Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Management Today

This year's Best Process Factory lies just a stone's throw from last year's winner in the same category, Kimberly-Clark's Flint Mill. Delyn Mill is one of three separately managed business units which Kimberly-Clark owns on the same 80-acre site in Clwyd, North Wales. It is relatively new, having been constructed in 1988 for the manufacture of paper towels. Production now runs at over 3 billion individual towels per year - rolled and bundled - which adds up to about one-third of UK consumption. With a commodity product selling into an acutely price-sensitive market - consisting of local authorities, schools, industrial users and the like - the need for low-cost production is paramount.

Delyn Mill was designed to use 100% waste paper as its raw material. This, claims mill team leader Malcolm Wright, makes the factory unique in Britain - although it seems that competitors are now, belatedly, bolting on the appropriate pulping and sieving equipment to their own processes. The manufacturing technology is otherwise fairly standard. There is a 16,000-tonne capacity Fourdrinier papermaker, with on-line slitting, feeding vast rolls of material (of various colours and degrees of softness) to two folding machines and a reeler. These latter machines indicate a departure from the original conception of a single-product plant. However the need to cope with the changeovers imposed by a multi-product role demands a degree of flexibility that Delyn Mill has learned to exploit to startling effect.

The competition, Wright explains, runs its paper machines continuously, buffering fluctuations in demand with rising and falling warehouse stock levels. Delyn, by contrast, is a Japanese-style just-in-time manufacturer. The plant is worked only to the extent required to maintain a given stock level. Wright points to bays of warehouse racking that have deliberately been taped off to prevent forklift truck drivers from placing product there. When the available shelves are full, then production stops.

Like Flint Mill, Delyn makes extensive use of statistical process control and preventative maintenance. But it is in the area of people management that the plant excels. As at Flint Mill, traditional titles and workwear are out: Wright, who is essentially production director of this £10million business, wears the same uniform of sports shirt and slacks as everyone else. Last year, too, the Kimberly-Clark site exhibited the most unusual manning arrangements of all the businesses that the judges visited. But Delyn is a degree more unusual again.

'We manage our people differently,' affirms Wright. 'Differently from Flint Mill, differently from anywhere else in Kimberly-Clark and differently from anywhere else in the UK.' With just over 100 employees, who between them share three job titles (one of these being 'mill team leader'), Delyn has no formal supervisory positions apart from Wright's. The core of the organisation structure consists of five teams, each of 18 people, who rotate around a complicated continuous shift system. The teams are 'multi-leader', Wright explains. 'People lead in their own areas of expertise' - which obviously vary. Recruitment and remuneration systems are designed to support skill enhancement. 'If we recruit an electrician, we'll pay him for his electrical skills - but more if we can give him papermaking skills as well.' Existing team members have the final say when it comes to selecting new recruits.

Each team is rostered on for four 12-hour shifts, then rostered off for six shifts in the summer and four shifts in the winter, when demand is lowest. There are no holidays as such, although each team has three 18-day 'rostered off' periods between April and end-September. In total, this adds up to 1,776 working hours a year, which is roughly a standard 39-hour working week.

Wright's objective (which is mostly achieved, he says) is to eliminate support staff entirely. Every team member spends a month each year working at some distance from his team, handling what would traditionally have been staff roles such as warehouse management, purchasing, invoice clearing and the like. Only the need for formal qualifications in accounting and quality management prevent the system from being extended further, says Wright. The results speak for themselves.

Activity: Manufacture of paper towelling

Task: Low-cost production of 10 products from a single process plant

Complexity: Low

Size: 100 employees

Outstanding Features: Empowerment, organisational structure, quality systems.

Process Industry Award - Sponsor: AT and T Istel.

AT and T Istel is a company that provides integrated computer and communications solutions for the specific needs of industry, commerce and the public sector. From its UK base, AT and T Istel has become one of the major information technology companies in Europe, employing over 3,500 people. The company is the leading provider of computer software solutions to UK manufacturing industries. AT and T Istel has developed software that is appropriate to every stage of the cycle, from design through production to delivery.

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