Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Telecom Sciences Corporation

Activity: Design and assembly of PABX systems

Task: Design and manufacture of price-competitive products in an increasingly sophisticated marketplace

Complexity: Medium

Size: 460 employees

Outstanding Features: Human resource management, flexibility, continuous improvement, design and development

'We're a very young company with a very long pedigree,' says Telecom Sciences' managing director of operations, Alan Kennedy. The company, which manufactures PABX switchboards and telephones for small businesses, was established as recently as February this year following a combined management buy-in/buy-out. But the factory was formerly part of Philips, and the Dutch multinational still takes 90% of its output.

In addition to supplying Philips, the company has been busily developing its own product range. Kennedy points to a lengthening list of customers - both end-users and foreign PTTs - even though 'prior to February we didn't have a single salesperson'. The focus is very much on innovation: modern PABXs need to offer analogue, digital and ISDN capability, and features such as conferencing, data communications and message handling are in growing demand. As manufacturing manager Stuart Bell observes: 'The days of the POT (industry jargon for plain old telephone) are long gone'.

Few electronics plants can hope to eliminate manual assembly operations entirely. This is emphatically true of any that have to deal with as many 350 different printed circuit boards.

Telecom Sciences has made a virtue of necessity, demonstrating good workplace ergonomics along with excellent positioning of materials and deployment of power tools. The approach to continuous improvement is similarly pragmatic. It is also carefully controlled.

Having first been trained in the appropriate skills, multifunctional teams spend four hours each week on improvement activities for a period of 16 weeks. At the end of that time they present their findings to management. The teams' improvement boards may not be as elegant as some, but they are undeniably in active use.

Flexibility is always important, and particularly so at this stage in the evolution of the business. An innovative working agreement allows capacity to be turned up or down by around 20%. Numbers of operatives are 'paired' on joint employment contracts that commit them to working, at management's request, either a 20-hour or 39-hour week (on a basis that each pair of employees themselves decide).

Overtime premiums are thus avoided in periods of peak demand; layoffs (or under-utilisation) are likewise avoided when demand is low.

The arrangement is not only convenient to the factory but has proved popular with employees - particularly women who have family commitments.

The pairs often develop a close friendship, reports Kennedy. 'When one of a pair leaves, we treat the unmatched person with care and compassion.'.

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