Sponsor - Siemens Nixdorf.
'This is the best job I've had,' enthuses Bertrand Faure Seating's managing director, Brian Rogers. His management colleagues nod in agreement.
'Get it right - and then watch it happen,' he says. It's a statement that belies the deceptive amount of effort that goes into what Rogers disarmingly dismisses as 'getting it right'.
The purpose-built factory is located in Oxfordshire's Stanford in the Vale - an unlikely location, and one which is reached by way of leafy country lanes. Yet the location plays a critical part in the factory's success: Honda's Swindon car assembly plant is 17 miles away, and Rover's Cowley plant is 22 miles in the opposite direction. Bertrand Faure, a French-owned global car seat manufacturing company, supplies both of them.
Every 34 minutes, the factory dispatches 54 cars' worth of front and rear seats to Honda, loaded onto the truck in matched seat sets in the order in which they will be required. 'When the seats leave here, the cars that they are going to be fitted to are already going down Honda's assembly line,' says Rogers. The cost of failure is high - £10,000 for each minute's delay should the seats not arrive on time. A fatal road accident caused a 10-minute delay a few months ago; a sudden snowstorm brought about another delay of 14 minutes last winter: apart from that, the factory's record is unblemished.
Yet the risk of failure never fully recedes. The factory's 58 suppliers require careful management to ensure that they place the same high emphasis on on-time delivery to Bertrand Faure as Bertrand Faure is forced to place on on-time delivery to Honda and Rover. Measured to within a 15-minute delivery window, the latest statistics show that 46 suppliers are achieving a 100% performance on both quality and delivery performance.
Within Bertrand Faure as a whole, the textile-based operations - the cutting and sewing of the fabric for the seat covers - tend to be outsourced.
At the Stanford in the Vale factory, it proved impossible to find a suitable UK subcontractor: as a result, the operation was shoe-horned into the factory as it was being commissioned. Delivery reliability is only partly the problem, reveals Rogers. Rover's quality scoring system, QZ, awards the factory 28 demerits for every sewing thread not cut off a car seat cover; and a further 28 demerits for the discovery of a wrinkle. Moral: if perfection can't be bought, it will have to be achieved in-house.
Given such exacting standards - and the financial consequences of failure - Rogers' discomfort during the influenza outbreak at the end of 1995 can be imagined. At one point, some 37% of the workforce were off sick.
Workers were flown in from factories overseas, the management team abandoned their desks in favour of the factory floor and the evening shift started working through until 3am instead of finishing at 11:50pm. The number of seats built ahead of the assembly lines reached alarmingly low levels, reveals Rogers, 'but we kept going'.
The customer is king: in the event of a quality problem, the factory must get an engineer line-side within one hour - and the journey alone to either Rover or Honda takes half an hour. Workers' employment contracts stipulate that overtime, when necessary, is mandatory - a requirement that generally, explains Rogers, means everyone must work the overtime: 'Thanks to the nature of the factory, it's all or nothing.'
The tightly-engineered nature of the factory quickly explains the allusion: a slick and ergonomically-tuned assembly line along which seats flow at a pace that would do credit to a Japanese factory. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that Bertrand Faure's presence at Stanford in the Vale actually stems from the recommendation of Honda's Japanese seat supplier, a company that licenses the French multinational's seat designs and evidently holds its manufacturing prowess in some esteem.
Bertrand Faure Seating
Activity: Vehicle seat manufacture
Task: Supply of seats on a Just-in-Time basis, to two of Europe's most demanding customers
Size: 300 employees
Outstanding Features: Customer-responsiveness, capacity flexibility, ergonomically-tuned assembly lines, logistics
Sponsor: Siemens Nixdorf
Europe's leading computer manufacturer, Siemens Nixdorf is also a major supplier in the manufacturing sector. The Product Data Management Solutions Group within Siemens Business Services provides a range of services for the manufacturing sector, including the provision of company-wide PDM and ERP solutions, enabling manufacturers to dramatically shorten time from product design to availability.