Manufacturing best practice

Clay Technology magazine
1 Feb 2008

The UK-US Manufacturers Summit 07, held in Manchester, UK, offered delegates tips on how to achieve best practice by introducing lean manufacturing, and improving the quality and efficiency of the supply chain.

‘I had always been sceptical about consultants,' said Andy Okolowicz, to several nods of agreement from the audience. But the Factory Manager of international company New Balance Athletic Shoes' site in Flimby, UK, seems to have put those concerns to rest.

His story of the journey taken at the Flimby site to improve productivity, with the help of the Northwest Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), set the tone for a three-day event branded with the slogan - ‘The revolution starts here'.

Organised by the UK's Manufacturing Institute, the UK-US Manufacturers Summit 07 was held in the luxurious surroundings of the Manchester United football stadium, Old Trafford, UK, from 16-18 October 2008. It comprised factory tours, workshops and keynote presentations on the theme of best practice in manufacturing. Proceedings were categorised into ‘the five forces of the revolution' - acceleration, inspiration, globalisation, innovation and collaboration.

As one of the speakers in the acceleration stream, Okolowicz's presentation outlined how a free diagnostic visit from Ian Wilson of MAS in 2005 set the factory on a leaner road - saving the company £1.5m in manufacturing costs and the same again by improving productivity by 35% and removing the need for another factory. Output increased from 10-14 pairs of shoes per person per hour, tripling the total volume from one to three million pairs.

‘It's not about working harder, but working smarter,' said Okolowicz. ‘When our CEO from the USA visited in 2005, we had poor housekeeping, low morale, an overtime culture and excessive rework. Floor space usage was at 40%, yet we could not find anything! At the same time, the parent company told the European business [headquarterd in Warrington, UK] that we must increase turnover from £70m to £250m.'

Leaner and cleaner

The MAS organised a series of workshops to introduce workers to the principles of lean manufacturing. By assembling Lego trucks, individuals learned about single piece flow and were challenged to analyse their own manufacturing process. The result was a new team layout, moving from five to four workers per cell, reduced waste and a conveyer system to collect goods from multiple cells.

Talking to Clay Technology, Wilson adds, ‘For a general diagnostic visit, the practitioner will follow the material route through the business, from goods in to goods out, and review the process.

'We also look at specific problems for that business. Common problems include - too much work in progress, which fills the factory floor with unnecessary stock, processes that are spread out forcing people and materials to move around, and no link between manufacturing and sales. Sales [reps] can be making promises that the manufacturing team cannot honour because it has not got the capacity'.

Following the initial diagnosis, companies can, as New Balance did, pay the MAS for additional support to implement the proposed action plan through workshops and training (there are reduced rates for SMEs). Wilson explains how the workshops ‘give employees ownership' of any improvements, to ensure that changes are sustained after MAS practioners leave the site.

Supply chain strategy

Engaging with employees, management and customers was at the core of all the success stories presented at the summit. Mark Parker of Unison Engine components, based in Manchester, UK, which supplies parts for the aviation industry, illustrated this effectively in his presentation on ‘How to Develop a Supply Chain Strategy'.

Parker has worked with 10 of Unison's suppliers since 2006 to improve the quality and delivery of components, avoid ‘fire fighting' and reduce schedule disruption. A speaker in the globalisation stream, he emphasised that ‘if you want to be world class, your whole supply chain has to be world class. If you are not honest about your failings, then you will never address them'.

Part funded by the former DTI, the programme involved supplier days, where employees at Unison visited each supplier, examining their product and information flow, machine usage, facility layout, and installation, or lack thereof, of material requirement planning software.

‘Often the quality of data was very poor from [Unison],' added Parker. ‘So we were not giving them a chance to perform.'

As a result of the scheme, one of the suppliers to Unison, Merc Engineering, based in Barrowford, UK, increased the percentage of its products delivered on time from 40-100% between January 2006 to September 2007.

Merc's Managing Director, Lee Nuttall, said, ‘We have undertaken various continuous improvement programmes in the past, but they seemed to phase out. Because the customer [Unison] was backing this all along, we were more likely to carry on'.


* The Manufacturing Institute, funded by manufacturers and universities in the northwest of England, runs the Northwest MAS and works with over 13,000 manufacturers, offering training in areas such as lean leadership, how to problem solve and team leadership.


Further information:

The Manufacturing Institute 
The Manufacturing Advisory Service