Welfit Oddy case study
Port Elizabeth, South Africa-based Welfit Oddy specialises in the design, manufacture and sale of tank containers used for bulk liquid shipping and transportation for the international chemical and food-grade logistics markets.
Founded over 100 years ago as a manufacturer of transport-related equipment, in the mid-1980s Welfit Oddy entered the intermodal tank container market, growing to become a global leader for design and manufacture.
Welfit Oddy’s products help its customers transport various kinds of hazardous and non-hazardous liquids by road, rail and sea. Many of its containers are rented out all over the world.
Welfit Oddy produces large volumes of standardised tanks as well as highly customised solutions, delivering top-quality products, built for long-term continuous use and able to withstand challenging transport conditions.
Welfit Oddy’s primary differentiation from its low-cost competitors is in providing service-specific innovation – creating customer-specific products with varying barrel thickness, insulation materials, heating and cooling capabilities and many more. Welfit Oddy takes orders of 100 tanks or more in a single job, which can be delivered over an 18-month period, often with product variations requested by the customer during the production process.
These manufacturing complexities are addressed at its extensive 24 000-square-foot manufacturing plant, with production ranging from component manufacture through to one of three assembly lines with multiple stations, managed using advanced enterprise resource planning (ERP) and control systems. Long lead times and high-value materials require careful advanced planning and management to ensure the right materials are available at the right time to prevent line stoppages.
On site, a large contingent of specialised permanent staff enforce the highest standards of design, component manufacture, assembly and quality control to meet intensive regulatory requirements, as required for the transportation of food-grade materials and hazardous chemicals, and to support the complex engineer-to-order manufacturing environment.
Over the years, a diverse IT ecosystem of processes and systems (some in-house developed) has been implemented piecemeal, causing disparity of systems and information access. Tank scheduling, for instance, had previously been conducted using coloured magnets on a board, while there have been separate systems for design drawings, bills of materials and HR.
Welfit Oddy has been a long-term user of the Infor Baan IV ERP system and was highly proficient in the use of material requirements planning (MRP) and production scheduling. In parallel to the ERP system, other in-house developed systems evolved to service the engineering, quality and tank build documentation requirements (Product Data Book). Over time, parallel systems required duplicate data capture and eventually created a disparity between systems.
In addition to increasing competition, the macro-economy was hugely impactful, with volatile steel prices driving ever-changing costings – and therefore profitability – mid-production. This made managing quality and keeping control of costings according to estimates an almost insurmountable challenge.
Welfit Oddy recognised it was imperative to eliminate duplicate transaction processing and establish a single version of truth.
New management, new order
With a new management team in place in 2017, combined with escalating competition and increasing custom requirements from customers, Welfit Oddy decided a more modern and agile ERP system was needed that would encompass all the business requirements into a single system environment and data source.
Infor evolution project:
Ultimately, the business needed greater sophistication. This was highlighted when recruiting new, younger employees who struggled with the existing IT environment.
Welfit Oddy needed:
- To improve quality and speed whilst reducing costs;
- To look at upstream/downstream impacts of decisions;
- A new environment for consolidated transacting; and
- An integrated business platform able to communicate with other business systems.
Having already used Infor Baan IV ERP for many years, it made sense to upgrade to the more modern and more advanced version, Infor LN.
Infor partner iOCO addressed most of Welfit Oddy’s pain points with the new Infor suite of applications comprising:
- Infor OS (technology platform: single sign-on, workflow and alerting, integration and documentation management);
- Infor LN (ERP);
- Infor Factory Track Warehouse Mobility (bar code scanning);
- Infor Mongoose (custom rapid application development);
- Infor EAM including mobile application (asset maintenance); and
- Infor d/EPM (analytics and financial intelligence).
The 16-month project initiated in April 2019 was significantly impacted by the COVID lockdown in early 2020, but gained early successes in the implementation of Infor OS with an upgrade of EAM during July 2020, and then full business migration of all systems in September 2020.
“Conducting a roll-out during the 2020 lockdown hindered education, but Welfit Oddy still pushed on for the go-live,” said Guy Warren, ICT manager at Welfit Oddy. “Overcoming challenges, it proved a success. Previously, everyone had operated in their own silos and looked after their own areas, without considering the up/down stream implications. Using remote education, we helped get everyone onto multiple sessions to learn about the new environment. To compound the scenario, ‘load-shedding’ was initiated by the government due to the electricity supply challenges, so managing remote learning with varying electricity outage schedules was not easy, but proved to be the right thing to do.”
Since then, there have been a number of optimisations for continuous improvement. Welfit Oddy recognises it is impossible to meet everyone’s full list of requirements, but is regularly adding functionality via extensions to the core system using Infor Mongoose. This rapid application development (RAD) tool has helped bring other existing systems into the fold by building extensions without the need for customisations to the core ERP.
Infor d/EPM is running now for financial intelligence and has started to deliver the business intelligence (BI) that Welfit Oddy needs. But there is still work to do.
“Welfit Oddy is a strategic partner to our customers, but we needed our own strategic partner for IT in a collaborative process to support our company strategy, which we have in iOCO,” says Guy Warren. “Infor LN is the perfect fit for a project-driven engineering company like Welfit Oddy. Our previous Baan ERP was already industry specific, but Infor LN has taken this level of industry specificity to a new level when we upgraded. Welfit Oddy is confident the business is in the right place for our customers’ engineering projects with Infor LN.”
“What is crucial is the accuracy of the system; our people can trust the data 100%. Based on the complexity of the uniquely customised product, Welfit Oddy actions the output of MRP, as gospel, for procurement and component manufacture. If the data is inaccurate, then incorrect components or variant of components may be manufactured and require scraping. The business is too fast-paced and variable in nature to question every single system output,” continued Warren. “We now have automated workflows, which is essential as we continue on our digital transformation journey – where we want to automate everything. For this, real-time data capture is extremely important.”
“We have not implemented the Factory Track Shopfloor Control just yet. We believe there is more work to be done getting the business ready in that area,” concludes Warren. “But overall, we see the future being in the cloud, which will provide additional security for us and our customers. We had avoided it to date, but cloud is a very exciting, very integrated product. This will be increasingly important as we start to find it harder to find the skills for on-premises IT and ERP work.
“Cloud may be on the plan in the next few years. However, Africa does not have stable communications or power supplies, which is a current concern. Electricity supply issues with load-shedding are now affecting production but, thankfully, it is not closing our back-office systems. Of course, everything comes with a cost-benefit, and cloud unlocks many doors including artificial intelligence (AI). This could have big implications for us in the future. We certainly have our eye on it.”