Job tracking case study: Buchanan Orthotics

Shoestring is helping change the mindset of all the staff to become more efficient and save time. It is preparing staff for us, so the company is able to introduce further systems.”

Ryan Currie, Commercial Manager, Buchanan Orthotics

With a complex production process, involving a large number of both suppliers and customers, Buchanan Orthotics needed greater visibility of their production line but didn’t know where to start.

When Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS) conducted their Industry 4.0 review with Buchanan Orthotics they quickly realised that the company would benefit hugely from a Shoestring solution.

Buchanan is a family-owned business which was set up before the Second World War, and has been involved in bespoke shoemaking for more than 40 years. Previously the company had multiple sites across Scotland, but now operates from its Glasgow factory and warehouse facility where they manufacture modular, bespoke and specialist footwear, insoles, plastics and fabric supports. Currently Buchanan provides the Orthotic Service in several Health Trusts across the UK and offers manufacturing services across NHS frameworks and contracted customers.

The business challenge

All the bespoke footwear Buchanan makes is individually specified so the company has a complicated production line, manages a huge variety of inventory and has individual customers for each product. Responding to individual customer order enquiries can be a challenge with managers taking around an hour a day on average to locate specific orders. The company needed an easy way to track the production of each pair of orthotic footwear on the shop floor to free up managers’ time and also help improve customer satisfaction, so that when an enquiry is made it can be responded to immediately.

As  Ryan Currie, Commercial Manager, explained:

“We have an ERP system so we know things are in the factory or that they’re in manufacturing but not where they are within the layout of the factory. There are probably 50 different technicians and some jobs can go through 10 of them so we had no way of capturing which technician or which area of the factory that the job was in so the management had a lot of running about to find things and that’s where our real savings have come.”

We had no way of capturing which technician or which area of the factory that the job was in so the management had a lot of running about to find things and that’s where our real savings have come.”

Ryan Currie, Commercial Manager, Buchanan Orthotics

The solution: job tracking across one site

Shoestring’s job tracking solution was deployed across one site, where there are now a high number of users. Initially it was installed in one location, scanning jobs in and out of a single department, the cutting department, using one Raspberry Pi and two scanners. Then once the solution was up and working effectively, it was rolled out across the site. Now one scanner is allocated in the admin department, another in dispatch, and a further eight scanners are used in the factory to track the movement of each job across the production line. Ryan explains,

“Every order we do goes through it and there’ll probably be 3000 orders a year. By adding labelling at each order now, with the Shoestring barcode, there’s a bit of extra work, but the time saved and the cost benefit is large enough that this is not a concern. It was designed to be a very simple system for the operators to use.”

The data from the scanners is picked up by Raspberry Pis, and transmitted to a dashboard which is viewed in real-time by the production team. There were some initial hiccups in set up with the internal wifi, but once these were ironed out, the system started working well for the company.”

The outcomes

Not only has the job tracking helped improve efficiencies but it has also helped bring on a cultural change in the company and prepare the staff for greater change as they get ready to install a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.

The managers have championed the solution, Ryan points out:

“It has saved a lot of time for the factory manager and the production managers who use the data collected. They saw the benefit very quickly so they were quite obviously keen to make sure everyone’s using it properly. Data capture is 100% better for us.

“Shoestring is helping to change the mindset of all the staff to become more efficient and save time. It can make you more aware of the impact that better systems can deliver for you, it helps put you in the mindset of looking at ways of improving.”

Every order we do goes through it and there’ll probably be 3000 orders a year. It was designed to be a very simple system for the operators to use.”

Ryan Currie, Commercial Manager, Buchanan Orthotics

Next steps

Buchanan intends to keep using the solution and build upon the cultural change it has brought and improve their digital systems and use of data for business decisions.

The team has listed a number of future benefits from having higher quality data:

  • Improved capacity: They can use the data in the long term to understand capacity.
  • Improved costing: They can use the timings to understand and improve the accuracy of costings.
  • Improved leadtime: The can see live and average lead times.

Ryan said:

“What Shoestring has produced is what we were looking for, so we will keep running it. Shoestring gets the staff into the process of using bar codes, scanners, digitalising information so when we bring in the new ERP system, it will make it easier, and the ERP system can bring in much better stock control for us. It has prepared the staff for us, so that we are able to introduce further systems.”

Case study summary: Buchanan Orthotics

Solution setup:

  • Solution: job tracking system across one site
  • Deployed: across 1 site with scanners at one point in admin, one point in dispatch, 8 on factory floor
  • Technology used: 3 Raspberry Pis, 12 barcode scanners; Shoestring job tracking software using open source python libraries such as Django and Paho MQTT
  • Technology cost: under £200 (first deployment); under £700 (current deployment with 8 scanners, 3 RaspberryPis) 
  • Time taken to deploy: 1-2 months for initial single location trial; longer (about 8 months) for rollout across one site due to Covid and infrastructure upgrades

Key outcomes: 

  • Saves management time finding jobs on factory floor
  • Data capture is 100% better  
  • Improves digital skills of staff
  • Changes mindset of staff to become more efficient and save time
  • Preparing staff for introduction of further systems, like a new ERP system to track all inventory across the site

Next steps:

  • Keep using the simple solution to track all jobs – about 3,000 a year
  • Introduce a new ERP system

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