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Operational planning key to improving competitiveness

A number of South African industries could improve their global competitiveness by improving their operations planning regimes, reports consulting company Rifle-Shot Performance Holdings CEO and MD Ian Huntly.

He says that although many large companies already have maintenance planning systems in place, more can be done to achieve a finely tuned balance between targeting operating profits and acceptable safety standards in plants.

"We offer a range of targeted software products that can help companies improve the bottom line by streamlining the way the company functions on every level. Organisations tend to be leaner in the postrecession period but, to become truly lean, operational excellence is needed at every level of the organisation," Huntly says.

His company reports that it is able to improve maintenance project times by between 30% and 70% with specialist maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) planning tools. Any plant shutdown of two to three weeks in duration can benefit from Rifle-Shot Performance Holding's MRO planning solutions, Huntly adds.

"We are bringing in technologies from abroad to assist in streamlining plant shutdowns and the restarting of operations. There are currently few tools available on the local market to assist companies to optimise the processes involved in maintenance planning and maintenance projects currently under way," he says.

Huntly adds that planning a substantial maintenance shutdown may take from six months to a year to complete. "The aerospace industry seems to be the world leader in producing the best tools for operations management, and we are adapting these planning and control tools to provide businesses with an integrated operations management tool. This helps to save organisations money and to streamline all processes in a company," he adds.

The aim is to reduce the time that a plant needs to be shut down, especially if it is a plant with a significant daily turnover. Even a small saving in downtime, may result in substantial overall cost reductions well into the millions of rand.

Further, the reduced project times are achieved with improved safety controls. Rifle-Shot Performance Holdings offers software that issues work permits to contractors, based on the current plant status and various other predetermined and integrated safety parameters. This increases the company's control over contractors to finish work before leaving sites, and also reduces human error in accidents, the company reports.

"Our software is based on improving the relationship between people, processes and technology. Through combining these elements, one is able to use an enterprise's resources optimally. Although these tools are not new to the market, many South African companies seem to be unaware of the benefits that improved operations management may hold for them," Huntly explains.

Further, he asserts that operations management systems must not be implemented with the aim of monitoring individuals' performance, as this may have a negative impact on employees' morale. The tool must rather be used to give employees a sense that management considers its employees' best interests a high priority.

Meanwhile, Huntly says that operations management software must be simplified to enable employees to easily use the system. While user-friendly software may help to improve the overall efficiency of workers, biometrics is also increasingly being implemented in maintenance management and safety management systems, to accurately track employee activity.

"Rifle-Shot Performance Holdings believes that companies can be more proactive in providing continuous best practice training to employees. This also results in improved employee morale and an overall increased productivity rate," he concludes.