Kimberly-Clark Coleshill Mill
Activity: Toilet paper manufacturer
Task: Converting waste paper into toilet paper for sale in a highly competitive market
Size: 128 employees
Outstanding Features: Empowerment, continuous improvement, process control, organisation structure
Two units on Kimberly-Clark's 80-acre estate in Clwyd, North Wales, have already won Best Factory awards, in 1992 and 1993. The third plant on the site, Coleshill Mill, is 'highly commended' in this year's Process category. Whatever it takes to achieve manufacturing excellence, Kimberly-Clark clearly has in spades.
Certain ingredients of the company's success are immediately apparent. Coleshill Mill is highly focused. It produces one product only - toilet paper; for just one market - non-domestic buyers such as employers and airlines; and from one raw material - waste paper. But while the plant has the advantage of being a dedicated facility, it is by no means free from cost pressures: raw material prices have risen from £42 per tonne in 1994 to £200 per tonne this year.
Another, predictable, constant is automation. Here Coleshill Mill, which came on stream in 1991 at a cost of £40 million (a sizeable investment even by Kimberly-Clark standards), outdoes its two neighbours. The unit's manufacturing process is complex, and this, as mill team leader (ie manager) Andy Wilson explains, has consequences for its culture and organisation.
While Flint and Delyn mills have to rely heavily on self-managing teams to drive their continuous improvement and preventive maintenance activities, 'we have had to put in more structure to achieve the same improvements', says Wilson.
No doubt. It is nevertheless clear that many of Coleshill Mill's employees would be made more than welcome in a lot of other companies. Former electrician Geoff Williamson, an operator on one of the state-of-the-art £1.5 million Bretting packaging lines, is often to be found with a wiring diagram working on another self-imposed improvement.
Last year, when the unit's electric motors were burning out every couple of months, Williamson then traced the cause to oil leaking from gearboxes above the motors. He managed to eliminate the problem by turning them all upside down.
Former mechanic and fellow operator Gareth Jones sums up their task: 'We clean the line when it's dirty, fix it when it's broke, and feed it when it's hungry.'