UK: BEST FACTORIES AWARDS 1994 - DEXTER NONWOVENS. - Process Industry Best Factory sponsored by Anglian Water; Best Factory in Scotland sponsored by Barclays Mercantile.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Process Industry Best Factory sponsored by Anglian Water; Best Factory in Scotland sponsored by Barclays Mercantile.

Some factories seek self-improvement by noisily embracing empowerment, or Total Quality or re-engineering. Dexter Nonwovens, of Chirnside, Berwickshire, is not like that. On the contrary, it is solidly traditional, unflamboyant, down-to-earth - which is only to be expected. Chirnside is in the rural southeast of Scotland and a little off the main track, although only 10 miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed. The parent, Dexter Corporation, has its traditions too, incidentally, being the oldest company quoted on the New York Stock Exchange.

Dexter Nonwovens makes paper - of a kind. It's the paper used in teabags, coffee filters, meat casings (for salami sausages, etc) and cigarette filters. The production process is like conventional paper-making, but employs a mixture of exceptionally long natural and man-made fibres to produce a material with a very low mass in relation to its area, plus considerable strength and a controlled degree of porosity. Teabag tissue, for example, must keep the tea inside but permit rapid infusion. A casing tube must expand by a fixed amount during the stuffing process, so that 10 slices are always 113 grams. 'It's really precision engineering,' says Chirnside's general manager, Bill Paton.

The complexity of the operation is an order of magnitude greater than most process plants. The factory makes around 3,500 different products, taking account of different widths, grades and diameters. Yet ordering patterns are erratic. The grocery trade is unpredictable, Paton points out, and there is a lot of 'spot' business in meat casings, the biggest selling line. Quality, cost and delivery performance are all critical, and - as far as the last is concerned - there is little opportunity to build-up a cushion of inventory. As the recession worsened, delivery lead times were increasingly compressed. Lead times of 10-12 weeks before 1989 were squeezed to 8 weeks by 1992, then to 4-6 weeks in the middle of last year. They are currently down to three weeks. This was made possible mainly by the way that order administration and production control were handled. 'Liaison between everybody is a lot closer now,' says Paton. Slicker changeovers on the two process machines helped too. Remarkably, time spent on changeovers has not increased along with their number. In fact, at 5.2% of capacity, it has actually reduced. Fortuitously, the fact that customers now delay placing their orders until the last minute means that the factory is able to form a more accurate picture of their requirements than used to be provided by their longer-term forecasts.

Better delivery reliability - and improved quality - has been the aim of a series of initiatives, such as a two-way programme of site visits designed to build bridges between Chirnside and its customers' manufacturing operations. Over the past 12 months, production staff have made over 200 visits to customers' premises, and received 42 in return - including an entire shift from a Brooke Bond tea packaging factory. 'Manufacturing people relate better to other manufacturing people,' observes Paton.

Relations between manufacturing and engineering are by no means always so happy, especially when people work for the same organisation. Preventive maintenance is a frequent cause of friction. This problem was solved at Chirnside by giving line responsibility to engineering as well. 'Both functions own the uptime, and are jointly responsible for the downtime,' says Paton. Unplanned electrical and mechanical downtime on the teabag line now averages only a minute a day. Two fully flexible maintenance technicians work on each shift, each acting as the other's mate when required.

Paton used to be sceptical about the value of statistical process control: 'To me, it was just a method for junking paper that was within specification'. But since its introduction in 1987 he has been a convert. Rework was halved using Japanese-style fishbone and Taguchi techniques - not by an improvement team but by giving the task to a supervisor as a project.

Process Industry Award

Sponsor: Anglian Water

Anglian Water is a major water and sewerage company providing high-quality services to over five million people in what is the largest and fastest-growing area of any UK water company.

Outside its regulated domestic and industrial business, the company has extensive process engineering operations spanning five continents. These cover a comprehensive range of design, engineering and construction services for clean water and waste water treatment plants, as well as a range of sophisticated products for water treatment.

Regional Award: Scotland

Sponsor: Barclays Mercantile

Barclays Mercantile is one of Britain's leading leasing companies. Last year its 30 sales offices supplied £1.2 billion to finance assets ranging from commercial vehicles to oil rigs.

It is very active in manufacturing, helping companies invest in plant and equipment in a variety of ways, such as hire purchase and leasing.

It believes manufacturing will lead Britain's economic recovery, and actively campaigns against the short-termist attitudes to funding inherent in the UK business sector.

Activity: Manufacture of specialist papers

Task: To produce precision engineered papers which sell on quality, price and delivery performance

Complexity: High

Size: 250 employees

Outstanding Features: Production control, people management, process control, environmental factors.

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