Production Management Software Design
Fairweathers is a long-established wholesale nursery and garden centre, supplying plants to other nurseries. They buy plants in and produce their own plants from cuttings, and grow them on until they are the required size for sale. Their production life cycle is long and complicated, because the plants may require cutting, rooting and potting on before sale, with the seasons playing their part. Depending on the plant, different levels of wastage occur at each stage of the process. So when a customer rings up and asks for 10,000 lavender plants on September 15, Fairweathers need to be able to work out whether they already have sufficient suitable stock in their system and, if not, how many plants to start with, and when to get them started.
Fairweathers contacted Software-Matters to design a production management database that would help them with organising and scheduling their workflow. The system needed to hold details of all the plants currently in production to determine whether orders should be fulfilled by current stock or whether new plants were required. It needed to cope with the different growing regimes for different plants, and the different levels of wastage expected at each stage of the process. Fairweathers wanted a database that would enable staff to see what tasks needed to be completed each day. They also wanted it to hold performance indicators so they could monitor how well various lines were performing.
Philippa Turnbull from Software-Matters met with staff from Fairweathers to understand their detailed requirements. The process of producing a design specification involved probing, questioning and incorporating ideas and suggestions from both sides to ensure that all requirements were included. The design specification took the form of a straightforward document that Fairweathers could digest and understand easily, with individual features costed so that they could weigh up benefits and costs of marginal items.
The finished database has been in use for five years, and is at the heart of Fairweathers’ business. When an order for plants is received, the database calculates when the plants should be started in order to have achieved the correct size at the required date, and how many will have to be started in order to provide the right number once the expected wastage has occurred. It allows staff to check whether suitable stock is already in position, or whether new plants need to be sourced. Once a stream is set up to fulfil an order, the system will issue reminders when, for example, it is time to pot the plants on. Fairweathers’ production manager comments, “The benefits to the business have been quickly established with a marked improvement in crop timings, plants being potted into the correct environments with the correct media and most importantly staff planning relative to the required work load.”
All staff use the main workflow screen to enter the details of the tasks they have carried out, and the actual number of plants at each stage of the process. A set of To Do Lists shows exactly which jobs need to be done by a particular date, by department. The system also flags when higher than expected wastage (e.g. through poor weather) is going to cause a shortfall or when things are running critically late.
Managers can access a suite of performance and sales reports allowing them to compare the performance of different varieties of plants, and see the volume of sales.
Fairweathers find that the database simplifies their operations enormously, allowing them to see at a glance all the stock they have in the pipeline, and all that needs to be done next. Fairweathers say that “The main benefit from using this system is the amount of time saved and mistakes eradicated which equates to approx £2500 per annum. The staff at Software-Matters are very helpful and always provide us with clear, concise information.”