Sponsor - Siemens Nixdorf.
As the history of these Awards has demonstrated, long-established, comfortably placed market leaders don't always search for improvement as diligently as they ought. Caradon Mira's Cheltenham bathroom shower factory is a welcome exception to that tendency: a solid exemplar of manufacturing excellence across a broad range of performance measures and initiatives.
Managing director Mark Pickering would be the first to concede there are still improvement initiatives left untapped. He shows how each one has been evaluated and takes its place in a rolling three-year strategic plan which is underpinned by careful benchmarking.
Take the kanban system, for example. Kanbans proliferate in UK industry today - but so do kanban systems, some of which are so chaotic and confused as to beggar description. Not at Caradon Mira, though. Caradon's product range is both large and complex, and a single shower unit may contain over 100 components, some bought in, but many machined, polished and plated on-site. The heart of the issue, explains project manager Bob Hill, was 'Should we control the cards, or should we control the containers?' Many factories duck the issue by controlling neither; Caradon Mira deliberated at length, visited factories that operated kanban systems, and opted for the two-card approach pioneered by Toyota.
One card serves as a permit to move components from their point of manufacture to their point of use; a carefully regulated number of production cards controls both the level of work-in-progress in the machining cells and the associated lead time.The complexity may in fact be more apparent than real. 'Kanban has had a lot of support from the factory floor,' says Hill. 'People understand it better than they understand the computer system.'
The same is true of the switch to cellular production. Cell leader Shaun Green is keen to demonstrate the productivity benefits brought about by replacing the central tool stores with a decentralised tool library under the control of his cell. Phil Tuckwell, who co-ordinates the associated Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) programme, happily expounds on the associated improvements in equipment uptime statistics.
The initiative began with a Japanese-style Five S housekeeping programme, evolved into examining machine utilisation levels through employing Overall Equipment Effectiveness methodologies, and then evolved once more into full TPM. The key to the programme's success, according to Tuckwell, 'lies in getting operators to look at what's going wrong with their machines - and then empowering them to be responsible for preventing it'.
Impressive though this is, the judges were also forcefully struck by the working environment in the cells: the machine shop, for example, is clean, well-lit, and brightly painted - despite the age of the building in which it is located - and as well as the usual performance and metric charts, cell leaders' cublicles are as likely to contain pot plants and fish tanks. Other factories struggle to achieve the levels of empowerment and employee involvement that are so obvious at Caradon Mira - and the inescapable conclusion is that the working environment is at least a contributory factor. The same productive orderliness and efficiency is also found in the polishing and plating shop where a re-layout has brought the polishing and plating operations closer together, and a £1-million investment in robots has improved quality, raised efficiency and slashed process times.
There's more, much more - not least a world-class approach to purchasing and vendor management, and an intriguing approach to linking top-level strategic objectives to departmental and cell-based measures. Pickering concedes that it's been hard work - 'We've come very close to having too many initiatives on the go' - but excellence, it seems, brings its own reward.
Activity: Shower manufacture
Task: Design, manufacture and assembly of complex product range
Size: 700 employees
Outstanding Features: Cellular production, continuous improvement, vendor management, kanban scheduling, Total Productive Maintenance.