WINNER: TREND CONTROL SYSTEMS
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One good reason for pursuing manufacturing excellence is to keep control of your own destiny. Within the Novar (ex-Caradon) group, Horsham-based Trend Control Systems, maker of energy management systems for commercial buildings, is a minnow and as such has little purchase over broad group strategic direction and resource allocation.
What it can point to, however, is a history of operational excellence on which it has built a 30% UK market share and lucrative exports to Europe and the US, under the nose of competitors like Honeywell and Tyco.
Success has been hard won. In the 'dark ages' before 1990, the main Horsham plant, which accounts for three-quarters of company turnover, made its products in traditional mass-production push mode - building batches for stock to complex MRP schedules and forecasts. Lead times were long and although the warehouse was bulging with stock, customer satisfaction was low.
Despite investment in automation and test equipment, by the mid-1990s a substantial loss made it clear that Trend had to make a step change to survive. Taking a collective deep breath, it moved from push to pull - stockless production using JIT principles and production cells in place of the previous assembly line.
A new range of controllers was designed to take advantage of investment in surface-mount technology, beginning the journey towards design for manufacture.
The results were dramatic: lead times slashed from six weeks to three days, first-time pass rate up to 88%, with soaring customer satisfaction.
Without forecasting and scheduling, materials control was massively simplified, and Trend began developing the closer supplier relationships it needed to support the new system.
Trend's combination of unbeatable lead times - for a piece of capital equipment with hosts of variations, remember - and consistent quality and reliability have enabled it to compete on equal terms almost anywhere on the globe, including the US: a textbook case of competitive advantage through manufacturing. So honed did these practices become that in 1999 Trend picked up the entire factory and moved production to a new site with no downtime, not a single order missed.
That was an opportunity for more improvements: lead times have been further reduced, first-time pass rate increased to 96% and direct costs drastically reduced. The company has also set up a world-class order-taking front end. An increasing proportion of orders now come in via the web site, cutting processing errors and improving customer satisfaction.
The next phase? Sixteen improvement programmes are focused on getting increasingly clear about customer priorities and adjusting the complete service offering across the whole supply chain. Much is riding on the introduction of a new range redesigned for manufacture, and especially its reception in the US. In the group context, it's as a centre of manufacturing excellence that Trend can keep on punching above its weight.
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