Alcan Rolled Products in Glasgow produces 'silver foil' in a variety of forms such as milk bottle tops and cigarette wrappers, also the heavier gauge used by, for example, Chinese takeaways. Large coils of aluminium strip 350 microns thick are sequentially rolled down to a thickness of - in the case of cigarette wrappers - just 61/2 microns. After rolling, the now attenuated strip is channelled in one of a number of directions depending on its intended end-use: printing, lacquering, waxing, paper laminating, polythene coating, and so on. The range of processes is considerable. So too are the potential problems.
Not so long ago the problems tended to predominate. To bring about the necessary performance improvements in surroundings adapted from Britain's industrial heritage called for exceptional effort. The spur was the will to survive, as works director Bill Morris admits. Multinational Alcan was rationalising its UK operations and Morris's previous factory, Alcan's only other Scottish works, did not survive.
The 'quiet revolution', as it has been called, began about eight years ago. The layers of management are down from six to four - superintendents and foremen having been replaced by team leaders. And although the era of self-managing teams has not yet arrived, the team structure under production manager Ian Pitman, 30, has swept away the rigid demarcation lines of the past. Substantial investment has helped the transformation along. These days the factory grinds its own rollers to ensure foil quality and flexibility. The grinding machine cost £250,000. Mounting it on a sprung concrete bed with a 12ft deep anti-vibration shaft cost another £250,000. The computer-based production control system is also worth comment.
Alcan's transformation on a variety of fronts has relied heavily on kaizen. Expertise in this area was originally acquired from an Alcan operation in Japan. Today Glasgow hosts training courses for other plants.
Activity: Manufacture of aluminium foil
Task: Rolling and processing to order, for a variety of markets
Size: 265 employees
Oustanding Features: People management, breadth of technologies, continuous improvement.