Inspired by Manufacturing

Ailsa Kaye, the MD of the national best practice programme Onsite Insights looks at why organisations should look to manufacturers for inspiration.

“The lessons in cost saving and waste reduction taken from Toyota and Ford are now entrenched within organisations of every size and type across the UK. Lean is now a by-word and common phrase used for continuous improvement. So what else can we learn from Manufacturing?

Manufacturers in the UK and globally have faced what is commonly referred to as a burning platform – change or close. International competition and supply chain pressure has meant that unless you can produce your product more cost effectively and to a higher standard than your competitors you may as well shut up shop.

We all need a burning platform – whilst we have great intentions, without this we will fail or at the very least stand still. There are few exceptions to this rule. Take IBM or Vodafone, once recognised as the leaders in their sector, they grew, had little competition and then were hit by changing trends and far superior products.

There are a number of reasons why any organisation (either in the public or private sector) that is committed to growth should look at manufacturers for inspiration. They have identified exceptional problem solving tools that can be applied to any situation. They really do understand what in their process/activity adds value for their customer and what doesn’t. They have exceptional training and communication skills and they are in the most part innovative.

Look at Jaguar Land Rover for instance. The site at Halewood is an incredible example of a business transformation. Faced with closure it looked to implement lean and transform the company culture. It took five years, but the site is now a centre of excellence for the Tata group, with highly engaged and motivated employees.

Another inspiring manufacturer is Mars Drinks, they have openly shared their lean journey with organisations from across the UK for over ten years, as part of the DTI funded Inside UK Enterprise programme and subsequently the Onsite Insights visit programme. They enjoy sharing their experience and regularly visit other companies as they recognise that by sharing they themselves improve through the identification of new opportunities and new ways of working.

But it is not just the large multinationals that offer inspiration, some of the smaller manufacturers offer great examples of how to improve and grow. Double H Nurseries, based in Lymington is a manufacturer with a difference – they grow houseplants for the major supermarkets – M&S, Sainsbury and Tesco. They took lessons from the large automotive companies and applied lean principals into their operation. As a result they have developed highly efficient systems and processes which have reduced cost and waste, allowing them to compete with similar organisations in Europe and worldwide.

Manufacturers have to innovate to survive. New technology, systems and processes affect how they manufacture. 3D printing is revolutionising the industry and manufacturers are already utilising this incredible technology to great effect. BAE Systems at Rochester, for example, have reduced production time of prototype parts from 3 months to three weeks using this technology.

The need to reduce costs should not be seen as a negative, something to bemoan, it should be seen as a positive opportunity to improve. The outcome is a more successful company, one that can withstand competition, maintain its workforce and grow. A side effect of Lean which many CEO’s have seen, is happier workplaces and more satisfied and motivated employees. Every person wants to believe the work they do adds value and individuals do not want to perform tasks that do not add value or are pointless.

So get out and explore the Manufacturing world, find your burning platform, and truly understand what adds value to your customers.

Ailsa Kaye has run the National Best Practice programme Onsite Insights for the last ten years, prior to this she ran the DTI funded Inside UK Enterprise Programme. Onsite Insights has seen over 10,000 visitors in the last ten years and supported thousands of companies both large and small drive improvements within their organisations.