28 August 2005

Organising 2005 SDM Conference at MIT

During the last year I've been one of the team organising the 2005 SDM Conference at MIT. This is now open for booking and whilst attendance is strictly speaking only available for alumni, students, and faculty associated with the SDM and LFM programmes at MIT / Sloan we are pretty flexible in taking bookings from other people with a serious interest in complex system design and/or management.

The conference is on Thursday 27th October and Friday 28th October at MIT. We have an exciting list of speakers including Carliss Baldwin and Stefan Tomke (both of Harvard Business School) as well as Michael Hammer (of MIT), and for the first time an SDM alumni will give a full length lecture - he is Bill Taylor of SDM'01 and he and I sweated over our theses together.

The sponsors are BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, United Technologies, Raytheon, and Boost Energy Systems.

Hope to see you there !

25 August 2005

Visiting suppliers, climbing in the West Country

I've just spent a week visiting a lot of suppliers along the south coast of the UK, from Southampton down to Falmouth. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and I took advantage of the trip to get a weekend of climbing in at Lands End and on the Culm Coast (Great Zawn; Bosigran; Rosemergy Towers; Carn Kenidjack; Hartlands Point). We stayed at Roselands Caravan Park (www.roselands.co.uk; 01736 788571) which was fine but full. Excellent pasties from Warrens of Penzance who now have a near monopoly in the West Country, with bakery outlets in many of the small villages.

12 August 2005

Another distributor in Scotland

I've just taken a moment to put up details of our latest distributor, Power and Generation Services in Oban. They aren't a store - but they are prety good consulting engineers who also do HV electrical safety training and run offshore oil & gas platforms in their spare time. They've been handling our phase converters for a while and selected our units after quite a thorough evaluation. They also deal in remote generation packages such as diesel / wind / solar / microhydro systems for both the onshore and offshore market.

10 August 2005

Accounting packages, telephone systems, phase converter overloads

For now we have decided to go with MYOB Accountant Plus. We'll try and get it up and running over the next few weeks so I'll let you know how it goes.

We've also started the process of looking at our telephone systems. Trying to get our telephone provider to take ownership has been something of a trial but eventually (after weeks) one of them has asked to visit us to try and understand our needs.

We're doing these things now because this is the quietest time of year for phase converter sales. Yesterday an interesting converter problem surfaced in a unit we sold about 3 months ago to run a dry cleaner. I drove over in the afternoon - although it was quite a few hours drive they can't afford to be out of action for more than a day or so, and in those circumstances we move quickly.

The first problem was simple: the supply was via a 63 Amp 'B' type breaker and the breaker was failing. All I had with me was a 'C' type which resolved the increasingly frequent supply side trips. Ideally I would have fitted a 'D' type. The second problem was that our phase converter was a Booster A 12kW unit and the client's load was pulling a pretty steady 13kW during one part of the dry cleaning cycle. This was causing our unit to go into boost quite frequently (almost 50% of the time for several minutes) and this was overstressing the controller which was on the point of failing. I replaced it with a 16kW controller and we'll see how it performs now. The next weakest thing in the system is either the motor or the supply, and I'd rather not upgrade either if the client can avoid the expense. I guess this shows one of the advantages of using our controllers as even with this amount of boosting it still wasn't causing a great deal of difficulty to the load as a contactor-based solution would have.

07 August 2005

Accounting packages

We need to get an accounting package now in order to cater for growth. Unfortunately we seem to fall midway between the small business packages (Intuit Quickbooks; MYOB; basic Sage) and the medium sized business packages (Sage Line 50; Opera II; SAP sbe; Dream/CODA; Sunsystems).

The former can be picked up for £300 or less whereas the latter fall into the £2500-£15000 range and require quite complex (i.e. costly) implementation. This issue is made worse by the fact that we are a manufacturer and this makes everything tricky as in the future we need to consider integrating with our manufacturing systems (production scheduling, purchasing, resource allocation, etc). Oh and then there is the issue of marketing as this whole thing can be considered as a full ERP+accounts+CRM.

We've been taking advice and reviewing our options. A good site for advice is http://www.accountingweb.co.uk but they don't tend to discuss the merits of the small packages. Quickbooks definitely looks expensive versus MYOB. And SAP is equally expensive versus Sage Line 50 and Opera II. And Sage has a dreadful reputation in fast-changing manufacturing environments. Dream/CODA and Sunsystems are more of an unknown quantity but first I think we need to choose between the small and medium sized packages. Right now MYOB Accounting Plus is looking pretty attractive.

02 August 2005

Boost, phase converters, and accounting packages

Hello, I am David Sharman. This is where I will try and keep a diary of interesting things that happen to us here at Boost. Well, the sort of things that interest us and will provide a record we can look back on to get a sense of perspective. Some of them may also interest you - especially if you are interested in phase converters; renewable and distributed energy; and the problems that face a small manufacturer.

Our core product is a phase converter. We've been making these for 48 years. A phase converter transforms single phase electrical power (the sort that one gets in a standard 3 pin plug) into 3 phase electrical power (the sort that requires either a 4 or 5 pin electrical plug). They are quite useful but also a niche product. Boost Energy Systems started life in 1957 as Boost Electrical Engineering. We changed the name when I took over because we could see that we would expand our products to move beyond phase converters. This is happening slowly. I took over about 18 months ago and most of our progress has been in phase converters - enough progress that we have had to move premises twice. We joke that our core competence is building workshops !

There are three of us directly working for the business right now: myself who is a general engineer; Dalibor Golubvic who is our assembly technician; and Ahmed Mulla who is an engineering student doing a piece of research for us. We also have quite a close working relationship with Peter and Selina Burton at Isomatic UK; and George and Hristo Nachev at Isomatic Lab. From time to time Mr Ali works with us when we have abnormal demand levels.

Right now is the quietest time of year for us. This means we can get some of our systems sorted out ready for the rest of the year. This week I am trying to figure out if we ought to move onto an accounting system - and if so if it is one that should also be extendable to a manufacturing resource system. If any of you have suggestions then let me know. Top contenders appear to be Opera and Sage. SAP are trying to convince me that they can scale down to our business but they are not very convincing. Sage don't seem very customer responsive which rather puts me off them (I am looking at Sage Line 50 FC by the way). Opera seem to get it but I am wary of being locked in too quickly. Another one might be Mamut. Right now we run off spreadsheets and ring binders which has the advantage of being flexible and compatible with doing the books on my kitchen table in the evenings. I'll let you know more as we work through the problem.