With increasing demands for IT systems at every level and in every department of the business, all of door and window-maker Apeer’s demands are handled by its own in-house IT team. Glass News reports from Cyberspace.
Perhaps even an understatement, efficiency is an obsession at Apeer. The Ballymena, Northern Ireland-based composite resi-door maker and home of the unique Lumi brand of windows and doors, is headed by the unapologetically OCD Asa McGillian, of whom I can testify is a man so energetic and enthusiastic that I needed to lie down after just a couple of hours in his company.
When Asa thinks up a project his focus becomes total, as is evidenced by the creation of Lumi, a window and door system that was described by the judges of the G Awards as ‘a product that truly reinvents the window’ when it won the Best New Product accolade in 2015. Lumi certainly is different with its edge-to-edge glazing that conceals a sub-frame and, in a fenestration world in which ‘conservative’ seems to be the key driver, Lumi stands out from the rest; Lumi doors – sliders and residential doors especially – are enjoying strong sales.
Whilst the avant-garde Lumi often occupies the headlines, Apeer’s core offer remains its composite residential doors, the sales of which put the company in the UK top 10. Pitched firmly at the upper medium price bracket its strengths lie in the almost limitless customisation offered to customers, made possible by producing its own skins and slabs and through substantial investment in advanced painting facilities. And remarkably, moulded PVC-U doors continue to leave Apeer’s factory gates at a rate of 5,000 units per month.
Production facilities are again being extended to cope with Apeer’s continuing 25% plus year on year growth but it cannot happen fast enough, says Asa: “We need more space! And whilst the footings are dug for a further factory extension this will take until the New Year before we can expand into it. Both Lumi and Apeer residential door sales continue to grow way ahead of our projections.”
In addition to more space housing more machinery and more people, squeezing more out of existing resources is led by Apeer’s in-house IT team. IT leader Eddie McStravick described his department and its goals: “We now have six in the team, all with computer science degrees or studying for appropriate qualifications. Our core brief is to pursue greater efficiency throughout the business and at the core of this is our manufacturing system, built entirely from scratch.
“There are some excellent proprietary digital management and production systems available in the market and we use one or two: but there was nothing that suited our needs perfectly, which included a focus on employees. Through the system we created, everyone involved in production is tracked from the point where they clock in, with the system then allocating jobs and tasks with processes then closely monitored. This runs through all of our production processes and also quality control, which is achieved using the latest digital imaging technology. So far it has taken 7 years to develop and we are constantly improving it. “
Nothing standard was appropriate for the special production requirements of Lumi windows and doors, says Eddie: “Every employee is responsible for their own work and our system tracks everything that they do. But rather than being ‘Big Brother’ we work with all of our people to ensure they operate to the best of their abilities; our systems allow us to help them improve and ultimately, for them to also get the most out of what they do; our people have a pride in the products that they make.”
Faultless quality and customer satisfaction go hand in hand of course: no amount of so-called ‘support’ will keep customers happy if the products consistently show faults. “Our primary focus is always on customers,” insists Eddie. “Our products must meet customer expectations and our systems have been designed to firstly prevent problems, and on the occasion when a problem does arise it must be identified and rectified immediately, thus ensuring consistently high quality reaching the customers and of course, their customers.”
Apeer’s IT team is comprised of four developers plus a trainee, with Eddie at the helm. The department is totally self-contained with no outreach to additional services: “We are responsible for every aspect of Apeer’s IT-based requirements,” said Eddie. “That includes Doorbuilder, our online door design facility which we have recently re-launched after a major update; and we have also built an app called ApeerSnap. The app has been designed to ensure our people in the field, our reps and engineers and management team, can get a snap-shot view of sales performance and analysis and a continuous real-time view of production and delivery status. It also shows our KPI’s and targets.
“Doorbuilder actually now accounts for 85% of our orders which I believe is an excellent measure of just how useable it is. This figure includes orders taken through versions that we build for our customers, who are able to use their own database and branding. And it’s now being extended to Lumi – we are especially proud of that,” offered Eddie. “And all orders go straight to our factory.”
When asked where he draws his inspiration and enthusiasm for IT from Eddie cited Apple as being one of his most important influences: “I am incredibly impressed by Apple technology and what it allows us all to do. And virtualisation is fascinating and offers us so many possibilities, to create and test ideas before committing to tooling for example.
We asked Eddie for a sneak preview of the future: “For the future virtual reality is the direction….and robotics too. In fact we are looking at robotics now in the search for even better control, efficiency, quality and reliability. This is not to replace employees but simply to get more, do more. These technologies will allow us to offer greater product diversity, more customer options and customisation,” Eddie advised. “Customisation is at the heart of everything we do currently…so to have that done by robots would really be cool,” he added wistfully, clearly lost in Apeer’s future.