Always interested to hear about innovative approaches to manufacturing within the building product market, Mark Goldsmith caught up with Ibstock Brick's Production Director Paul Simpson.
Mark: Much has been made of building material manufacturers having margins squeezed as their product runs through the supply chain. When reviewing a new manufacturing site, where do you look for improvement and what makes the quickest impact?
Paul: Quite right, in the timber industry at present margins are being squeezed as timber prices rise with the ability to pass on these increases proving difficult. This means continuous improvement is essential so when reviewing any new site, I always look to ways of reducing cost alongside increasing productivity and output quickly. Key areas would be floor space utilisation, assessment of plant and equipment as well as structure and capability. Are there any purchasing synergies and what future Capital Investment may be required? Are there any lean principles in place and what’s the true production capacity? The quickest impact – usually improving material flow and eliminating waste and waiting time.
Mark: You have integrated new sites into a parent company structure via acquisition. Often these have been established manufacturers in their own right, with longstanding employees. How do you go about settling them into the parent company in terms of processes and cultural practices?
Paul: Sounds obvious but communication is the key. When an acquisition is made, many individuals feel a sense of uncertainty about what the future holds so reassurance and clarity are essential. Site and team meetings and in some instances one to one meetings with key staff are required to explain where we see the new business fitting in. New Company branded PPE and workwear make employees feel welcome and valued but at the same time aware of a change of ownership. Be as transparent with your people as you can be, in terms of providing information on how the company is performing, letting them in on any strategies you may have and explaining to them their role in the big picture. When your new employees understand the overall plan, they will view themselves as an important, vital piece of the puzzle.
Mark: At Crendon Timber Engineering you introduced your own version of World Class Manufacturing methodology. What key pillars were introduced and, as importantly, how did you ingrain your vision and message on pillar leaders to ensure processes were continuously developed?
Paul: The Crendon Production System was developed around the implementation of appropriate “best practice” techniques that complimented the strategic objectives of the business. It encompassed the use of seven pillars namely;
1. Scorecards & Improvement Projects, thus enabling us to measure the right things, understand our metrics and work on projects that made a difference.
2. Involvement, Communication & Teamwork. You must involve your team, have regular meetings, question and support.
3. Root Cause Problem Solving, you shouldn’t just fix symptoms, you need to identify underlying causes and address them systematically.
4. Maintenance & Defect Systems that stem from the need to understand your equipment, look after it, manage any issues and prioritise.
5. Workplace Organisation put simply is having a system for keeping the workplace and equipment in good order.
6. Standard Operating Procedures allowed us to identify the best way of doing things, to document and follow it.
7. Process Confirmation was the check to establish that we were doing what we said/thought we were doing and was the key to sustainment.
The challenge is often to make progress through others and gain buy-in to new concepts/processes and ideas. We trained over 150 people in the basics of Lean, mobilised change champions and established a new-found respect and interest in people’s ideas. There was clear communication and issue management, clear roles, responsibilities and skills development thus allowing us to target an uplift in OEE through a 20% reduction in controllable losses.
Mark: Developing the above, what one piece of visual aid has had the biggest impact on management and operatives and how have you communicated its effectiveness?
Paul: As a visual aid, SQCDME boards provide accurate feedback in the form of facts and figures that help everyone make logical and beneficial decisions. What's more, by using data it is much easier to prioritise future goals. With a focus on the operational metrics Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery, Morale and Environment it produces a coherent analysis of production performance which encourages an environment for cultural change. Regarding employee engagement and morale sometimes the best way to measure something difficult is to ask people and take the average. Our plan was simple. Each week, randomly pick a sample of people and simply ask them to complete a short feedback survey thus understanding if they felt valued and whether they saw the change happening.
Mark: Whilst at Redland Monier, you accepted the chance to enrol on Cranfield University’s prestigious Advanced Development Programme. What were the key take-outs that have stuck with you from a personal development and managerial perspective?
Paul: The Cranfield ADP focused on strategic thinking and on understanding and influencing strategic change. A critical skill for any organisational leader is the ability to recognise opportunities and continually look to progress the business although you must create a balance between long and short-term thinking.
From a personal point of view, some of the learnings that have stuck with me are that Leadership is about inspiring others to implement organisational change to realise a strategy, and as Leaders acting and making decisions under continual pressure, it’s easy to underrate the importance of thinking time – particularly high-quality thinking time.
Above all leaders should add value by exploiting ideas they are uniquely placed to create and communicate, oh and don’t forget to put on a positive face at all times.