BEST INNOVATION/R&D - The Lansing Linde Award Winner and BEST PROCESS PLANT - Highly Commended: Anson Packaging
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There's no such thing as a mature industry, only mature management. One plant that's out to prove that truth is Anson Packaging's factory at Sutton, near Cambridge.
Anson, which makes thermoformed plastic packaging for the food and retailing industries, first set up at the disused airfield site in the 1970s. Twenty or so years on, both the plant and the company qualify as paid-up participants in the Cambridge Phenomenon, competing - and winning market share - against much larger rivals for the business of demanding customers such as Fox's Biscuits, Terry's chocolates, and Tesco, Sainsbury and M&S. With another plant nearby, Anson has nearly doubled in size over the past two years; this year alone, revenues are up by about 40%. Being part of the Cambridge effect has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages include the presence of high-tech sup- pliers (such as Domino, another 2002 laureate) and a dynamic entrepreneurial infrastructure. The big disadvantage is competition for talent, which bites at all levels but is perhaps most acute among skilled operators who, however modern the machinery, make the difference between a good factory and a great one.
This matters particularly for a small plant, which competes through customer service based on innovation and agility rather than brute size. Customers, says Andrew Osborne- Smith, Anson operations director, 'expect and are looking for' bespoke packaging that actively sells, rather than just contains, the product.
Part of Anson's successful response comes from the creative interplay between the group's vibrant design department and a manufacturing unit that prides itself on versatility (capability in different plastics) and the ability to push the technical limits, all within ever-tightening lead times. The judges rated some of its technical developments as outstanding: for example, high-clarity polypropylene being evolved for upmarket packaging, development of now industry-standard laser marking, and redrawing the technical boundaries in thin-draw polypropylene and vertical-wall thermoforming.
Anson has enjoyed heavy reinvestment from privately held parent Avro Industries. But to get the most out of new machines and its innovation capabilities it needed substantial manufacturing improvements too. Anson is still a batch manufacturer, but to become an agile one it has had to undertake all the familiar lean initiatives: multi-skilled teams, empowerment, integration of best practice, good housekeeping and visual management.
As always, the key is bringing down changeover times (from an 11-hour worst to an 84-minute best) and continuous improvement to sustain the momentum. That is coming not only from improving factory efficiencies but also in the shape of real interest from functions such as finance and sales: real joined-up management.
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