UK: BEST FACTORIES AWARDS 1994 - DESIGN TO DISTRIBUTION. [CORRECTED] - Electronics industry best factory sponsored by TR Fastenings; Best factory in the Midlands sponsored by Commission for the New Towns.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Electronics industry best factory sponsored by TR Fastenings; Best factory in the Midlands sponsored by Commission for the New Towns.

You really have to be nimble in the computer business. Just as computers themselves have come down in size, so, willy-nilly, have those companies in the industry that have been slow to adjust to the change. But while IBM and Digital Equipment have been laying-off employees in their tens of thousands, Design to Distribution - the manufacturing arm of Britain's ICL - has been prospering and expanding.

The name Design to Distribution - usually shortened to D2D, which is the corporate logo - proclaims the organisation's purpose: to provide a comprehensive subcontract service - extending all the way from product design through to physical distribution of finished computers. But while it's fair to suppose that ICL itself should take the whole package, other customers are naturally free to pick and choose. Numbers of computer manufacturers opt to buy-in printed circuit boards, for example. ICL's former plant at Kidsgrove, near Stoke-on-Trent - this year's Factory of the Year - is where D2D produces circuit boards.

It's no secret that ICL has been channelling a lot of resources into manufacturing over the past few years.

The Kidsgrove plant is now capable of producing circuit boards in huge volumes and great variety - some costing as little as £10, others as much as £10,000 and in 'sandwiches' 32 layers thick. The latest manufacturing technology is very much in evidence. One example is a laser-driven solder reflow machine to 'nudge' minutely misaligned chips back into place. In spite of its high cost, general manager Jeff Sharrock is happily able to report that the machine paid for itself in under three months. Production lines are constantly being relaid to take advantage of new technology, and new lines seem to spring up almost overnight.

ICL has also been at the forefront of companies espousing new manufacturing philosophies. Since the middle of the 1980s, work-in-progress in board manufacture at the Kidsgrove plant has been cut from over 25 days to under three, inventory turns have multiplied four-fold and the manufacturing cycle time is now down to under a week. Sharrock indicates a document: 'This management report used to measure weeks of inventory.' He adds, 'Now it's days.' Steve Whigham, the manager of purchasing and materials supply, is planning to halve the inventory total again in the current year. The purchasing team is well accustomed to plugging complicated 'what if?' enquiries into the plant's planning and purchasing systems, and flying in components at very short notice. At present its desks are manned from 6 o'clock in the morning (to talk to the Far East)to 8 o'clock in the evening (to reach the West Coast of the United States). In future, Whigham reveals, the department's working week may well be extended to seven days.

What has been achieved so far as a result of all these investments in plant and methodology is clear from the order book. It is now common knowledge within the industry that D2D has a multi-million pound contract to produce circuit boards for Sun Microsystems, the big US computer workstation manufacturer. The company is already supplying two other major names in the computer world. It is producing circuit boards for Dell Computer and for Compaq Computer - at a rate of several thousand boards a day. Deliveries for Dell leave Kidsgrove in two daily shipments, one headed for the customer's factory in Ireland, the other destined for Texas.

In almost any subcontract business, the secret of success is flexibility. In the past ICL's manufacturing people used to talk about responsiveness. Today, as they supply widely scattered customers which could be in competition with their ultimate employer, they are required to demonstrate it - and they have done so.

Kidsgrove stepped into the breach recently, following the failure of a US board supplier, and picked up an order for an extra 30,000 boards to be shipped at short notice - plus a chance to impress the customer. In the old days, says Whigham, 'we used to compare ourselves with DEC or IBM - now it's with a fellow subcontractor that I probably hadn't heard of two or three years ago'.

Other parts of D2D assemble computers for ICL - on a subcontract basis, of course. But while the group's original core business - making computers under its own name - has been shrinking, its manufacturing operations have nevertheless burst into life as a result of being exposed to worldwide competition. And printed circuit board manufacture has been leading the way. Overall, Sharrock points out, D2D is already the fourth largest electronics subcontractor in the world. This year it will bring in just under three-quarters of ICL's total revenues. Next year the subsidiary's managers are predicting that the figure will rise to over 85%. The tail is evidently - and energetically - wagging the dog.

Electronics Industry Award

Sponsor: TR Fastenings

TR Fastenings, part of Trifast plc, is one of the UK's leading designers, manufacturers and distributors of industrial threaded fastenings. The company has 14 UK divisions supplying some 5,000 OEM companies with over 40 million components each month. TR also has offices in Singapore to service the Pacific Rim markets, with further expansion planned in the very near future. In addition to supplying one of Europe's most extensive fastener ranges, the company offers a range of fastener management and rationalisation programmes, and technical and design support services.

Activity: Subcontract manufacture of printed circuit boards

Task: Just-in-time supply of high quality, high volume circuit boards

Complexity: High

Size: 605 employees

Outstanding Features: Quality systems, purchasing and material supply, process capability, technology absorption

Regional Award: The Midlands

Sponsor: Commission for the New Towns.

CNT has over 30 years' experience of working with companies seeking premises or land for new facilities. CNT owns the largest development land and commercial property holding in England, located in some highly successful towns.

The ability to grant detailed planning consents for projects is merely part of the comprehensive range of services substantiating CNT's claim to offer 'Land and Premises with Added Value'.

CORRECTION - In the November issue it was announced that the Kidsgrove plant of Design to Distribution (D2D), the manufacturing arm of ICL, had been named overall winner of the annual Best Factories competition organised by Management Today in association with the Cranfield School of Management, and was consequently `Factory of the Year'.

The report on D2D included the statement: `This year it will bring in just under three quarters of ICL's total revenues. Next year the subsidiary's managers are predicting that the figure will rise to over 85%.' This was an error. It should have been made clear that the expression `just under three-quarters' referred to that part of D2D's revenue which is generated by non-ICL subcontract work.

(MNTOD 12/94 P12)

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