Press Releases


Mars – More than Chocolate!

Best known for its iconic Mars Bar, Mars the Company is so much more than that. It’s biggest selling products is surprisingly Pet food (they own the well-known brands of Pedigree and Whiskas). Along with other household names such as Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s and the more recent acquisition of Wrigley’s, Mars has become one of the world’s largest food manufacturers and the third largest privately owned company in the US.

I have been lucky enough this year to visit two of the Mars Manufacturing sites in the UK, as part of the Onsite Insights visit programme which these programmes support. The first was to Mars Drinks in Basingstoke and the second to Mars Chocolate in Slough. What struck me at both was how engaged and passionate about the company they work for every employee was.

Every Martian (a term they like to use about themselves) appears to have a true commitment to the company and a desire to stay for life. Whilst on the visit we met a third-generation team member and apparently, this isn’t unusual. The free chocolate and pet-friendly perks may be part of it, but I believe it’s definitely more than that. It is, I believe because they feel valued and are truly engaged in the goals and aspirations of the company. This is no mean feat in a world of constant change, transient labour and short-term careers.

The Mars Culture is underpinned by their five guiding principles – Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom. It is clear to any visitors that these aren’t just words on the corporate wall, they are integrated in all key decision-making throughout the sites.

Mars is quite a private company and not just in terms of ownership. They rarely open their doors to the outside world, but that doesn’t mean they are not involved in both local communities and charities that are important to them. The company employs over 72,000 globally and with a turnover of over $33 billion is a force to be reckoned with. To the outside world, the Mars family are reclusive, however to their employees they are regular visitors to the sites. They engage and clearly nurture the family-owned environment that was created by their Grandfather Frank Mars Snr.

Career progression may be one of the reason Mars has so many lifers, the diversity of the company’s brands and business means there is opportunity for advancement and fresh challenges. They actively encourage cross-divisional talent movement. Structured peer reviews and appraisals ensure that each employee has a clear understanding of their own direction and contribution to the company. The company also funds personal development for each of its employees and has a strong mentor programme.

Engagement doesn’t stop on retirement either, one of the fabulous initiatives we saw on the visit to Mars Chocolate was a comments wall contributed to by previous site managers and employees who are periodically invited back to see how the site has developed. This struck a chord with all that visited. It demonstrates a truly inclusive culture that cares deeply about the wellbeing of its current, past and future employees.

A commitment to quality and continuous improvement is what you would expect of a food factory and the Mars sites are no exception. Both factories demonstrate excellent levels of lean and visual management. Lean tools, good work flow, Kanban systems and standard operational procedures are evident and there is clearly a commitment to review and challenge manufacturing processes. New automated packing equipment has removed much of the manual handling at Mars Slough, and whilst highly complex, has removed many of the previous health and safety hazards associated with repetitive manual handling.

Health and safety has always been an important driver in operational improvement, and a continued focus on this has seen dramatic improvements at both sites. Their approach has been to systematically review hazards and Near Miss activities, and implement corrective procedures as required. Simple and logical yet still missing in many manufacturing sites.

The suggestion scheme for improvements at Mars Drinks is a simple T-Card system in each area of the factory where employees raise suggestions, they are approved, or declined and actioned as appropriate. Again, simple but effective. This visual system is reviewed weekly by line managers and it works. No huge reward system, yet sufficient suggestions to know that this approach works.

And Mars continues to grow, they are innovative in their products, smart in their acquisitions but most importantly they genuinely care about the health, well-being and engagement of all employees.

Our next visit to Mars Drinks in Basingstoke is on 24 May 2017



Ten Steps to Lean Maintenance

Many organisations that have been implementing Lean for decades are only now giving maintenance the attention it deserves.

Ten Steps to Lean Maintenance



When Lean Works

Engaged, motivated and inspired are just some of the words used to describe the team at Entek International (“Entek”) in Newcastle by recent visitors.

When Lean works



Why Lean shouldn’t always begin with 5S

Agfa Graphics in Leeds have taken an innovative and less well travelled approach to Lean , find out how:                                        Why Lean shouldn’t always begin with 5S



Southern Manufacturing Conference

Ailsa Kaye Director of Onsite Insights presented at Farnborough on the topic of ‘What Makes a World Class Organisation’. After surveying our Hosts they identified 10 key characteristics common to World Class companies. See Ailsa’s presentation



MP joins Onsites visit to Pfizer

On 17 September 2014 Pfizer’s packaging and supply site based in Havant, Hampshire were pleased to host the Rt Hon David Willetts MP and senior managers from other UK organisations to share how they have become specialists in the packaging and supply of temperature sensitive medicines within the Pfizer group. The visit was part of the Onsite Insights visit programme which exists to encourage the sharing of innovation and best practice between companies. Onsite Insights, whose head office is based in nearby Hayling Island organises one day visits to the best companies across the UK.

Ailsa Kaye, who founded Onsite Insights 10 years ago said she “was delighted to welcome David Willetts to this visit at Pfizer, who have been a host on the programme for over five years. It is such a great example of UK manufacturing success and a site transformation story. As we are a local company it is even more significant for us as we are also within Mr Willetts constituency.”

Pfizer Havant packages and supplies life changing medicines to over 120 destinations across the globe and is home to one of the fastest packing lines in the pharmaceutical industry, the site covers 17 acres of land, employs 270 staff and processes in excess of 60 million doses a year. An impressive achievement resulting from a long-term commitment to continuous improvement, and developing a customer focused culture which is agile and responsive.

During the visit attendees had a guided tour of the business with Pfizer providing detailed presentations on their approach to strategy, operational excellence, cold chain distribution and supply chain management.

“Pfizer are clearly an inspirational company, they have created a vision that all employees could buy in to, relate to, and remember,” comments Ailsa Kaye. “We are grateful that such a leading company is willing to share its ideas and inspire others.” Visitors were unanimous in their praise for the site.

Onsite Insights was founded to encourage the sharing of innovation and best practice between UK companies. In the last ten years over 10,000 people have attended visits across the UK. Host companies include both large multi-nationals such as Mars, Toyota, BAE Systems, Jaguar Land Rover, Milliken, Fujifilm and Mitsubishi Electric as well as award-winning SME’s such as Double H Nurseries and Silent Gliss. These companies have one thing in common – a commitment to continuous improvement and a belief that sharing best practice helps themselves and others improve.



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.



The catastrophe of non-catastrophic failures

Heavy equipment manufacturing has a specific DNA.  It’s made up of equal parts of Okuma, Mazak, Fanuc, Seiki and many more. These are the tools needed for the trade. And in our manufacturing world, the OEM stands as the lone resource ready to rescue the day from downtime. Right?  Not quite.

Although the OEMs do a fine job of selling, scheduling service and stocking parts, they sometime seem a bit perplexed when little things go wrong. In other words, when a critical machine goes down, it’s not always a catastrophic failure — it’s sometimes due to an annoying machine nuance, like a simple fault reset sequence or a misaligned tools arm changer.

It’s situations like this that send a maintenance technician to the Internet for help. After searching through equipment-fix blogs, technical forums and advice from guys with a handle like CNCGUY, a half day of production can sometimes be lost. So wouldn’t it be great if someone had the foresight to put all of this equipment knowledge in one place?

Advanced Technology Services, has done just that. Through a new service called TechConnect®, maintenance technicians can connect with machine experts who have access to literally thousands of machine records. And those machine records represent the largest knowledgebase of technical information from the 2,500 maintenance professionals that ATS employs. And they’ve been inputting machine data — including annoying nuances — for over 25 years.

When you do the sums, that’s a lot of records and a lot of years of experience. But what it really means is that when one of those costly machine nuances creates a non-catastrophic downtime event, a tech can simply connect to the database online or on the phone for faster resolution.

One of the keys to the success of the TechConnect® service is the company’s network of subject matter experts. These experts are some of the most knowledgeable technicians in the industry, with literally hundreds of years of combined experience on hundreds of brands and types of factory floor equipment.

Not all the calls coming onto the TechConnect center are extremely technical in nature. Derek Hill, ATS UK Managing Director describes as an example, “a recent call from one of our sites was for an Okuma lathe that was reporting the following alarm: “0865-16 alarm – MCS encoder initialization failed.” The onsite technician was not able to quickly diagnose the issue and placed a call to our TechConnect centre. As this was an Okuma issue, the call was transferred to one of our Okuma experts. During his initial investigation, he learned that a new axis motor had been installed on the machine just prior to the alarm being generated. The expert then asked if the new axis motor included a new encoder. Upon confirming, it was determined that the new motor was shipped without an encoder. The encoder was installed and the problem was solved. This information was all documented and is now a part of our database. Sometimes, all it takes is experience and a fresh set of eyes.”

The company traditionally known for its maintenance service has been providing additional call support to some of the largest companies in the world for many years. Managing the hundreds of incoming requests for support is handled by ATS’s Technical Operation Centres (TOC) globally. TechConnect® providing 24/7 coverage to all its sites. It is fully integrated into these call centres and gives ATS the unique ability not only to link an expert to a problem around the clock with just one call, but also manage, escalate as needed and document each call taken.

Add to this equation the emerging technology of mobile devices such as IPad’s for manufacturing, which ATS have just rolled out to all staff – enables maintenance technicians the ability to review historical information online for each machine on the factory floor. They can also open and close work orders and with the tap of finger. And they can access complete parts inventory information all from the same mobile tablet device.

Another area that this mobile technology is bringing real value to the manufacturing floor is in the ability to connect factory floor technicians directly to the central TechConnect® centre using live audio and video. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a live video connection between the TechConnect® centre and technicians on the factory floor has proven to be worth much more. The TechConnect centre also has the capabilities to connect directly to the machine tool remotely in many cases. The ability for our technicians to connect directly to a machine of the factory floor hundreds of miles away opens up a myriad of possibilities.

The use of mobile technology on the factory floor is still in its infancy. As companies begin to see the value emerging technologies can have on their bottom line and begin to invest more capital in the infrastructure to support them, the sky is the limit.

Hill noted that “as a result of the metrics we are monitoring from our new TechConnect® service we are gaining valuable insight as to what information our technicians need most, on what equipment, when. This information is sent to our technical training department so common issues can be addressed by providing a documented process or, in many cases, a how-to video that can be accessed from our knowledgebase by everyone.

Knowledge and mobility is coming of age on the factory floor. It’s a trend that is saving one half hour per tech per day. And a trend that will no doubt lower the cost of manufacturing in the years to come.

Written by Ailsa Kaye – 9 September 2013