WEBcnx saves time and money at Firstan

Firstan Limited is one of the UK’s leading independent packaging manufacturers, producing over 500 million cartons a year at its Cambridgeshire plant. As part of the company’s continuous improvement programme, Firstan has installed Arden Software’s WEBcnx workflow management system which is significantly reducing design cycle times, saving time and money, and is delivering improved information flow between everyone involved in the pre-press lifecycle. Firstan say that as well as the financial and workflow benefits, WEBcnx is helping bring the company even closer to its customers.

Making The Information Flow Profitably

In 2010, Firstan embarked on a ‘Vision in Print’ project designed to reduce their production costs by increasing automation and removing the number of ‘hand off’ points in the company’s processes. Paul Hartwig, Production Director of Firstan, says, “We’ve always tried to automate things as much as possible, because it’s part of our company culture to be lean and profitable. The ‘Vision in Print’ project helped us to cut out a lot of steps in our processes, but to go further we needed something that went beyond what our management information system could do.  That’s where Arden Software’s WEBcnx came in.”

WEBcnx is a secure, browser-based system that makes design related information available to whoever needs it, whenever and wherever they need it. WEBcnx features powerful workflow automation capabilities that keep projects moving, often without any manual intervention whatsoever. Together these features dramatically cut the time internal processes take to complete and so help to cut costs, freeing up staff to handle other tasks.

Paul Hartwig says that the savings in time alone in the first year of WEBcnx use will pay for the system several times over. “Just by automating one process – creating a master estimate on our management information system from the CAD project file – WEBcnx will save us over a thousand hours of staff time. That’s without all the time saved by not having to chase people for information and not needing to check that manually entered data has been copied across correctly. Whichever way you look at it there’s a substantial saving.”

After just a few months of use Paul Hartwig says that he and his team can already see many further areas that WEBcnx will be able to help the company automate. “Over the longer term we could see those cost savings multiply two or three times,” he adds.

WEBcnx is capable of handling every aspect of a project from the first point of customer contact, through structural design, graphic design, virtual 3D sampling, design approval, tooling manufacture, pre-press, plate making, and on to production. 

Automated email notifications and a system dashboard using ‘traffic light’ indicators ensure that everybody involved in a project is made aware of the tasks they have to complete, as well as notifying them of key milestones as they occur. As a result, all projects maintain the highest possible visibility and are never ignored, misplaced, or stuck with any individual for longer than is necessary. “The system helps with day-to-day prioritising, flagging up when people need to do something, but can also be set for one-off events,” explains R&D Support Manager, Paul Stevens. “Say we have an urgent job that we need to get on press as soon as we can, but we also need new tooling for it. We can set up an automatic notification so that as soon as the tooling is dispatched from the diemaker, everyone involved in the project is informed,  be they managers, press operators, sales staff, whoever we want. Similarly the same group of people can be informed when the tooling arrives and is scanned by our good inwards staff. The result is that the job is on press with the minimum delay possible. WEBcnx automates all the mundane processing and passing of information needed to keep our day-to-day production efficient and in doing so, reduces our production costs and makes us leaner.”

Fewer Steps Means More Time For Everybody

Paul Hartwig says that the time saved by using WEBcnx allows staff to handle more through put and gives them more time to devote to relationship building with customers. “They can make more visits to their customers, which helps them better understand the customer’s business and builds a stronger partnership.” For further flexibility and functionality, Firstan’s staff can access WEBcnx from wherever they are. “If one of our designers is with a customer who has an urgent project, they can open their laptop or tablet, take the brief and raise a design request there and then that will go straight into the WEBcnx workflow and notify all of the other people who need to be informed. The customer could also be a member of that group, perhaps being advised when a draft design is available to view and approve. It brings us closer to our customers on a daily basis and gives them another reason to continue to place their business with us.”

One of the objectives of the WEBcnx implementation was that Firstan customers should be able to access those parts of the system that could help them to order and progress jobs. CAD & Design Manager Chris Hunt says that Firstan is rolling out this functionality among its customers. “One facility we are able to provide is ‘self serve’ access to the library of tools we hold for them. This means that when they are preparing new jobs, they can see the tools they already have, which may save them money through their re-use. Our customers can also raise design requests, so instead of them emailing a request to us, they enter it directly into WEBcnx, which guides them through the process so that they include all the information we need. They can do that at any time of the night or day, to suit themselves, and the design request will appear on a work list in Impact CAD here for our designers to progress. Customers can also approve artwork through WEBcnx. Once approved, WEBcnx automatically notifies our MIS and the job will appear on the production planning board. The customers we have already given WEBcnx access to say that using it is a really easy user experience.”

At Firstan, WEBcnx is fully integrated with the plant’s EFI Radius management information system, as it can be with systems from all of the main MIS and ERP vendors. One of the key benefits of this is that it completely eliminates duplication of data entry. “An order is raised in WEBcnx, passes directly into the CAD system and straight into the MIS without anyone touching it, which greatly reduces the chance of introducing errors,” explains I.T. Systems Manager, Tom Donaghey. “WEBcnx also maintains a secure, auditable record of every request, amendment, and associated document to ensure that you can access all of the information you need at the touch of a button.” This facility also allows Paul Hartwig and Chris Hunt to analyse the throughput of the CAD department so that the company has accurate figures for the design commitment needed to service each customer. “Previously we could only estimate how much time we spent on design, sampling, re-design and re-sampling for individual customers,” explains Chris Hunt. “Now we have that data to hand so we can identify which customers need the most servicing.”

Continuous Improvement

Prior to choosing WEBcnx, Firstan reviewed similar products available in the market, but favoured the Arden Software system because of its flexibility, recalls Tom Donaghey. “With WEBcnx we saw that we could add a lot of tweaks to parts of the system just to suit the way we work, or the way we want to work in future. Mostly we can implement these ourselves, but where we can’t Arden Software is happy to implement items for us. The other systems we saw didn’t have this flexibility. With them, what you get is what you get, and that sort of approach is no good to us.” These sentiments are echoed by Paul Hartwig. “We selected WEBcnx specifically because of its power and flexibility. It’s been designed in such a way that we can make it do pretty much anything we want it to. This applies to who we allow access to, and what they can see and do, as well as expanding the range and number of tasks we use.”

Firstan has been a keen development partner to Arden Software, with Tom Donaghey, Paul Stevens and Chris Hunt working closely with the Arden Software team throughout the implementation. “Having specified our requirements during the pre-implementation meetings, the implementation was painless,” recalls Tom Donaghey. “And since then the support we have had from them has been fantastic.”

Paul Hartwig says that Firstan are now starting to carry out ‘blue-sky’ thinking and are considering linking WEBcnx to some of the company’s systems beyond its MIS. “One idea is that when we receive an order we will get WEBcnx to check whether our ink stock levels are sufficient and order more ink if necessary. That’s the beauty of WEBcnx. It has the flexibility to deliver a workflow solution that meets any scenario we face, both now and in the future. It’s helping us ensure that we deliver a first class service to our customers and, importantly, a service that is profitable for us.”