Interview with Athena Group: APS + MES to manage heterogeneous production

APS (Advanced Planning and Scheduling), Sector: Automotive

The two representatives of the IT Business Process department of Athena Group, Anna Gasparetto and Gianpaolo Gustoni, told us about the implementation and joint use of APS and MES software to manage the varied production of the Venetian company. The project, started in 2015 and concluded in a few months thanks to the work of Link Management, has brought great benefits both from a qualitative and quantitative point of view.

Athena: an international group with a family-owned

Founded in 1973, Athena is today an industrial group with a global presence and a turnover of over €160 million. Starting from the production of gaskets and small metal parts for initial equipment and industry in general, Athena has evolved to become a reference brand also in the production of spare parts for cars and motorcycles and in the distribution of international brands in the sports and outdoor sector. The growth of these 50 years, which, as this case study demonstrates, has been driven by innovation, research and development, performance and technology, has led the Athena group to structure itself into four divisions: Industries, Parts, Electronics and Sportech. The head office in Alonte, in the province of Vicenza, is often related to the group’s foreign offices: Athena has 10 plants worldwide, for a total of over 900 employees.

Athena Group

Clear objectives: Increase the quality and accuracy of planning

The core business of Athena Group is represented by the industrial production of gaskets and sealing systems, however the product portfolio is very large (the references are over 300,000) and in many cases they are quite small parts. In addition, the number of lots is quite high, as well as the number of customers in the industrial branch, which are thousands. Therefore, Athena Group’s production is typically fragmented into numerous batches, which must be made in a day on a large number of machines. What further increases the complexity of Athena’s production is the presence of multi-phase articles; these articles can even reach 20 processing stages per single product. In some cases, then, the products have phases that are repeated, both internal and external, and there are therefore articles that pass through the same work centre several times; in short, cycles that in some cases are quite complex.

Another boost came from the certification that Athena Group boasts in the automotive field, namely the IATF 16949 of the International Automotive Task Force. This technical specification, aimed at guaranteeing the best quality of processes and performance, was also possible thanks to the adoption of software tools capable of managing production in an innovative and efficient way. In particular, achieving values close to 100% in terms of compliance with delivery dates (also known as OTD or On-Time Delivery), was a difficult goal to achieve without a tool to plan and schedule production in a shared way, with simulative and logical capacity at finite capacity.

A project to digitise production planning

Before CyberPlan, planning was carried out manually with the support of Excel and Access; the limitations of this methodology, combined with the increasing production complexity and the new ambitious objectives, pushed Athena to support the Formula Group’s ERP with a specific tool for production planning.

Athena uses APS to plan the production flows of metal seals, rubber moulding, internal caps and valves and  accessories. Therefore, all the plants at the Alonte headquarters are managed with CyberPlan.

Batch management with expiration, in relation to some raw materials, is also done through the CyberPlan tool, which thus allows to keep the perishability of the materials under control.

CyberPlan is then used to carry out feasibility studies, thanks to the simulated environment offered by the tool. Thanks to this environment, it is also possible to have a history that can be consulted to carry out specific analyses.

The implementation project of the CyberPlan APS tool did not stop at the production planning office, benefiting several company departments. Advanced Planning and Scheduling software, in fact, is also used by purchasing, sales and customer service offices, with different purposes and benefits.

Athena Group Guarnizioni

High customization and benefits in many departments, not only for planning

CyberPlan is used by different corporate departments of Athena, with different purposes and different advantages.

In the purchasing department, based on needs, supplier lead times and other parameters, the APS generates purchase proposals and sends them to the management system for the creation of the purchase order which is then sent to the suppliers. Purchases were previously made weekly, now daily. The analysis time is very short compared to the past. There is also visibility on orders already issued to, if necessary, make changes (postpone/advance dates, increase/decrease quantities).

The planning department uses it mainly for the planning of the scheduled date during the order confirmation phase. Most of the dates confirmed by the planning are in fact based on the date scheduled by CyberPlan, which considers the availability of materials, machine loads and other values.

Finally, customer service uses CyberPlan to respond to the different needs of customers that may concern the status of the order or the timing of delivery.

” Customer service is able to give clear and fast answers with CyberPlan because it has production and planning under control.” Anna Gasparetto

The customisation possibilities of the tool have also been fundamental on several occasions. The management of forecasts (i.e. data sent by customers and relating to future purchase expectations) is carried out with CyberPlan, which compares them with what is already in the system and reports critical points, requests below the production lead time or other variations.

Further customizations, carried out by Link Management, have allowed Athena to face particular challenges with suitable tools that have allowed an excellent management of the supply chain.

“With CyberPlan we were able to overcome the material supply crisis caused by Covid, it allowed us to manage the use of alternative materials and carry out analyses on future scenarios” Gianpaolo Gustoni

The APS software has also impacted the shipping side: it has allowed, through some customised automation, to reduce the number of shipments for each customer, grouping as much as possible all the goods available, and to always ship on time the goods already available in stock.

Finally, even individual users can appreciate the possibility of customisation, the different types of display can in fact be modified by adding, removing or replacing the information contained according to changing needs and priorities.

It is also worth analyzing the evolution experienced by Athena in recent years and how it has managed growth in terms of production. From the beginning of the project to date, in fact, turnover has increased by 80% but thanks to the APS tool, the number of professionals dedicated to planning and scheduling activities has remained unchanged.

In addition to managed volumes, the quality of planning has also varied considerably, now able to carry out in-depth analyses, to make decisions in advance avoiding critical situations, to better manage the workload and to deliver orders to customers within the agreed deadlines, increasing the level of service.

APS + MES: when the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts

The joint use of the CyberPlan APS and Opera MES tools then allows further benefits to be obtained, the result of the direct dialogue between these two tools. The main one concerns the production plans generated by the APS, which are even more realistic thanks to the fact that, by receiving the data directly from the MES, they are updated in real time. The valuable MES tool, thanks to its precise control of the progress of production orders, allows Link Management to further develop and customize, which are currently under development, to meet the needs of Athena.

Athena Group Work Floor

Link Management behind Athena Group’s APS and MES project

Athena’s project was carried out by Link Management, Cybertec’s partner for many years. In particular, the consultant Eng. Cristian Zanon, followed the company both from a point of view of implementation of MES and APS tools and business consulting.

“Link Management consultancy goes beyond software, they have also helped us from the point of view of the company organisation. In addition, they did an excellent job in compliance with the agreed deadlines.”Gianpaolo Gustoni

In addition, the ability to adapt the CyberPlan tool around the individual company has made it possible to create some useful customisations to simplify calculations and analyses for the planning department. Thus, analysis systems have been created for alternative materials and forecasts that are used daily.

“In Link Management we have always found competence and willingness to look for the solution that best suits the reality of Athena” Anna Gasparetto

CyberPlan, the APS for planning and scheduling full-capacity production

The important results obtained by Athena were possible thanks to the work of consultants, Athena staff and the adoption of the Advanced Planning and Scheduling CyberPlan tool. Thanks to advanced logics such as finite-capacity scheduling and the high computing power deriving from the database in RAM, APS allows manufacturing companies to plan production in a modern, fast and shared way. Learn how to implement this tool in your company.New call-to-action

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