James T Blakeman & Co, home of the famous Supreme Sausage, is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of sausage and meat products. The Blakeman family, which owns and runs the business, has been supplying domestic and export catering as well as fast food markets for over 50 years. Its use of only the finest ingredients at its Newcastle-under-Lyme production facility has ensured a reputation for consistently high quality. Sister company, James T Blakeman (Services) supplies cooked sausage and meat products to the ready-meal and contract cooking markets. The combined business has an annual turnover of £22 million and a staff of 125.
The markets in which Blakeman’s operates are highly competitive. Customers include some of the biggest and most prestigious names in food retail and food service Studyorganisations that take quality and delivery reliability extremely seriously. Key to meeting exacting customer standards is the ability to operate an efficient and consistent production process, managed, monitored and fine-tuned by sophisticated software.
Prior to implementing Tropos, the ERP system from Solarsoft, Blakeman’s relied heavily on manual systems together with applications for invoicing, ledgers and traceability. As production planning and stock-takes used paper-based methods, managers found it difficult to complete accurate reports or track raw ingredients to finished products.
Phil Blakeman, managing director of Blakeman’s explains: “Although a manual production record was made at the end of each day, it was becoming inaccurate and our costs were rising. Management was also burdened with far too much paperwork. We recognised that we needed a new computer-based solution, capable of providing full traceability, better quality control and a complete understanding of stock-in-hand in relation to works orders and the production plan.”Quality counts
“When looking for an ERP provider, we talked to several suppliers. We chose Solarsoft because they were able to offer far better support, a superior level of reporting and more relevant customer references than the other vendors,” adds Phil. “Their Tropos system was also able to meet all of our requirements at a price that made sense.”
Tropos is a specialist ERP system designed to meet the unique needs of food and drink manufacturers, particularly organisations supplying major retailers or distributing short shelf-life products. The software is particularly adept at recipe-based materials scheduling and production management. This means production can be planned and co-ordinated very precisely, and in real time, maximising productivity and eliminating spoilage.
By early 2004, a phased development was underway at Blakeman’s to implement the Solarsoft solution and by August of that year the system was fully operational. “Tropos immediately gave us a much clearer picture of orders and the production schedule which allowed us to do better planning,” says Phil. “Tropos helped us cut waste and increase production because it provides the information our operations managers need to make better decisions.”
Not only does Tropos allow Blakeman’s to run a tight ship, it enables the business to provide complete traceability on all its products – so that it can tell customers exactly when a product was made, which ingredients were used, and the exact temperature of any given preparation area at each point in the process.Accreditation & trust
Phil credits the Solarsoft solution with having helped his firm secure accreditation and satisfy the codes of practice for all retail and food service customers. “It doesn’t get much better than that!” he comments. “We supply to many leading names, and our processes play a huge part in winning that business. Our clients are extremely impressed with the system we use, because it means we can give them live data and instant traceability of every single movement a product goes through, from the raw ingredients to the finished product.
“By introducing these capabilities, we have set ourselves apart from the competition,” he adds. “Solarsoft differentiates what we do. It gives us a better working relationship with our clients because they trust the data we are delivering to them. This gives them confidence in the quality of the goods we deliver and allows them to prove that strict standards have been adhered to in every unit they sell.”Added value
By June 2006, with steady growth in sales of its traditional product range and accelerating demand for the added-value cooked foods from James T Blakeman (Services), Phil made the decision to invest in a significant expansion of the firm’s production facilities.
The move to a new location was no small development. The company spent £4.4m on the project, doubling its production capacity at the expanded facility with 20,000 square feet of additional floor space adjacent to a new distribution centre. Having made this investment, Blakeman’s wanted to be sure of deriving the maximum return by running the upgraded plant at optimum efficiency.
Up to this point, the Solarsoft system had been used solely by the primary manufacturing business. With all operations consolidated at the single location in Newcastle-under-Lyme, it made sense to across the organisation, transforming all of Blakeman’s operations. After discussion with the Solarsoft team, Phil decided to roll out the Tropos system to the James T Blakeman (Services) business.Payback
In addition to providing full traceability, improved quality control, and more accurate production reporting, Solarsoft is fully integrated with applications across Blakeman’s business, providing consistent, accurate and up-to-date information to support management decision-making.
“In addition to the external advantages, in terms of our reputation with clients, there are significant internal benefits to using the Solarsoft system,” Phil says. “The production planning is absolutely superb. The payback comes because we can see and easily update the schedule to keep our lines busy and we have transformed stock control and stock rotation.”Adding new value
In due course, Blakeman’s wants to extend these benefits to its customers, so that they can plan their own stock levels more efficiently. “More and more customers want greater visibility of our business so that they can plan ahead,” Phil says. “We’d like to meet this need by allowing clients to view their own accounts, previous ordering patterns and trigger new orders. E-commerce will be a key part of the full service partnership we offer our customers.”
Adopting the latest version of Solarsoft puts the company well on its way to this
goal, providing greater usability and web-enabled services so that anyone with access rights can get into the system, no matter where they are.
Blakeman’s could also extend similar privileges to its suppliers, multiplying the productivity and efficiency benefits along the supply chain by allowing them to line up stock in advance of orders from the company, ensuring an optimised pipeline for all.Hard benefits
Quantifying the benefits of using the Solarsoft ERP system, Phil says: “There is no question that we’ve seen a return on our investment. We’ve seen a capital return in less than 36 months and we’ve gained a competitive advantage. While we could run the business without the software, we’d be playing in the same ballpark as our competitors, with manual systems and inefficient processes. It would be much harder to win the big names as clients. We’d need more people to handle the same workload, too. Solarsoft allows us to be more competitive in the market, gives us credibility with our clients and enables me to run a profitable business.”
Phil estimates that, without the Solarsoft system, the business would need to employ two to three more people in quality control and in the planning office and would be 15‑20 per cent less efficient in production with corresponding benefits in inventory management.
Putting a value on the new business Blakeman’s has been able to attract since automating its production planning and monitoring is more difficult, but it has been substantial, he says. “This is a very exciting time for Blakeman’s,” he concludes. “To be winning large, big-name accounts in a tough market is testament to the Solarsoft system and to the ability of Solarsoft’s consultants to really understand my business.”
For further information, visit: www.solarsoft.com