Sponsor - International Factors.
Question: what do Arthur Daley, a vehicle assembly line operative, a restorer of vintage Rolls-Royces and a What Car? reader have in common?
Answer: they're all likely to be users of Autoglym car polish. It would appear that discerning car lovers from all walks of life are fans of the eponymous polish produced at Autoglym's Letchworth factory - a fact which, while highly profitable, nevertheless presents chairman David Kahn and production director Paul Phillips with one or two problems.
'It's a lot like breadmaking' is how Kahn describes the production process.
'It's more of an art than a science.' Phillips adds: 'We're trying to mix ingredients that don't mix too well - water with silicon, water with solvents, water with waxes. And then we need them to stay stable for years.' Simply pouring in the ingredients and starting to mix just won't work, he stresses: factors such as the shape of the mixing vessel, the order in which ingredients are added and the temperature at which they are added can all be critical to a successful formulation.
'The message from our customers is to focus on quality, not price,' stresses Kahn. To this end, technical director Hemant Patel employs the resources of a development laboratory that would be the envy of many of his blue-chip counterparts. 'A paste polish which is stable in the UK may thin down in Singapore due to the higher temperature,' he says. 'On the other hand, water-based products may need to be stored properly to avoid the freezing conditions encountered in Finland.'
Strong demand has meant that the well-ordered warehouse needs to store packaging in 15 different languages for the 40 different countries to which the company exports. And the original polish has also spawned a range of equally high-performance complementary products, such as shampoos and wheel-cleaning compounds - not all of which are produced in the large volumes associated with the manufacturing environments that the judges normally encounter. The result is an odd blend of modern high-speed filling and packaging lines coexisting alongside manual mixing and filling processes that smack more than a little of cottage industry.
Autoglym has only established a programme of continuous improvement in the last few years, so it is still some way from the polished perfection of some of our winners. In the meantime, its ability to consistently delight its customers has led to both an enviable commercial performance and an impressive reputation for technical excellence.
Activity: Manufacture of car polishes and cleaners
Task: Developing, formulating and packing technically exacting products for a knowledgeable and demanding customer base
Size: 70 employees
Outstanding Features: Exploitation of process technology, production formulation, flexibility.