Queen's Award enterprise forecasts growth and improvement thanks to industry-academia research collaboration.
Markes International, headquartered in Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf, is one of the world-leading developers and manufacturers of scientific instruments for thermal desorption and time-of-flight mass spectrometry. In-house, advanced software development capabilities complement Markes International's hardware solutions and occupy a technology niche embedded in a multi-billion dollar industry. Markes International also has a worldwide presence with offices overseas in Sacramento, Frankfurt and Shanghai with 150 employees in total.
The company has been enhancing the analysis of trace organic chemicals since 1997, focusing on R&D and bespoke solutions/applications. Although the manufacturing, supply chain systems and processes currently in place have served the company well and enabled rapid growth, the company needed to tackle the step-change associated with the growth target.
This project with ASTUTE 2020 has helped enhance the resilience of Markes International's manufacturing systems and supply chain through the application of novel methodologies such as Robust Agile Lean Flexible (RALF) and dynamic capabilities. Continued research as part of this project is expected to lead to better inventory control through the implementation of an improved forecasting system addressing a mixed order book of fast, slow and infrequently sold items.
Markes International faces challenges in the areas of business model complexity, sales growth and the transition from a small to a medium enterprise. Supply chain challenges were manifesting in supply outages and poor delivery performance with processes being ill-defined, which in turn made knowledge exchange difficult. After meeting the ASTUTE 2020 team at a business networking event in 2017, the Markes team started the collaboration by reviewing their business needs via a quick scan audit, which identified that there would be three clear project objectives:
- enhance the resilience of the supply chain
- optimise production scheduling
- improve inventory control and forecasting.
In many industries and supply chains inventories are necessary for smoothing out any imbalance between supply and demand. Yet, they also represent a major economic burden as significant capital is tied-up in these.
The goal of effective production planning and inventory management in a supply chain is to have the correct inventory at the right place. However, managing production and inventory in complex supply chains is typically difficult, and decisions may have a significant impact on the customer service level and supply chain system-wide cost. Therefore, this collaborative project takes a holistic approach to the challenge by examining supply chains, production scheduling and inventory control.
The project's goals were to:
- Enhance the resilience of Markes International’s supply chain through the application of novel methodologies such as RALF; investigation and identification of critical to quality characteristics; improving information flow linkages; processes for supply chain-oriented product research and development.
- Optimise production scheduling through multi-objective optimisation and simulation of process flow and job scheduling within a multi-skilled workforce environment.
- Improvement of inventory control through the application of advanced inventory control via forecasting systems and policies, including judgemental forecasting.
The project has supported the Company’s objective of realising output in line with sales growth in excess of 30% p.a. for the last three years. It has also been identified that capacity has doubled, maintaining rates of 5 to 10% ahead of sales revenue year on year. This has been established through:
- identification and eradication of key production constraints
- introduction of five new technical staff at the RCT facility in key areas of the fulfilment process
- targeted investment of capital spends aimed at supporting the previous two actions.
Markes International has embarked on a radical re-development of their supply chain, following a strategy developed out of this collaboration aimed at delivering a resilient supply base in the short to medium term. The company is currently reviewing forecasting algorithms developed at Cardiff Business School that will help the company to plan builds for service items of high, low or indeterminate usage.
The company has also begun a long term process of cultural change, introducing the concept of continuous improvement and creating the time and opportunities for employees to participate and share knowledge.
The collaboration has enabled Markes International and Cardiff University to develop closer ties, which have provided opportunities for undergraduates to participate in industrial-based projects. Negotiations are also currently taking place to host a PhD project in collaboration with the University with the expectation that this will commence in late 2019.
Further business success for Markes include receiving two prestigious Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in ‘Innovation’ and ‘International Trade’ categories in 2019.