Automatic for the people

In 2018 Distinction Doors embarked upon a significant investment programme designed to increase production efficiency, product quality and output. At the heart of that investment is a significant commitment to automation, as MD Gareth Williams explains.

While the original business model of Distinction Doors was based on shipping large volumes of door blanks to fabricators, increasing numbers of the company’s customers now demand a degree of preparation, or ‘prepping’.

Since its introduction, Distinction’s prepping service has been so successful that recent, significant investment in systems and processes have substantially been to support and develop this element of the company’s operations.

Supplying door blanks that have been edge-banded, painted and glazed and prepped to a specific lock, handle, hinges and letter plate specification has now become larger than our original business. This means the doors will arrive and be ready to assemble and hang in a frame – all of which can be done by hand.

The main appeal of this service is that Distinction makes the investment in expensive CNC, edge banding and extraction machinery, relieving the fabricator of that commitment and outlay. Now around 60% of our sales are for prepped doors, a figure that is growing steadily. We have to make this work and make it work well.

Automation – not just of the production processes but also of the back-up systems – would bring the benefits of higher production rates and increased productivity, more efficient use of materials, better product quality, improved safety, shorter working weeks for labour, and reduced factory lead times.

In addition to the automated CNC machines we have recently completed the installation of barcode scanners and a sophisticated Enterprise Resource Planning – or ERP – system, which allows us to integrate the management of all of our main business processes and in real time.

A key part of what has been an extraordinary transition at Distinction, and one that has been very tangible for many of our customers, has been the automation of our order input process. This allows our customers to send us orders directly via their own systems, meaning the customer does not need to use our web portal to place orders with us, but can be placed directly with us through their own ordering system. This directly saves the customer time and further reduces any opportunities for errors.

Ultimately, the benefits are then felt in the actual production process by allowing us to automate the CNC programs for the machine operators while tracking every job through the factory, from order to delivery. We are now faster, slicker and more accurate, all of which makes us more competitive, not just in terms of price but as a more dependable supplier.

When we say we will deliver something right, first time, our customers can depend upon that and sharpen their own businesses accordingly.

We want to be the Amazon of the door industry. The standards set by such giants as Amazon raise our expectations in every aspect of our lives, including in our businesses. Although the scales are quite different at an industrial level compared to a giant retail operation, we want our customers to know that when they order something, the next they know about that order is when it turns up, exactly as it was ordered and when it was expected.

Our customers must be confident that by committing themselves to us, which has sometimes involved a fundamental change in their company by transferring manufacturing control to Distinction, they will be rewarded with better products, delivered right first time.

Our automation project is a huge step towards this goal.