Best factory sponsored by Black Horse Relocation Services
Best Small Company sponsored by Irvine Development Corporation
WH Smith & Sons (Tools)
WH Smith & Sons
Activity: Injection moulding
Task: Just-in-time supply of low-cost quality moulding to some of Britain's most demanding customers
Size: 320 employees
Outstanding Features: Continuous improvement, toolmaking and engineering capability, process control, corporate culture
WH Smith & Sons has no connection with a better known company of the same name, purveyors of newspapers and ballpoint pens on the high street. The business referred to here was founded by one William Henry Smith in 1933 to make tools and Bakelite mouldings. It is still owned by the founder's son and grandson, and has all the hallmarks of a certain kind of private company. There is no personnel department, for example. And every employee is allowed an hour off a week to study any subject that the local college can offer.
Smith's main activity these days is manufacturing thermoplastic mouldings for some of Britain's toughest industrial customers - a list that includes Black & Decker, Honda, Nissan, Rover and Toyota. In order to provide these customers with a flexible and high-quality service, the company has been known to buy production machines - for cash - in multiples of 10 or so. However the main activity is only one among many.
The Sutton Coldfield factory could certainly not be called focused. On the contrary, it engages in a bewildering variety of activities that are not, at first sight, complementary or synergistic. Here is an assembly line making can-openers. There is a cell producing leather gear knobs and handbrake grips. Beyond that are people kitting parts for just-in-time delivery to a manufacturer of electric showers. The factory is a long way from the conventional notion of an up-to-date manufacturing unit, either in the British tradition or according to the newer Japanese model.
In fact Smith's core skill lies in shaping the tools that go to produce the mouldings. A well-equipped machine shop makes tools that customers recognise as producing superior quality mouldings. 'We aim to eliminate the classic problem of this business - was it the toolmaker's fault or the moulder's?' says operations director Colin Sarson. That expertise is jealously guarded. As a matter of policy, no toolmaking activity is carried out for any third party.
The company is generally ready to take lessons from others, however. Black & Decker has in the past been a particular spur to excellence, encouraging Smith's to advance towards its vision of a world-class supplier. A benchmarking visit to Kodak at Annesley near Nottingham, after that plant was named Factory of the Year in 1992, provided more inspiration. So did a visit to Lego, in Denmark, which has 'an incredible 1,200 moulding machines on one site'.
One idea thrown up by the Lego trip was to use robots to handle mouldings and surplus sprue from injection machines at a greater temperature than an operator could tolerate. Designed and built by Smith's own engineers, the robots have halved the cycle time from 20 seconds to 10 seconds - 'doubling throughput at a stroke'. Nissan, too, has proved extremely helpful. A supplier-development engineer from the Japanese-owned factory helped to establish continuous improvement groups and set the company on the way to achieving the BS5750 standard.
Smith's, like Nissan and Black & Decker, has demonstrated that there are benefits to be gained from helping out others in the same supply chain. The factory is currently supplying mouldings to the shower manufacturer Triton, having won this work by offering not only high-quality mouldings but trackside delivery of kitted parts. The company sent out a team to advise Triton on layout of the factory floor in order to take advantage of the new approach. A telephone hotline link with the customer brings orders and queries, all of which are handled by the dozen or so team members in the dedicated cell.
Unfocused it might be but, as Sarson points out, the disparate activities make an acceptable return and build sturdy bridges with customers. So why insist on focus?
Small Company Award
Sponsor: Irvine Development Corporation
Irvine Development Corporation was established in November 1966 to undertake the expansion and economic reconstruction of Irvine in south-west Scotland close to Prestwick Airport. The town was at one time an important seaport linking Glasgow and the US. However the post-war decline of its older industries required vigorous action - resulting in New Town status.
Over the years Irvine has attracted many household names such as Hyster, Wilsons, Volvo, SmithKline Beecham, Coates and Charnos; in electronics they include Digital, SCI, Conner, Escom, Phoenix, Fullarton and Prestwick Circuits; while Kymmene manufactures LWC paper for the 'glossies'.
The corporation has also played a lead role in helping company start-ups
Household & General Award
Sponsor: Black Horse Relocation Services
Black Horse Relocation - which is part of the Lloyds Bank Group - is the leading relocation management company in the UK, handling over 5,000 employee moves each year for more than 300 clients.
Its employee relocation services range from full outsourcing of relocation management and policy administration, through to tax reporting, home sale guarantee schemes and the management of property portfolios.