to Support Best Practice
Production managers from each of ColourCare’s plants meet regularly to develop best practice principles that can be applied across the organisation. Some of the managers, including David Stevenson, had worked in other industries and seen how computerised modelling and simulation can provide valuable insight into complex business processes. The management group discussed whether simulation might be able to help unravel the complexities of film processing.

“A colleague on the management group knew about Lanner,” says David Stevenson. “We asked them to look at our situation and they were prepared to put a lot of effort into their presales activity to see if simulation was appropriate for us. Once we had decided it was worth doing, we decided on the same package for all sites because the underlying processes are the same.”

Results

Lanner’s business and technical consultants worked with ColourCare’s management group to identify their simulation requirements. They visited each of the plants to study the physical layout and processes to help them identify the key bottlenecks and build a true representation of the business with their software model. Once the core model was built they also provided training to members of the management group.

Although Lanner created the model, the data that drives it is entered by the individual production managers for their own plant into an MS Excel spreadsheet that is interfaced with the WITNESS package. Entering information on staff levels, labour costs, performance of individual equipment, arrival and dispatch times and other factors helps recreate a computerised version of the plant and how it operates.


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