Industry shows its resilience and pride and high standards make for tight competition among finalists for Factory of the Year title.
In January Management Today, in association with the Cranfield School of Management, launched the 1992 Best Factory Awards with the challenge "How good is your factory?" The ensuing response - a record 188 entries - provided a sharp and welcome reminder of the resilience of British manufacturing industry. In July, as the judges narrowed the field down to the finalists in five separate categories, the 188 became 11. Of the category winners, to be announced in October, one will be nominated Factory of the Year 1992.
The judging criteria have been simple but rigorous - benchmarking in the principal areas of lead time, set-up and changeover performance, cost efficiency, inventory control, labour productivity and delivery reliability. "The standard", notes Cranfield's Professor Colin New, "has been very high. We're predicting a tight competition among our finalists." It is worth noting that 70% of entrants were accredited with BS5750 or equivalent.
The category that drew most entries - 31% of the total - was that for Household Products. The two finalists - Kodak's plant in Annesley, Nottinghamshire, which finishes 35mm and professional photographic film, and Board Products, the Bedfordshire-based maker of corrugated packaging - clearly illustrate the breadth of the sector. Such diversity equally extends to the finalists as a whole, an array of companies of varying size who make everything from cancer detection equipment to refuse sacks. Invariably the only thread linking their operations is a commitment to manufacturing excellence.
Across the five categories, 58% of the entrants were UK-owned, the only other country sizeably represented being the US with 21%. The Electronics Industry category produced the sole Japanese-owned plant to reach the final 11 - Oki's facility for dot matrix printers in Cumbernauld. Indeed, all three of those short-listed - Varian Medical Equipment of Crawley and Philips Components of Blackburn being the others - have foreign parents (American and Dutch respectively).
By contrast the last stage of the Engineering Industry award, sponsored by British Nuclear Fuels, is a distinctly home-grown affair. Here Lucas Aerospace's Burnley plant finds itself up against Ketlon (UK), the Kent-based manufacturer of precision engineering components. While the latter concentrates largely on the domestic market, producing transmission equipment for Ford and Rover cars, Lucas is heavily oriented towards export sales - perhaps most spectacularly in providing the motor casing for the Patriot missile.
More pacific concerns are evident in the Small Company Award. This category, drawn from the potentially wide field of plants with less than 500 employees, has been similarly narrowed down to just two: HD Plastics of Biggleswade, makers of refuse sacks for supermarkets, and Runcorn-based Willett Systems, who supply ink for use in printers that code and date household and industrial goods. The sponsor, The Development Board for Rural Wales, has been instrumental in assisting similar sized enterprises flourish within a rural economy.
The finalists for the Process Industry Award demonstrate that this isn't an area simply dominated by vast chemical plants. Their products - washing powder, in the case of the Robert McBride Group (Barrow-in-Furness), and base materials for feminine hygiene in that of Kimberly Clark (Flint Mill, Dyfed) - are everyday necessities. James Bentley, managing partner at KPMG's Centre for Manufacturing Consultancy, the category's sponsor, commented on the sector's importance: "Process factories are less glamorous than assembly operations but we see just as many examples of outstanding management. Really getting control of key business processes is a priority for any manager. If you're running a good process factory, you've been doing it for years. Batch manufacturing managers take note: there's a lot you can learn from the best process factories."
Be cheered: meet the finalists at London's Savoy Hotel on 21 October. Contact Sharon Reeve on (071) 413 4161.