UK: BEST FACTORIES AWARDS 1994 - GLAXO MANUFACTURING SERVICES. - Household Products Best Factory sponsored by IBC Technical Services; Best Factory in the North East sponsored by CIGNA Employee Benefits.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Household Products Best Factory sponsored by IBC Technical Services; Best Factory in the North East sponsored by CIGNA Employee Benefits.

Three factories fought a closely contested battle for this year's Factory of the Year award. Ryobi Aluminium Casting and Glaxo Manufacturing Services both threatened to pip Design to Distribution at the post. This was a remarkable achievement on Glaxo's part, in view of the relative infancy of its improvement programme and the nature of the industry in which it operates. Pharmaceutical groups tend to be financially cosseted. Of the 50 most profitable businesses in the world, no fewer than 19 are in pharmaceuticals. Relying on their R and D strengths - and a measure of patent protection - for their competitive edge, they seldom enjoy a high reputation for manufacturing prowess. Ian McCubbin, manufacturing manager of the Glaxo factory at Barnard Castle, County Durham, has long accepted that it's not always easy, in these circumstances, to get employee commitment to world-class manufacturing. 'It makes it difficult to say to people that you've got your backs to the wall.' The Barnard Castle factory is one of six Glaxo Manufacturing Services locations that produce the group's pharmaceutical products for distribution around the world. Dating from 1986, the cephalosporin plant is the newest on the 50-year-old site, and its sparkling buildings and process equipment indicate a high level of capital investment.

In spite of the clinical appearance, however, it is essentially a packaging plant, one that works at very high volumes and in ultra-sterile conditions. Its function is to take in the chemical cephalosporin from a sister factory, process this so that it is physically suitable for the form in which it is to be dispensed, and pack and package it as required - as tablets, syrups, drops, etc, in vials, capsules, bottles, sachets.

Over 30 million vials are filled every year, and 250 million tablets are pressed and packeted. In all, some 850 packaging variants are involved, each of which must conform to the appropriate language and regulatory requirements of one of the 90 markets that the plant supplies. An audit visit from some such body as the US Federal Drugs Administration is a commonplace occurrence.

The cephalosporin plant employs some 500 people, about a third of the total workforce on the site. However great the obstacles may once have been to obtaining their enthusiasm and commitment, these have conspicuously been overcome. The level of commitment on the factory floor, to initiatives such as continuous improvement and Total Quality, was one of the highest that the judges have observed. Where there had been demarcation, there is now flexibility. Operatives perform tasks that were formerly carried out by craftsmen, and craftsmen undergo company-sponsored training in their own time, with the aim of becoming multi-skilled. By late this summer 80% of the workforce had been through a course of five half-day sessions designed to educate them in formal continuous improvement methods - including problem solving and analysis techniques. The programme has so far led to the formation of 59 active waste elimination groups, and to a wealth of other improvements. These range from minor procedural alterations to the complete redesign of packing lines. They are credited with productivity increases of 50% in some instances, and to a halving of waste levels in others. Delivery performance has improved from a mere 15% dispatched on time to over 90% in the past couple of years. The present level of commitment is epitomised by team leader Angela Gent and her group of operatives. Gent herself joined the plant 11 years ago as a 16-year-old on a Youth Training Scheme, and subsequently completed a chemistry degree on day-release over a seven-year period. In her final year, she approached Glaxo corporate recruitment specialists who were extolling the company's management development programme at a graduate 'milk round' event, and secured herself a place in manufacturing management.

David Rayne, one of the members of her team, demonstrates the Gent-inspired 'user's guide' to her line. It is exactly like those contained in washing-machine instruction manuals and contains detailed operator-written instructions on fault finding and rectification. Simple, but brilliant.

Household Products Award

Sponsor: IBC Technical Services

More then 250 conferences and courses organised by IBC Technical Services provide information to 15,000 professionals every year. These events focus on business management, manufacturing and production, strategic planning, research and development, environmental management and regulations and industrial safety - as well as covering specific industries such as energy, pharmaceuticals, and computing. The quality of the events is ensured by by utilising key contacts developed over more than two decades of involvement in industry, academia, research organisations and government bodies.

Regional Award: North West

Sponsor: CIGNA Employee Benefits

CIGNA is a world leader in employee benefits, providing tailored services to multinational and domestic companies of all sizes. Within the employee benefits sector, the company specialises in managed healthcare. In the developing area of private medical insurance, CIGNA's managed care involves the active integration and management of funding options and the delivery of private medical services. By using sophisticated information systems, the process ensures cost-effective quality healthcare.

Activity: Packaging of pharmaceuticals

Task: To mix and distribute antibiotics in a variety of formats and packages

Complexity: Medium

Size: 500 employees

Outstanding Features: Employee commitment, attention to detail, process control.

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