Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Sponsored by TR Fastenings

Bonas Machine Company

Activity: Production of Jacquard weaving equipment

Task: Manufacture a complex product to exacting standards of quality, cost and delivery time

Complexity: High Size: 430 employees

Outstanding Features: A wide range of improvement techniques implemented with unusual thoroughness

In 1994 the contest for the title Factory of the Year was a close run thing. This year, by contrast, one plant emerged head and shoulders above the rest as the judges went on their round of summer visits: the Gateshead factory of Bonas Machine Company. It is hard to fault any aspect of the plant's performance, and no surprise to find that this is matched by strong worldwide demand for its products. Over 90% of output is exported. Moreover, in recent years the company has been showing consistent growth of around 20% per annum.

Bonas is a force in the textile machinery business, with around half the world market for electronic Jacquard machines. These are the devices which make it possible for looms to weave patterns and designs in a textile as it is being woven. The greater the number of 'picks' that the loom is able to handle, the better the definition of the pattern. Bonas's latest Jacquard contains 6,272 patented electronic hooks - in addition to some 95,000 other components - and can operate at over 500 picks a minute.

A modern electronic Jacquard is a complex product, being a blend of mechanical engineering, electronics and software. Nevertheless Bonas's massive Jacquards can be mounted on virtually any make of power loom. The company has a team of 44 engineers who travel the world installing the machines on customers' looms used for the manufacture of terry towelling, tie fabric, bed linen, and numerous other textiles.

The business was acquired from the Bonas family by its current chairman Ian Harris in 1984. In the late 1980s Harris moved it into a new factory. But with the move came a realisation that the strategic objective of becoming the world's lowest cost producer of Jacquard machines called for a fundamental rethink of the whole manufacturing operation. The factory layout was accordingly redesigned, and production reorganised around cells fed on a just-in-time basis. Managing director Jeff Gosling makes no apology for the fact that, in the transition from what he calls 'manufacturing chaos' to the present state of 'manufacturing control', Bonas borrowed freely from the Japanese. Indeed the factory has employed almost every conceivable technique aimed at manufacturing improvement, and done so vigorously and intelligently without simply copying. Supplier rationalisation, kaizen (continuous improvement activities), routing-by-walking-about - they are all there. And few areas of the the factory have been left untouched.

In order to bring about these changes Bonas first had to win the co-operation of its employees. 'We had to change the mindsets of our people completely,' says Gosling. So management embarked on a massive communications exercise involving around 500 man-weeks of employee education. 'The unions were very suspicious at first,' according to Gosling. Later on, unions and management jointly organised video-based training sessions for shop stewards, to train them to become better negotiators: 'Previously their negotiating method had just been to say "No".' A lot of changes were difficult to put through. 'As we moved out of batch manufacture into cells, people effectively had to re-apply for their own jobs,' says Gosling. Some people didn't make the grade and around 40 of the factory's 220 personnel left the company. Now, Gosling says, 'We've broken through the barrier of people believing that only time-served craftsmen could do certain jobs.' Overall, the impact on productivity has been dramatic. Although wages increased by 10%, labour cost per unit has actually declined.

Close links have been established between the factory floor and the design engineers. (A large sign in the design office reminds the 21 software, firmware and mechanical engineering staff that 85% of manufacturing costs are incurred at the design stage.) These days, as a design engineer explains, screws have been eliminated in favour of push-type fittings. In another department, purchasing staff take the visitor through the family-based supplier rationalisation programme - as a result of which the requirement for gears, for instance, is provided from a single source.

Throughout the company people seem to have been galvanised by the new ways of working. Operatives enthuse over slicker set-ups and slashed assembly times: controller boards that used to take 22 hours to complete now take five, and the time needed to put together bus bar assemblies has come down from 17 hours to three. Some improvements have been felt across the board, cutting set-up and assembly times, and simultaneously reducing material costs. A transformer and power supply redesign, carried out by engineering and manufacturing personnel jointly with suppliers, pared production time from 24 hours down to four, saving £100 per machine in labour costs and £500 in materials.

The judges were particularly impressed by the factory's two-day intensive improvement blitzes, carried out by a dedicated full-time team of engineers. Targeted on productivity, quality and space utilisation these provide for fundamental analysis and ergonomic investigation of cell layout, parts presentation, motion economy, line balance and any double handling. Co-ordinator Keith Stevenson distinguishes his team's function from that of employee-led kaizen. 'We're not here to do other people's improvement activities for them. We're here to do the long-term stuff - and give people help if they want it.'

Electronics Industry Award


TR Fastenings

TR Fastenings, part of Trifast plc, is one of the UK's leading designers, manufacturers and distributors of industrial fastenings. The company has 15 UK divisions supplying some 5,000 OEMs with over 178 million components every month. TR also has representative offices in Singapore to service markets on the Pacific Rim. In addition to supplying one of Europe's most extensive fastener ranges, the company offers fastener management and rationalisation programmes, technical and design support services within the discipline of partnership sourcing and JIT.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

A leadership thought: Treat your colleagues like customers

One minute briefing: Create a platform where others can see their success, says AVEVA CEO...

The ignominious death of Gordon Gekko

Profit at all costs is a defunct philosophy, and purpose a corporate superpower, argues this...

Gender bias is kept alive by those who think it is dead

Research: Greater representation of women does not automatically lead to equal treatment.

What I learned leading a Syrian bank through a civil war

Louai Al Roumani was CFO of Syria's largest private retail bank when the conflict broke...

Martin Sorrell: “There’s something about the unfairness of it that drives me”

EXCLUSIVE: The agency juggernaut on bouncing back, what he would do with WPP and why...

The 10 values that will matter most after COVID-19

According to a survey of Management Today readers.