-- Case Study --
Cladding company opens up new channels of communication with Genius touchscreen tech
According to market research firm Reports and Data, the global cladding systems market is huge: it was valued at $223.24billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $341.18 billion by 2026. In the UK, the market is thought to have increased by around 40% between 2013 and 2017 in volume terms. Now, with new regulations in force after the Grenfell Tower fire, the focus is on the production of non-combustible cladding.
UK cladding SME Genius Facades has always put safety at the heart of everything it does. Indeed, it adheres to the highest possible quality and safety standards, with A1 non-combustible metal facade systems that remain in line with UK building regulations.
Like many SMEs, however, Genius faced a big behind-the-scenes challenge: with orders for its products coming in thick and fast, its outdated admin processes were beginning to affect its performance and productivity.
By 2014, Wolverhampton-based Genius Facades was facing a problem that some companies can only dream of: too much success.
Genius Facades designs and manufactures certified non-combustible metal cladding systems that can be incorporated into new builds or retro-fitted to enhance refurbishments of existing buildings. Its products have been used in projects up and down the country, including Marsh Farm Estate in Luton, New Street Station in Birmingham, Chiltern Place apartments in London, and Stapleton House, a £40m student residence scheme at London Metropolitan University.
Genius's innovative fire-proof cladding systems, developed after years of research, were hugely in demand, so business was booming and it was filling large orders on a regular basis. However, the company faced an admin challenge. The company was using a paper-based admin system on its shop floor, which made it difficult for management to keep on top of the manufacturing process.
“Workers had to manually hand over paperwork to each other as an order moved through the factory,” remembers Gavin Dodds, General Manager at Genius. “To compound the issue, our admin office is disconnected from the factory, so managers often had no idea where an order was unless they walked around and looked for it. That could often take some time. We realised we needed a better system of communication between management and the shop floor.”
The lack of communication had another knock-on effect. “For example, a manager might only discover that a machine had broken down if they happened to be walking around the factory,” says Gavin. “That type of issue simply wasn't being flagged up. To be able to cope with our extra workload we realised we needed to streamline our production process, so that we could know when any problems had occurred and deal with them quickly.”
To help, Genius brought in IT experts from WMG. “A previous manager knew Warwick University and its reputation for science and technology,” says Gavin. “Plus Genius Facades and WMG are both West Midlands-based, so we're fairly local to each other. My background is programming, but IT is such a vast sphere that it would have taken time for me to design a workable system. And why reinvent the wheel if there's someone on the doorstep with the experience and knowledge to deliver it for you?”
First, WMG visited Genius Facades' factory and office to perform a Manufacturing Digital Health Check that involved assessing and evaluating the current systems in place on the shop floor, which included extensively monitoring machine data and information gathered from operational staff. A Roadmap to Industry 4.0, the next industrial revolution of cyber-physical systems, was then produced.
From there, WMG built an inexpensive but vital Linux-based IT solution: a networked system bespoke to Genius Facades featuring touchscreen pods and barcode technology. Factory staff can log into the pods to feed back job information in real time to the office and throughout the factory via efficient browser-based reporting. If no pods are available, any web-based enabled device, such as tablets or phones, can be used to access the system. In all, development and installation of the solution took around six months.
The system, which Gavin customised himself with added functionality,has had a dramatic effect on Genius Facades' operations. It means any issues in the manufacturing process can be dealt with efficiently, workloads assessed and jobs re-scheduled to make sure all customer orders are fulfilled on time.
“Essentially this technology ensures effective two-way communication,” says Gavin. “It helps management oversee and communicate with our workforce – and, more importantly, it helps our workforce communicate with management, to let them know when they've started and finished a job, or if there's an issue that needs solving. It makes the lives of our workforce easier and allows managers to track a job on the system and immediately see where it is in the manufacturing process. The result has been more control and better productivity. We used to turnover between £400,000 and £500,000 per month. We're now hitting the £1.5 million mark per month.”
The technology also appeals to potential clients who visit Genius Facades' offices. “It's helped us access new, larger customers,” says Gavin. “Visitors sit in our boardroom in front of a 55” touchscreen which displays all the jobs we're currently working on. Systems of this kind are often dense and text-based so you usually have to know what you're looking for. But this one has been designed to be brightly colour-coded and extremely user-friendly. A lot of customers are impressed by its simplicity and tell me they don't see many companies operating this type of graphically enhanced facility.”
Collaborating with WMG was a good experience, notes Gavin. “If there was an issue, they would always have a solution, suggestion, or direction for us to try,” he says. “We also used their services recently on an unrelated matter when we needed a calculation regarding the volume of flow through the cavities of panels that were going to be installed on top of a skyscraper. We didn't know how to perform this calculation, so asked WMG if they could do it for us. They came back within a day with the results.”
“Genius Facades is a focussed, motivated and business-driven company at the forefront of industry development,” says Onur Eren, Innovation Manager, WMG SME Group. “They knew they needed to change and were determined to do so by embracing new tech innovations.”