UK: Category Winner - Engineering.

UK: Category Winner - Engineering. - Brose,

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010



Sponsor: Siemens Business Services

ACTIVITY: automotive component manufacture

TASK: design and low-cost, high-volume manufacture of automotive sub-assemblies


SIZE: 468 employees

OUTSTANDING FEATURES: cellular manufacture, flexibility, kanban scheduling, continuous improvement, maintenance

A few months ago, Management Today's founding editor, Robert Heller, discussed a McKinsey report that slammed the UK's productivity record in three key industries and quoted a Mercedes-Benz executive explaining why the company uses so few UK component manufacturers. This year's engineering sector winner, the Coventry plant of the German automotive component manufacturer, Brose, shows just how far we Brits have yet to go to reach world-class standards.

The privately owned company specialises in products such as window regulators, door systems and seat adjusters: 'You use our products, but never see them,' says Maurice Hanson, deputy managing director. The plant, which dates from 1992, supplies Ford, Jaguar, Volvo, Rover, Peugeot, Toyota and Honda - some of which were once sourced from the company's three German plants. Originally, explains Hanson, the decision to set up manufacture stemmed from companies such as Jaguar wanting to deal with English-speaking suppliers in order to speed their product development processes. 'Then the Japanese arrived,' adds Hanson, 'and closer proximity became key to winning new business.'

A glance at the operation of the Toyota contract quickly illustrates the point. 'Milk round' trucks from Toyota's Burnaston plant deliver empty stillages (containers) and plastic-coated kanban cards to Brose's despatch area. Every 18 minutes, the area's fork-lift truck driver takes the kanbans and stillages to the relevant assembly cells for manufacture, returning with completed batches, which are then assembled in one of four holding areas to await collection. Four times a day - at 7.00am, 11.45am, 5.15pm and 9.15pm - the milk round truck collects the required parts and drops off empty stillages and fresh kanbans to be filled. It's impressive - but even more so is the absolute precision and reliability of the manufacturing process that underpins this careful choreography.

Take the press shop - often a major source of scheduling conflicts when a small number of expensive presses must feed a much larger number of manufacturing processes that rely on a steady supply of pressed components. The slightest disruption can throw schedules into disarray - so considerable trouble is taken to make sure that disruption does not occur. Press tools are stored on close at hand racks, with a dedicated fork-lift truck standing by, guaranteed to be ready for the precise moment it will be required. Press tool maintenance is carried out 'strictly to Brose standards', says Hanson, in tool shop facilities that are quite simply immaculate. Just like a car, each tool carries its own logbook and service history. This details information such as when the tool has been used, on which press it was used, how many components were produced, any associated production problems and what maintenance or repairs it has had.

The same slavish devotion to excellence is found in the assembly cells, although Hanson is quick to point out subtle distinctions between them - distinctions that have mirrored the evolution in the company's thinking.

Yesterday's thinking is represented by the older Mondeo line; today's thinking by the Volvo 850 line. The former, explains Hanson, lacks flexibility, in that it is has only two operating modes - fully manned, and consequently producing at full output; or not operating at all. On the Volvo line, output varies according to the number of people working on the line, and can thus be tailored exactly to the demand that is being experienced.

Other characteristics are universal: spotless housekeeping, excellent signage, a fast pace of work, every conceivable kind of poke yoka device and ultra-slick ergonomics. Cells such as the Jaguar cell, which beautifully encompasses all of these plus a steadfast approach to continuous improvement offer a superb object lesson to the rest of British industry. If you want to see best practice in action, look no further.


Siemens Business Services (SBS) is one of the fastest growing information communication technology service providers in the world, serving the public and private sectors.

SBS customers in industry operate in the process, discrete manufacture, civil engineering and distributions segments. The company works with its customers to create value in key business process areas, including product introduction, order fulfilment, user fulfilment and quality/policy management. It has specialist capabilities in PDM, ERM and commercial retail solutions.

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