Sponsor - British Standards Institution (BSI).
Few winners of our Most Improved category can boast such an inauspicious start to manufacturing excellence as CCL's Scunthorpe personal care products bottling and aerosol filling plant. It was opened as a greenfield site in 1988, but the company that set it up promptly went bankrupt in 1990.
It was then acquired by Canadian multinational CCL. Managing director John Scruton, who spent eight years working in Canada for CCL, moved back to England to manage both the Scunthorpe site and another factory in Grimsby.
It proved to be something of a baptism of fire: 'Many suppliers flatly refused to deliver to the site at all - irrespective of who owned it,' he recalls.
Scruton and operations manager Paul Beaumont have worked hard to transform the factory. The twofold function it fulfils for customers including Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Wella is straightforward: first, it mixes a variety of popular shampoos, deodorants and hairsprays and then, on high-speed packaging lines, fills aerosols or bottles with the made-up formulations. It seems that the owners of the major brands increasingly prefer to concentrate on product development and marketing, turning to contractors such as CCL for mixing and packaging.
CCL has grown its share of this market from 11% five years ago to 40% today, Scruton claims. As a result, a substantial number of the personal care products that compete against each other on the shelves of supermarkets and chemists up and down the country come, in fact, from the same factory in Scunthorpe.
CCL has 33 sites around the world, each of which is regularly compared to the others in a rigorous benchmarking programme. Once the economies of scale imposed by size differentials have been stripped out, the Scunthorpe operation is the best, asserts Scruton. His intention is that the factory progresses 'to be the best, full stop'. Capital investment has been carefully focused on areas where it will generate the greatest competitive advantage: £1.5 million spent on a rotary aerosol line that incorporated the first installation in Europe of a new electronically-controlled filling head technology is just one significant example.
Empty bottles and aerosol cans take up a lot of room, especially in the high volumes that the Scunthorpe factory requires. Under the banner of a Partners in Excellence programme, Scruton and Beaumont have worked closely with suppliers to improve both suppliers' responsiveness and the quality of the delivered containers.
The required cosmetic standards for the factory's customer base are very high, and the slightest blemish or printing defect is a cause for rejection: careful physical handling of containers is therefore paramount.
Impressively for a factory of its size, the Partners in Excellence programme is spearheaded by a full-time continuous improvement manager, who reports directly to Scruton. Employees play their part in continuous improvement, too - particularly on the complex filling lines, where minute misalignments can quickly bring the whole operation to a halt. In one programme on a high-speed filling line, the improvement team set themselves the target of raising output levels to a consistent 65,000 aerosols per shift. That achieved, they then aimed for 90,000 per shift, and at the time of the judges' visit they had reached a most impressive 100,000 aerosols per shift - no mean feat when the critical part of the operation is located, for safety reasons, through the outside wall in a cramped, blast-proof cabin, designed to dissipate any explosion upwards, through the ceiling, rather than outwards.
Overall, however, the factory still has some way to go before achieving the consistency that the judges look for. But the metrics all point to a growing degree of excellence and a gathering pace of improvement as Scruton's Partners in Excellence programme matures and tightens its grip on the factory's culture.
CCL Custom Manufacturing
Activity: Personal care products
Task: High-volume, low-cost contract formulation and packaging of personal care products for major brands
Complexity: Low to medium
Size: 280 employees
Outstanding Features: Prominence given to continuous improvement, customer responsiveness, process control.
Most Improved Factory
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Checking for quality: Scaling the heights to a solvent container (far left); empty aerosol cans are examined (left).
Particulate dissolution is monitored in hair-colouring mousse (below).
Empty aerosols are loaded onto the linear feeding table using a magnetic lifter (below left).