Activity: Windscreen wiper manufacture
Task: Highly responsive delivery of good quality automotive components to some of the world's toughest customers
Size: 575 employees
Outstanding Features: Just-in-time, cellular manufacturing, product rationalisation, inventory management
Set down in the middle of Trico's purpose-built factory at Pontypool in Gwent - to which the company relocated from Brentford, West London, in 1992 - is a large, incongruous warehouse. It dominates the factory floor, which must be less than ideal since it's likely to have at least some adverse effect on plant layout and production flow. So why is it there? 'Simple,' replies managing director Emrys Thomas. 'Once we've eliminated all our inventory, then we'll have a lot of spare space just where we want it, right in the middle of the factory.' In the meantime it acts as a constant irritant, reminding management of the need to get on with the task of emptying it.
The warehouse example epitomises the 'can do' attitude to manufacturing at Trico. As befits an automotive component supplier to customers such as Ford and Honda, the factory is nothing if not adaptable. (Apart from the manufacturers, there is a large retail aftermarket in which Trico is a considerable force.) Cells, mini-factories, kanban systems, flowlines - all are in use here. At the present time some 27 team-run cells, of varying sizes, occupy much of the factory floor. A number of these teams laid out their own cells. But Trico is no slouch when it comes to altering layouts. 'We switched a line to flowline within two weeks of seeing one in another factory,' says Thomas. 'We're now in our seventh generation of flowline.'
Although the factory itself is new, many of the machines saw service at Brentford. Some are by now 30 or 40 years old, but all have been lovingly refurbished and maintained. The operators, on the other hand, are 100% new. 'We realised that if we brought the people from Brentford here, we'd have brought the old culture with them.' So 50 employees - 'on very attractive, short-term contracts' - helped to get the new plant up and running with a new workforce, then departed. One measure of the changed atmosphere is that these days uniforms are the norm. Wearing of the workplace uniform is not mandatory, 'but does provide us with a good indication of people's acceptance of the workplace culture'.
The move to South Wales brought a multitude of benefits. It created an opportunity to get out of plastics manufacture, which was 'frankly, not our core specialism'. Brentford, says Thomas, was 'very much a 1960s operation - some parts went in and out of the factory four times, and were inspected each time'. At its height, the quality department numbered 409 people. Now it's down to seven, and its role has changed from inspection to auditing of standards. Production planning and control has been abolished altogether. These days operatives work to customers' own schedules.
'Every time we add focus and ownership,' says Thomas, 'we see a dramatic improvement.'.