Industry Forum

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused difficulties for many manufacturers, the emergence of smart and autonomous vehicles into the mainstream presents a new opportunity for the photonics market leader. Industry Forum has been helping its Automotive Applications team prepare for the road ahead.

Lumentum has been at the forefront of photonics technology for several decades. Its diode lasers, many of which have been optimized for 3D-sensing applications, are used globally in everything from consumer electronics to dentistry, and industrial automation to smart cities.

Little surprise then, that the company sees tremendous opportunity in the automotive sector, where the development of smart and autonomous vehicles is starting to drive demand for 3D-sensing and related technology.

“Over the past few years, applications like driver-monitoring systems, and, most recently, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), have rapidly emerged in the automotive space,” observes Matt Everett, Product Line Director for Automotive Applications in Lumentum’s 3D-Sensing Business Unit. “There’s also been a shift from incumbent technologies like edge-emitting lasers and LEDs into vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), which means there’s a lot of synergy with our products and what we do. For fully autonomous, self-driving vehicles, a combination of multiple sensor technologies like cameras, RADAR, and LiDAR will be needed. As these technologies make it to high volume production vehicles, we expect to see exponential growth in the market across the globe.”

With a long history of optical innovation, and its laser illuminators for 3D sensing already shipping in volumes of millions to tens of millions of units per week, Lumentum feels it is well-positioned to take a leading international role in this emerging market.

“We began by developing products for shorter-range sensors used in in-cabin applications, which have a lot of similarities with the products we make for mobile devices,” Everett explains. These include gesture recognition to operate certain vehicle functions, and driver and occupancy monitoring systems–for example adjusting how an airbag deploys according to the height and weight of a passenger or monitoring facial expressions, eye movement, and position to determine levels of distraction or drowsiness.

Lumentum is now also developing more sophisticated products for LiDAR-based solutions for the exterior of vehicles, extending from 10-20 meters for nearby objects to over 250 meters for higher-speed operation. “This is still very new,” says Everett. “In 2020, only around a tenth of a percent of cars on the road had LiDAR technology, but it’s growing very rapidly with a wide range of customers. As a tier two manufacturer, we would supply either to the LiDAR integrator or the tier one directly.” Lumentum is currently developing many products, including both platform and bespoke items for its automotive customers.

Has business been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related and much publicised global shortage of semiconductors?

“The shortage relates to complementary devices to the ones we’re making, so it affects our customers and their customers as they ramp in these new markets, but not our production lines. I am proud to say that Lumentum has been successful at enabling business and our opportunities are growing. People are still innovating and driving the future. Customers are still working on their technologies.”

With a background in chemical engineering, Everett spent more than a decade at Lumileds, where he spent much of his tenure in the product management of automotive lighting products. “It was at Lumileds that I got my taste for the automotive industry,” he enthuses. “One of the satisfying things about working in this sector is that you can see your work. When you’ve spent the last two to three years working with a tier one and OEM to get your technology on a vehicle and then you see it on the road, that’s a great feeling.”

He also enjoys playing a part in the creation of a step-change in vehicle safety. “It’s already been shown that autonomous vehicles can be safer than those driven by humans. There’s lots that must happen to reach that point, with the identification and classification of objects and how the car reacts to them, the detection range, and speed of processing, but in the long term, it will be much safer. As someone who likes driving, it is a little ironic that I’m helping to eliminate an activity I enjoy, but it’s gratifying to help make people safer!”

Training to succeed

The scale of the demand for vehicle sensors and the speed of its escalation has prompted Lumentum to invest in this burgeoning branch of its business. This is demonstrated by Everett’s appointment to a leadership role in September 2020 and subsequent investment in a learning programme for 117 people in 11 countries across Europe, Asia, and North America, delivered in partnership with Industry Forum.

Training so far has focused on increasing knowledge and understanding of the automotive industry’s stringent manufacturing standards and quality assurance, bringing people up to speed on the latest developments and best practices. The learning has been structured to reflect a wide audience of existing as well as new staff. Says Everett, “Many people are involved in developing this portion of our business and bringing the products to market. Industry Forum has been training people worldwide, from R&D, operations, quality, marketing and through to management.” Courses have covered, among other things, IATF awareness, core tools, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), and PPAP preparation.

Although some of the training is still in progress, the impact is already apparent. “It’s been fantastic really, especially considering we’ve had to do it all remotely,” Everett observes. “The attendees are engaged. The instructors are well versed in their topics and effective at getting their message across. Lumentum already had a strong focus on quality, but the industry-specific training has strengthened the action plans in place. For example, with the APQP training, we’ve seen more cross-functional discussion, and more advanced and proactive thinking about the development process and what we need to do for our products, years ahead of ramp time, to ensure success. That’s exactly the point of APQP in a nutshell.”

After around 15 years focused on manufacturing components for the automotive markets, Everett knows well how exacting and demanding it is for a tier two supplier; “I always say, if you can work in automotive, you can work in any industry.”

He has been impressed by the spirit and pace at which Lumentum is continuing to innovate and develop new technologies, despite many employees working from home much of the time during the pandemic. “Nothing has slowed down and the same is true of the training with Industry Forum. Even though it has all been virtual, it’s been effective in going beyond Industry Forum and Lumentum in reaching our customers and their customers. One of the positive stories of this whole pandemic is the human spirit and how we’ve adapted to overcome the circumstances and make the best of it.”

Looking ahead, does he see an eventual levelling out of the current near-vertical growth curve for vehicle sensors? “One of the nice things about automotive is that it’s quite stable and predictable once you reach a steady state. That said, there is tremendous growth still expected to come in this space, and this ramp is just at the beginning. Lumentum is excited to be a technology leader and innovation partner enabling this growth for the needs of today and tomorrow!”

Supporting the company’s vision to be the premier manufacturer of polythene packaging, Industry Forum has been brought on board to help replace outgrown systems with robust, standardised manufacturing processes.

Siva Group has become a stand-out success in the exceptionally competitive world of flexible polythene-packaging manufacturing. It operates the a very modern blown film extrusion printing facility, and most of the nation’s toilet paper is wrapped in Siva packaging – as well as a large proportion of our frozen foods, animal feeds and horticultural products.

Siva was founded by husband-and-wife team Gurjinder and Neelu Mehta in Southampton in 1979. Now, with three generations of the Mehta family working in the business, 360 employees spread over four different sites and a turnover of £110m, its international client base includes major supermarkets and other global household brands.

The company’s identity as a family-run enterprise is central to its success. “The owners care so much about the business. People can see how much it means to them and that makes us feel proud to be part of it,” observes Operations Manager Mark Parslow, who has been with the company for 13 years, working his way up through the ranks of shift manager and print manager to reach his current role at the start of 2021. “The employees feel like they’re part of the family.”
This sense of belonging helps to engender a powerful team spirit that manifests itself in a can-do attitude and ambitious appetite to grow and innovate. “If we have any issues, we overcome them as a team,” says Parslow. “When we’re dealing with new technologies and materials, we find our way through together. We’re always adapting and learning. It’s exciting.”

And it seems they’re often dealing with new technologies and materials, as they extend their ever-growing product range and develop new approaches. Another benefit of being owner-run is that decisions can be made fast. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, for example, Siva was quick to adapt. As a critical link in the food supply chain, it has been able to operate its factories throughout. It made sure its sites were COVID-safe very early on, with testing for staff at the start of every shift. Then it rapidly began manufacturing PPE and clinical waste bags. To date it has shipped hundreds of millions of units.

Siva takes its commitment to the environment very seriously. Zero pellet loss through their process is an example of the proactive attitude to wastage and with the packaging tax in April 2022, it is well positioned to offer PCR (post consumer recyclate) in many of its product offerings to offset the tax for its customers.

They are also continuously evolving their manufacturing processes and incorporating more end of line automation. This agility, combined with strong relationships with machinery manufacturers, mean it’s not unusual for Siva to be the first in the world to deploy leading-edge equipment.

“We’ve invested tens of millions of pounds in technology in the past few years,” Parslow continues. “We have the best machinery on the market, and we can do everything in house, including recycling. That means we can offer very short lead times compared to our competitors, while still providing the best quality products. We can print in a week what takes others several weeks to do. We always deliver good quality, on time. That’s our recipe for success.” Eighty per cent of Siva’s printing output is for major supermarkets, who are notoriously particular about quality.

Replicating a winning formula

It’s this impressive combination of quality, speed, agility and passion that has propelled Siva to become the success it is today. It’s crucial, then, that the company can replicate its winning formula as it continues to grow. Recognising this, the management team reached out to Industry Forum for help in January 2020.

“We’d been growing so fast that we had some work to do to catch up with ourselves and make sure we had all the necessary systems in place to standardise our processes,” explains Parslow. “When you’re a family business, everyone does a bit of everything to help out, with direction coming from the top down to the shopfloor. But we’ve grown beyond that now, and we need the optimum structures in place to support our future growth. We wanted to clearly define what we call ‘the Siva Way’, to implement it consistently across all our sites and activities and then transfer it to new areas. A lot of it was already there, but we needed to go through it again to streamline it and optimise the process flows. That’s the work we’ve been doing with Industry Forum.”
The Siva Way covers everything to do with people and process and draws on Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), lean management and 5S. Industry Forum has also helped the organisation to clearly define people’s roles and develop leadership skills, particularly within the lower management tiers, where rapid organic growth had led to some idiosyncrasies and ambiguities.
It didn’t take long for the transformation to be implemented across the enterprise. Says Parslow, “We piloted 5S in certain areas, but it very rapidly spilled out into other activities. It happened almost automatically. We’ve taken on what we learned from Industry Forum and now we’re running with it ourselves. It’s part of my new role as Operations Manager to see what improvements we can carry on making. We still check in with Industry Forum on a weekly basis, but they’ve basically handed over to us now to do the work.”
The impacts of the changes are already apparent. “The workplace organisation is a lot better in the factory now so we’re seeing even better rates of on-time delivery,” Parslow reports. “And our reporting has improved a lot too, with the implementation of daily visual management on each machine. Because of that, and because we now have the right management layers in place, it means direction doesn’t need to be from the very top to the very bottom anymore. We take information up as needed.” All of this makes the factory more responsive and effective, while also freeing up senior management time to focus on the longer-term strategy and growing the business.
So, is Siva now ready for the challenges that might lie ahead?
“We’re definitely in a good place,” reflects Parslow. “But we’re not complacent. There are always issues to overcome, always something new to learn. It’s busy and rewarding. For example, we planned well ahead for Brexit, so it hasn’t affected our exports, but we are starting to see an impact on recruitment. We’re struggling to find the people we need. But we know we will find a solution as a team. We always do! It’s the Siva team that makes this such a strong place to be.

Automation is already starting to cause the next big industry shake-up in the logistics sector, and, when the dust settles, the leaders will be those that get it right. However, many large companies are caught between, on the one hand, the need to automate across their operations in order to meet client demand and reap the rewards of being an early adopter, and, on the other, the fear of getting this big, strategic investment wrong.

This creates a dilemma about whether to dive in now, even though some questions about the best approach to take still remain unanswered, or wait on the side a while longer, watching what others do and how they fare before taking the plunge.

We looked in some detail in our article What lessons can the logistics sector learn from the automotive industry? at the factors driving the inevitable automation of this industry. It’s clear that it’s not so much a question of whether to automate but rather when and how to do it and which parts of the business to prioritise. However, a number of issues are holding companies back.

Risky decisions

E-commerce has been disrupting the retail and logistics sectors in a number of ways for some time and continues to do so as it solidifies its status as an established and maturing distribution channel. While it is an automation driver, it has also complicated the marketplace, with customers competing with their suppliers in some cases. Large e-retailers are increasingly bringing their distribution functions in house, if they weren’t already, starting with the most lucrative and easiest to fulfil. This is driving third-party logistics companies (3PLs) into higher cost, lower margin areas, at the same time as their customers are pushing for shorter contract lengths to enable them to adapt with agility to the fast-changing retail environment.

Meanwhile, e-commerce itself is just one facet of a wider omnichannel retail environment, in which consumers can purchase and receive goods via any combination of channels – for example, buying online and collecting in store or receiving delivery at home, buying in store and leaving with the goods, or having them delivered elsewhere. This, combined with extreme seasonal peaks and troughs and the unpredictability caused by factors like COVID and Brexit, demands exceptional flexibility, which can make it difficult to right-size operations capacity across the supply chain. Supermarkets and other retailers saw a huge increase in home delivery requests during the Coronavirus lockdown. This is prompting some to reassess current systems that involve picking goods in store for home delivery, and look instead at a more centralised approach to distribution.

Another complication is that there are a large number of automation technologies available to choose from, with new developments coming out all the time, and none has yet proven to be the de facto solution or gained a wide market share.

All of this increases the risk and complexity for logistics companies looking at investing in automating their operations, even as it pushes them to do so.

Incremental approach

It makes good sense, therefore, to automate operations incrementally, site by site, on a regional basis, beginning with functions that involve a high proportion of manual labour. In this way, companies can test different approaches and then roll out only best-of-breed solutions.

Similarly, deploying hybrid systems that partially automate manual operations and make them much more efficient can be a lower risk steppingstone to fully automated warehouses, distribution centres and delivery mechanisms. This might include things like exoskeletons for super-charged manual lifting or retrofitted forklifts that can be operated both manually and autonomously.

But how do you work out what’s right for your business? The temptation is often to over-specify in order to be able to meet any future peak in demand. However, that can result in excessively costly and complex solutions that can actually hold you back.

Scoping out exactly how to successfully introduce automation requires a methodical and analytical approach. It’s essential that you ask the right ‘what if’ questions, make the right decisions in the right order and ensure you have the right skills and expertise in place to make it all happen. The end game is automated systems that will give you the flexibility and agility to respond to all kinds of changes over the next ten years. That means you need to be confident you’re making the right choices now.

Fortunately, there are some tried-and-tested techniques you can apply here that will help to ensure you do it well and reap the associated rewards for your business.

Early Management for rapid success

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) provides a structured approach to eliminating all kinds of losses across a whole organisation and throughout its value stream. However, it can also be used to solve specific business challenges or introduce new products and processes quickly and effectively. As such, it can be extremely helpful in formulating and implementing an automation strategy.

Early Management is one of TPM’s eight pillars of activity. It enables companies to build on lessons from previous experiences in order to eliminate potential for losses throughout the planning, development and design stages of new systems and services. That includes, for example, zero equipment breakdowns baked into the design process and rapid development lead times, with different teams working on activities simultaneously. This results in cost savings and efficiency improvements, both during the introduction phase and throughout the equipment life cycle.

Avoiding equipment issues

The more your business relies on automated equipment, the more important it becomes to ensure it works reliably and effectively, with minimal downtime. The introduction of TPM methodologies to your business should go hand in hand with automation. As well as helping you ask the right questions early enough in order to specify, implement and roll out the best automated systems, TPM can ensure their ongoing absolute efficiency through Autonomous Maintenance – a step-by-step process to optimise equipment and prevent accelerated deterioration.

How well equipment is operating is calculated using TPM’s Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) measure, the de facto standard for gauging equipment performance by looking at its availability, performance and output quality. These three factors are then broken down further into types of losses, such as breakdowns, changeovers, minor stoppages and speed loss.

By looking in such granular and methodical detail at every type of potential problem and solving it before it happens, you can reduce costs while offering a top-quality service to customers.

Lean machines

If you’re just embarking on your automation journey, lean management methods are also likely to be helpful in enabling you to precisely specify the approach you need to take. Equally, fully automated businesses can make big improvements to their productivity and profitability through lean techniques.

Lean helps to eliminate everything that does not add value to your business. It works on the principle that the key to reaching and sustaining world-leading competitiveness is to have a vision of the desired future state of a process or product and a strategic plan for making that vision a reality. It then helps companies achieve this by unleashing the potential of each individual employee, unlocking their problem-solving capabilities and reinforcing management skills. Everyone then engages in applying specific improvement tools and techniques designed to make change happen in a sustainable manner. It’s not hard to see how this could help with the introduction of new automated systems that require people to change their ways of working.

Picking the right tools for the job

Every company is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to automation. However, the same kinds of questions need to be asked in every case. Both TPM and lean offer tried-and-tested methodologies to guide you through complex or risky business transformations, helping you make good decisions, confidently.

If you’re not sure which methodology to apply, we can help. In many cases, a mix-and-match approach works best, picking the elements from each that will be most helpful for your business at different stages. We can work with you to understand your current situation and prioritise your needs, then help you develop and implement a plan of action, drawing on TPM and lean management techniques as needed. In this way, the methods you use to get your automation right will also have positive repercussions across every part of your business, standing you in good stead for the challenges ahead.

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Article written by: Simon Carr, General Manager SMMT Industry Form

Simon has 24 years engineering and operations experience gained within aerospace, industrial processing, automotive, food and drink, defence, electronics, fabrication, petrochemical, offshore systems, pharmaceutical, healthcare and banking. Simon was one of the original Industry Forum recruits and was trained by the Japanese Master Engineers.  Recent assignments include significant capital projects for the Ministry of Defence and in the Oil & Gas sector.


If your business works in low batch volumes but with a high degree of product variety, or if other aspects of your work are characterised by uncertainty and change, it can be tricky to respond with the speed and agility your customers need. Understanding how to improve efficiency and reduce lead times can make you far more productive and competitive. An approach called Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) can help.

QRM is a dynamic formula that focuses on reducing queues and bottlenecks to optimise flow in manufacturing processes characterised by lots of product variation. It can be used in conjunction with other methodologies such as Lean, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and Six Sigma.

Like lean, QRM aims to eliminate waste while promoting team empowerment and continuous improvement. However, it uses a less standardised, more flexible approach and a different mapping methodology to identify inefficient processes, both on the shop floor and in the office.

Alcon’s QRM transformation

It was these agile qualities that first attracted Alistair Fergusson, Managing Director of high-performance brake and clutch manufacturer Alcon, to QRM. After expanding from motorsports to supporting small automotive suppliers, the company needed to scale up its production capabilities to accelerate into the performance OEM sector. Fergusson felt QRM could provide the answer and requested Industry Forum’s assistance through the LTASC funding scheme. The results have been impressive.

“Lean doesn’t really do everything we want to do because we are a low volume batch, high variance manufacturer,” he explains. “Although QRM has similarities to lean, it is quite different. Lean is quite prescriptive, while with QRM, you have to be more adaptive to the specific business. The special magic that Industry Forum brought was the constant recalibration of what they were doing with us to ensure it met what we needed. They were flexible and adaptable to our requirements and it worked really well.”

QRM and Lean also dovetail well together, with QRM providing additional flexibility and adaptability suitable for high-variance environments. QRM helps organisations pinpoint and diagnose specifically where in their operations lead times become extended, for example, due to poor process, unreliable equipment or quality issues. Both QRM and lean can then be used to laser focus in on these areas to resolve the problems – with numerous knock-on benefits for all parts of the business. As Rajan Suri, who developed the methodology in the 1980s, put it, QRM is “a relentless emphasis on lead time reduction that has a long-term impact on every aspect of your company”.

QRM comprises of four core concepts:

  1. The power of time – every stage in the fabrication process is viewed through the lens of the value of time. A measuring system known as Manufacturing Critical-path Time (MCT) is used to understand and visualise where bottlenecks such as design decisions and customer approvals occur.
  1. Organisation structure – teams are formed around production goals and have ownership of the process from start to finish. Known as ‘cells’, they are cross functional and autonomous, incorporating all the required skills to complete their task, as well as in-built redundancy. Cells are assembled and dissolved according to changing requirements and members are cross-trained and adaptable.
  2. System dynamics – spare capacity and optimised batch sizes help to absorb variability in demand and protect lead-times.
  3. Enterprise-wide application – these approaches are applied to all parts of the organisation, on and off the factory floor.

Bespoke approach

Working with QRM Denmark, Industry Forum put together a bespoke programme for Alcon based around these principles. “QRM is all about the value of time and getting things through the entire process – design, development, production engineering, production and out the door – more quickly,” says Fergusson. “It’s a process of exploring and understanding your own business.” Group sessions and interactive exercises helped his team members to develop a baseline understanding of the QRM approach, before diving into deep analysis of different functions.

“We took a specific area of activity and worked out what the MCT was,” recalls Fergusson. “If something takes three weeks, you may find that for 2.5 weeks, you’re waiting for the next operation to happen.” As a result of this analysis, Alcon took a decision to combine its 5-axis machining and motorsport design functions.

Next, Industry Forum and Alcon looked at organisational structure, in order to dismantle functional silos. Fergusson explains, “A QRM cell is a business unit that has the full breadth of skills, empowerment and competence you need to get from the starting point to the end. This breaks down communications barriers. There’s no chucking of half-finished things from one person to the other. It resulted in better co-working between design and production, and we have now rolled out this approach across the whole business, regardless of other QRM activities. The sorts of wins we’re now seeing are 50% reduction in programming time and actual run time on certain products and at least a 30% uplift in productivity.”

Because products are now shipping far more quickly, cash flow has speeded up considerably too. Says Fergusson, “It’s no longer about utilisation of capital assets. Our finance people have remodelled their KPIs.”

Cultural change

Eighteen months into the QRM programme, the culture of the organisation has shifted. “We are now in a state of quite constant change and, I’m pleased to say, people are getting used to that. There’s no sense of stagnation anywhere. Everyone knows we are going to be doing things differently tomorrow from the way we did them yesterday, and that’s really powerful.”

This sense of positive change is manifested for employees in visible ways through developments such as new equipment, larger buildings and a better office environment. According to Fergusson, these improvements are creating a virtuous circle whereby people are inspired to create yet more positive impacts.

Double digit growth

The company’s growth certainly reflects these internal improvements, with turnover already up by 26%. Around 50 jobs have been safeguarded and a further 50 new ones created. According to Fergusson, however, this is just the start. “We think there will be bigger wins still, and that sort of quantum will be expanded out across the business. We expect to double in size within five years.”

Is QRM right for your business?

QRM is not only applicable to manufacturing environments with a high degree of product customisation. Because it is designed to help companies flourish when dealing with lots of disparate customer requirements, and because it is applied across the entire enterprise, it can also help other types of organisation cope with all kinds of complex, unpredictable and frequently changing circumstances. This includes Covid or Brexit, as well as business functions such as R&D, customer service and marketing that are more nebulous and less predictable than the production elements.

Industry Forum offers a variety of services to help you improve your company’s competitiveness through QRM, including, introduction days; training leading to formal accreditation; and consultancy to take you through the steps of organisation-wide rollout, dovetailing with other approaches, according to the needs of your business.


Freight and logistics companies know that their industry is undergoing rapid change. Digitalisation and automation are no longer optional extras to improve performance and business transformations essential for survival.

The logistics sector has been traveling along this road for a while, with some activities such as sortation of packages, for example, already largely automated. However, a number of threats and opportunities are currently converging to increase the speed of travel across the industry.

The drive to automate

Historically reliant on the availability of low-cost, often imported labour for picking operations, logistics firms have seen wages rise and labour-pools shrink over the past two decades. Now Brexit threatens to stem European workforce streams even more, further increasing the drive to automate.

The ending of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020 may also sound the death knell for the humble wooden pallet, which will no longer be able to move from the UK to or through the EU unless it has been heat-treated, thanks to ISPM 15 requirements for non-EU goods. That additional cost layer reduces the price gap between wood pallets and their plastic counterparts, which also interface far more successfully with automated equipment, as well as being recyclable and repairable. In this way, another barrier to automation is falling away and its momentum increasing.

At the same time, COVID-19 has caused businesses everywhere to re-examine their staffing strategies, reducing face-to-face human interactions as far as possible. The more automated an operation, the less it will be affected by lockdowns on the one hand, and the better able to cope with big peaks and troughs in demand on the other, without having to deal with staff shortages or furloughing of employees. In other words, automation can mitigate a lot of the new ‘people’ risks logisticians now have to deal with. Added to which, environmental concerns are pushing companies to look at their carbon footprint and endeavour to make energy savings through, among other things, lights-out warehouses and distribution centres.

Meanwhile, requirements of retailers and other customers are becoming increasingly stringent, with delivery on time and in full demanded as the norm, even as they turn up the pressure to reduce unit costs. That level of certainty at a viable price necessitates automated processes.

All of this means the writing is on the wall for manual systems.

The logistics sector is likely to become increasingly polarised over the next five years, with a growing gap between those focussing on applying appropriate technologies and management methodologies and those left behind. When the automation dust has settled, we may see a group of large, high-tech, global players developing lasting relationships with big brands on the one hand, and a reduced number of smaller, old-school companies competing for short-to-medium-term contracts on the other, while their margins are increasingly squeezed.

Following the auto route

Time is short, but automation is a large, strategic investment and it needs to be done right. That means stepping back from day-to-day operations to look objectively at the big picture. That way, you can ask the right questions to really understand the current and future requirements of your business and that of your customers. That’s the first step in identifying the approaches you might need to take to make the necessary big changes happen in order to remain competitive for the long term. It’s worth investing in the support of an experienced partner who can guide this process and provide a valuable external perspective.

Freight and logistics companies can learn a lot from the automotive sector which has long been applying improvement tools and techniques such as lean management across the supply chain to solve problems, assure quality, automate and optimise operations. Indeed, lean methodologies originated in 20th century motor vehicle manufacturing in the form of the Toyota Production System. But they are just as relevant today, and just as effective for service industries as for manufacturing.

While some larger logistics companies are already applying these approaches with some success, the sector as a whole has yet to fully embrace them. However, the inevitable arrival of automation may yet drive their take-up as they have the potential to greatly facilitate that transformation.

Maximising value through lean

Lean management, or simply ‘lean’, denotes a set of principles designed to eliminate all kinds of waste from business processes, while staying focused on delivering exactly what customers want, on time and in full. Lean is all about continuous improvement enabling companies to be sufficiently agile to remain competitive, survive and thrive. It helps improve productivity and profitability by eliminating everything that does not add value to customers.

Lean’s five core principles are:

  • precisely specifying the value of each product or service
  • identifying its value stream
  • making value flow without interruptions
  • allowing customers to pull value from your business
  • pursuing perfection

By looking at your services from a pull rather than push perspective and continuously striving to achieve an uninterrupted flow of the right process at the right place and time, you can make significant improvements to your bottom line and your offering to customers. As well as this, lean’s determined focus on innovation, efficiency and delivering what customers want can help streamline and shorten long tendering processes and increase contract-win rates.

Similar to lean is total productive maintenance (TPM). Widely used in the food and chemical industries, TPM uses eight ‘pillars’ of activity to provide a structured approach to eliminating all kinds of losses across a whole organisation and throughout its value stream. Because it aims to optimise equipment and processes to deliver zero breakdowns, zero failures and zero accidents by eliminating poor maintenance or operations practices, TPM is ideally suited as a methodology to implement and maintain automated operations. It can help you ensure the service reliability you need to differentiate your business in a crowded market.

How can smaller companies compete?

Transforming operations through automation may seem out of the reach of SMEs which lack big engineering departments. How, then, can they remain competitive if they can’t keep up with the larger players?

There’s a lot they can do to optimise the efficiency and value of their existing systems using lean techniques – and the need to do so is likely to become ever more pressing. By forensically reviewing and improving your current systems, layout and process flows, end-to-end, you can greatly boost your competitiveness

Our benchmarking research shows that the greatest challenge for small and medium sized companies is the ability to develop and implement an effective vision and strategy that drives results. Applied systematically, lean can really help to crack that conundrum.

Getting started

The prospect of bringing about transformative change across an organisation is daunting. Start with a pilot project – a service or process that is large enough to give some measurable impact and engage enough people, but small enough to be achievable. It has to be something that is significant to your business and within your gift to change within a timeframe of around six months. Learn from the experience, gather feedback and then feed that into a cycle of continuous improvement.

Industry Forum can guide you through the steps to help you understand your requirements in detail and design a decision-making process that will enable you to move forward in the right direction,

Look out for our future articles on transitioning to logistics automation, the distribution centre as a lean factory and sustainability and the green supply chain.

Enjoyed this article? Why not sign up to receive the next article in the logistics series.

Article written by: Simon Carr, General Manager SMMT Industry Form

Simon has 24 years engineering and operations experience gained within aerospace, industrial processing, automotive, food and drink, defence, electronics, fabrication, petrochemical, offshore systems, pharmaceutical, healthcare and banking. Simon was one of the original Industry Forum recruits and was trained by the Japanese Master Engineers.  Recent assignments include significant capital projects for the Ministry of Defence and in the Oil & Gas sector.

It’s hard to imagine how a company hit by an overnight 40% drop in volume in March 2020, might one year later reflect that Covid-19 restrictions were the best thing that ever happened to it. It may also be hard to fathom that the same company, which remained open for business throughout the pandemic, is actively eschewing face-to-face meetings in favour of conducting all business communications virtually and digitally.

Meet managing director of G&O Springs (and Microsoft Teams evangelist), Steve Boyd, who, with some outside help, has used everyone else’s annus horribilis as a golden opportunity to transform his family business.

Since the industrial revolution, G&O Springs’ home town of Redditch has been known for its production of coiled springs, stemming from the needle and fishing tackle trade. As with other traditional industries, manufacturing in the area has declined in recent years. Yet leading up to the pandemic, G&O Springs was enjoying double-digit growth, year-on-year. These were the rewards of efforts to carve out a strong niche leadership position at the high tech performance end of the springs market, predominantly in the aerospace sector.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

“Actually, no,” disagrees Boyd, “We were so busy and fraught, we were losing control of the business, fire-fighting and limping from one challenge to another. Things were slipping. We were being left behind. The business wasn’t progressing, our systems and internal processes couldn’t cope. We were prioritising the customer but behind the scenes, the basics such as appraisals, 5s and TPM activities, as well as essential admin, weren’t getting done.”

Despite an order for 80,000 springs for Rolls Royce as part of the Ventilator Challenge UK, the arrival of Covid saw plummeting orders and the writing on the wall, at least for a few years, for the aerospace industry. The company was at a crossroads; it could shrug its shoulders and wait for 85% of its business to possibly never return, or reform – to use the enforced downtime to get its house in order and relaunch as a fitter business, ready to take on new opportunities.

Like so many businesses, headcount was one of the first areas to address and the 50-strong workforce was reduced by half by June 2020. G&O knew it had to rebuild from the ground up with a new strategy, and management and planning processes. It accessed funding through the SC21 C&G (Competitiveness & Growth) programme for supply chain companies in the aerospace industry. The delivery of consultancy and training, via manufacturing experts, Industry Forum, involved the adoption of new frameworks, organisational skills, competences and HR best practices. Boyd and his team were coached in new, systematic ways of working. “Industry Forum provided us with all the joined up thinking we needed,” he says.

As part of redesigning how the new-look company was to be organised, Boyd discovered Microsoft Teams. “We took the Industry Forum approaches and transferred them over to Teams so they became living, breathing entities – our own holistic, high-performing work system if you like. Every single aspect of the business is now run remotely through Teams. All our meetings, plans and documents – even our 5s and TPM daily, weekly and monthly audits – are run virtually, on Teams and using Microsoft Forms. Issues are raised as actions, pictures are taken, owners are assigned and timescales set. Team members are emailed automatically when they need to do something.

“The effect on our culture has been staggering,” he continues. “By digitalising and liberating our information and processes to everyone in the business, we have become a much closer, high-performing and connected community than we were before. We have a centrally-managed inbox that everyone can see. Everything is transparent. We all feel involved and openly collaborate. Trust has followed. We have a continuous improvement culture that we didn’t have before. We have very enthused people because they’ve been given responsibility.”

G&O has introduced new HR practices and Teams has provided the platforms to facilitate them. “We ask employees to vote on company plans. We reward people for their contributions and those contributions get fed into appraisals. We offer ways for people to recognise their peers. They are encouraged to make suggestions and we set people objectives.”

We know from the news headlines that the aerospace manufacturing sector is not going to bounce back in the immediate short term. So, one has to ask Steve Boyd, where his current positivity comes from.

“Specialising in high end aerospace, while maybe appearing risky, remains a strength, even now. Many of our competitors for whom aerospace represents a minor share of revenue are ditching it. We expect to be much bigger than before Covid. We think the growth back will be more significant than the drop. We’re recruiting again as our volumes are recovering.

“We are winning new business again; mainly opportunities we would not have been able to seal pre-Covid. We wouldn’t have been organised or coherent enough to entertain some of the new parts, new programmes and new customers all over the world that we’re talking to today. Existing customers see that our support, delivery and quality is better than it’s ever been, so there’s growth there too. We’re responsive. 98% of orders are delivered on time in full,” explains Boyd.

So what message does Steve Boyd have for fellow UK supply chain manufacturers? He replies passionately: “Firstly, you really cannot wait for this to pass. Things are never going to go back to the way they were. You’ve got to make it work. If you leave it any later, it will be too late. This is an opportunity to sort out all your problems.”

He encourages manufacturers to seek the help that’s available, from utilising technology to to looking into the support provided by the SC21 C&G programme (or NMCL as it is known in the automotive supply chain manufacturing sector). “We were one of the first companies to use SC21 support a few years ago and won their bronze award for performance in 2010. I sit on the Midlands Aerospace Alliance supply chain performance group and heard about the latest package. Simply put why wouldn’t you take the money?”

At G&O Springs, use of the latest IT tools are enabling new forms of communication between staff.
Audits are now all conducted on Teams, more transparently and accountably.

How a Coventry foundry has reinvented itself for the electric future

Published: 03/02/21

The advent of ACES (autonomous, connected, electric, and shared vehicles), as well as the slump in volume resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, is causing unprecedented upheaval in the automotive industry. Companies producing diesel vehicle systems and components will already be familiar with the impact of a sudden drop in demand of long-established products, and it’s time for the whole supply chain to wake up. If ever there was a time to talk about ‘survival of the fittest,’ this is it!

At Industry Forum, we work with the automotive supply chain to understand the impact of such a seismic shift to the UK. If companies do not make the right products, any competitive advantage they currently enjoy from efficient manufacturing operations will be irrelevant. We have tended to see government funds prioritising new technology start-ups over established, well-run manufacturing businesses. While investing in UK innovation and sourcing ideas from outside the industry is a good thing, it should be remembered that those manufacturers alive and well in today’s tough environment have already proved themselves capable of the hardest part: commercialising new technology into serial production.

What sets one UK automotive supply chain manufacturer company apart from another in our new world is the ability not just to embrace change, but to actively influence it.

One business that is doing just that is Sarginsons Industries, with whom Industry Forum has worked for many years. Sarginsons could have been a poster child for the vulnerable automotive Tier 1 manufacturer: a traditional Coventry foundry, making aluminium castings, including internal combustion engine parts, for companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Caterpillar and ZF. Instead, under the leadership of managing director, Anthony Evans, it has transformed itself into a diversified OEM solutions provider and electric vehicle (EV) technology backer. It has recognised the rise of the start-up and leveraged its position as an established, lean manufacturer to plug some obvious gaps. Times have never been better!

At the beginning of 2020, Sarginsons announced a new contract with start-up, to develop revolutionary on-street charging points (charging bollard units or mounted to lampposts) for electric vehicles. Sarginsons supply the full unit to; not only the aluminium castings but the internal assembly, including electronics, as well as the charging sockets. The companies are currently working together on new concepts for vehicle charging, which will be launched soon.

Anthony Evans believes SMEs should break down traditions and find new opportunities: “With no new diesel or petrol cars in the UK from 2030, the disruption is palpable. It’s creating newer and much smaller manufacturers, with bigger OEMs breaking down into smaller companies too. A larger pool of people to sell things to has to be a good thing. It remains to be seen how the industry will get the vehicles ready by the ever-encroaching government deadlines. Everybody is just busy creating ideas. Sarginsons wants to be the company taking those ideas and building the prototypes. The new customers are very very different!”

Anthony Evans has identified four main ways in which SME manufactures can fight fit in this rapidly changing environment.

  1. Develop an investor mindset

“Sarginsons got the contract because we were prepared to make a bold decision to invest in the idea of a disruptive start-up company, via our own facilities,” says Anthony. “What they were lacking in order to bring the products to market, we either had already, or knew how to put in place, and quickly. This included design-to-manufacture capability, tooling, electricians, production facilities and most importantly, equity.”

The EV charging socket was a new challenge for Sarginsons, but something they knew they had to take on. Anthony explains, “Assembling an electrical package, bolting it into the bollard and undertaking all the testing of it, was different for us. But as a manufacturer, we’ve got far more qualified electricians than any of these people will ever have. So, we said, yes, we can do it and with our internal electrical knowledge, we did.”

New entrants have little equity behind them to get their ideas into production. Sarginsons, while not significantly cash rich or backed by a plc, had sufficient capital to lay down the tooling, buy in the electrics, and help get up and running.

“After making the decision to go for it, speed and flexibility was of the essence, if both parties were going to realise the benefits of being early to market. There was absolutely no point spending months developing a legal framework with; it required a different way of thinking. We had our initial investment paid pack after orders for the first 90 bollards and 250 lamppost attachments,” reveals Anthony.

  1. Infiltrate the supply chain

The Sarginsons team is much hungrier for business these days, with the confidence of a revitalised ‘can do’ attitude. Anthony explains, “We’re now working even further down the supply chain, speaking to the designers. We’re not waiting for the purchasing people to knock on our door.”

This means developing new relationships with established customers and making friends with new companies. “We’re supporting them with design-to-manufacture and getting ourselves involved with programmes as early as possible. A recent example of this is our involvement with an InnovateUK ARMD programme to design and develop EV chassis applications for Lotus Cars, as well as new concepts for battery tray and chassis architecture. We no longer say “that’s the bit we can do, you’ll have to talk to someone else about the extrusion” or whatever. We are bolder,” says Anthony.

Sarginsons is taking a big picture approach to the market. “Our business strategy is to support vehicle OEMs who want to sell EVs, but the consumer demand is never going to happen if there is a shortfall in charge points. We see ourselves as a key enabler in the chain.”

  1. Modernise

Sarginsons has created a new technology centre, a more customer-focused presentation of its market offer, equipment and capabilities in a dedicated area of the factory. This was assisted by a grant from Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the Coventry City Council Business Support Programme.

“With the creation of a technology centre, we’re not inviting our customers to visit a foundry, we’re inviting them to a design house. We are also working in collaboration with universities and research centres to ensure we are at the cutting edge of research and development,” says Anthony.

Capital investments have also been made metallurgical, metrology and automation programmes and Sarginsons took the opportunity to strengthen its MagmaSoft modelling capabilities, with online coaching and the investment of £100k in a MagmaStress stress seat and further MagmaSoft technology.

Modernising is also about cultural change, external branding and communication, as well as investment in new facilities and machinery. Anyone looking from the outside in to Sarginsons over the past couple of years will have witnessed a significant transformation, from the revamped website to a rebrand and fresh corporate positioning as a “leader in lightweighting.”

  1. Focus on competitiveness

Sarginsons no longer accepts the traditional role of an SME manufacturer as a production facility in a defined automotive supply chain, where business improvement effort is limited to increasing efficiencies between the points of its inputs and outputs. This focus on overall business competitiveness, as opposed to simply productivity, is reflected in the government’s new National Manufacturing Competitiveness Levels (NMCL) funding programme. The difference between this programme and others designed to improve manufacturing supply chain performance is the focus on building capability to win new orders.

Industry Forum is an NMCL assessor and improvement provider and has helped many companies through the assessment stage of the programme. Anthony is encouraged by what he has seen of NMCL, “The previous equivalent government support programme, LTASC, was more internally focussed. It allowed us to undertake a lot of fundamental lean and problem-solving changes, as well as team leader and shop floor management training. We’re now ready to build on that. We’re hoping to use NMCL to better push lean and supply chain project management and allow us to step forward into the bigger and bolder world.”

To find out how you can join the NMCL programme, contact us.

Authored by: Richard Sadler, director of business development at SMMT Industry Forum 

Richard has over 15 years of Tier One automotive manufacturing and supply chain experience. Having started his career as an Apprentice, he soon went on to hold leadership positions in Production Planning, Purchasing, Engineering and Manufacturing. Richard’s last role was Operations Director of an Automotive Tier One, serving multiple OEMs both in the UK and overseas.

Industry Forum’s Manufacturing Expert
HR Consultancy
Industry Forum understands that the post-COVID world has presented HR personnel with new challenges. We are all required to do ‘more with less’, and
those that remain need to be skilled to be as effective, efficient and resourceful to support organisational efficiency.
Many will be required to take on new responsibilities as job roles expand, as they take on tasks previously managed by people who have now been made redundant. How can you keep your employees engaged in challenging times? Employees need to feel like they are being supported. Providing training is just one tool in the arsenal to ensure companies “survive and thrive”.

Industry Forum will:

  1. Support you to support your people.
  2. Help HR functions address the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis head on by providing expert support, to help build a positive, professional, productive team.
  3. Help move to a positive outcome with our tried and tested restructuring and outplacement approach.

IF’s HR services include:

  • Management Training, in topics such as restructuring and outplacement processes
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For a confidential discussion about how Industry Forum can support your HR challenges, please contact enquiries.
Train more for less:
Industry Forum recently launched a full range of eLearning on the following topics:
The eLearning courses provide a cost-effective way of providing valuable basic knowledge on the subjects of auditing IATF 16949, core tools and auditing core tools. To help organisations provide essential knowledge of all these vital topics to a wider audience, Industry Forum provides an extensive discount when buying group or corporate licences. In addition to group discounts for corporate customers, we have now launched Industry Forum Learner Management System – IFLMS. This means that we can host our eLearning content for you or if you already have an LMS, we can provide you the files to host our range of eLearning on your existing system.
We know that managing training for large numbers of employees is tricky and can be costly. That’s why we believe that flexibility in your training partner is key. From providing white label eLearning, to developing bespoke packages for multiple seats on virtual and face to face courses, or training and implementation support packages across the year, it is always worth giving us a call to discuss the most cost-effective approach.
Outsource your induction programme with Manufacturing Essentials
Industry Forum has launched an all new Manufacturing Essentials course, which can be delivered as an off the shelf course, attended in our dedicated learning centre to certify the skills of up to three members of your team, or it can be tailored for the individual organisation’s specific requirements and delivered on your site, to provide an outsourced induction process or a dedicated programme to achieve large scale upskilling of your manufacturing team.
This training programme provides delegates with the opportunity to practice the skills required to successfully work in a manufacturing environment. Delegates will gain the necessary skills, through learning and practice, relating to daily management, Lean techniques, and Total Productive Maintenance, ensuring efficient operations in achieving goals. The skills gained will enable delegates to understand the core principals of everything from problem solving to continuous improvement.
LATEST NEWS: Employers urged to direct redundant staff to free government training courses
UK employers should play a leading role in directing redundant staff to the most suitable government-funded training courses, says Industry Forum, a training provider for manufacturing and supply chain businesses.
Free government training is available, according to certain criteria, for those made redundant from their jobs. This could be a vital boost to the estimated 730,000 (and growing) workers who lost their jobs between March and July 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including those from some of the UK’s largest companies. The number of unemployed is expected to rise after the government’s furlough scheme ends in October.
Guide to supporting outgoing team

If you’re making redundancies, it can be hard to know how best to support the outgoing members of your team. In order to support HR professionals, Industry Forum has developed a guide for what to do next and how individuals could access funding for vocational and occupational training. Please feel free to share this link with your team or copy the contents into your own documentation for outgoing members of staff. If you would like to discuss training support packages for your team, please get in touch.
Available funding
There are a number of regional funding opportunities available and Industry Forum is in a unique position where we can recommend routes to available funding. One of these is the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Levels (NMCL) programme, which utilises government funding to support improvement and competitiveness activities within Automotive and Aerospace manufacturers. Click here to find out more.
Published April 2020

With a quarter of the UK’s businesses temporarily closed by the Coronavirus and manufacturing output forecast to plunge by 55% this spring, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, there is a strong focus on the likely impacts of the crisis on our economy, both now and in the future. Fewer column inches have so far been dedicated to answering the question, ‘What can companies do right now to prepare for a good restart after COVID?’

There is little doubt that the human and financial costs of the COVID-19 pandemic will be vast and are yet to be fully manifested and understood. Amid this, the impacts on manufacturers are significant and importantly, diverse. Some makers of healthcare, food and household products, for example, have had to square off a massive increase in demand with a disrupted supply chain and reduced workforce, while those in other sectors have been compelled to partially or completely close factories. Many manufacturing businesses will undoubtedly be amongst those forced to shut down for good.

But amidst the devastating losses, there are some reasons to be hopeful. Companies that do survive this situation are likely to emerge from it operationally stronger, with more robust and agile supply chains and ways of working. What is more, although there may be continuing uncertainty about how much longer lockdown will continue, there are signs that government is looking at a phased, sector-by-sector ending of it, with manufacturing, logistics and food-supply businesses among the first to reopen their doors – ahead of other sectors and the wider population. So, the light at the end of the tunnel is coming into view and may be here quicker than we think.

You can’t control when, but you can control how

While we may not be able to accurately predict when plants will be able to recommence operations in part or in full, we can certainly consider how they should go about it.

The best possible restart will help to minimise the financial pain caused by the COVID-19 lockdown and provide the optimum launchpad for a full and rapid recovery. Furthermore, companies that manage their start-up well will secure themselves a competitive advantage by default. Those that don’t, risk compounding the cost of the lockdown with damage to their reputation caused by failure to supply on time.

It goes without saying, therefore, that you want your reactivation to be as quick and low-cost as possible. This is known as a ‘vertical’ start-up, because it requires the minimum amount of time – and therefore money – to reach full production, meaning the productivity curve climbs almost vertically.

And right now, while most day-to-day operations are on hold and you have the breathing space to think about it, is the right time to plan your vertical start-up. The sooner you start, the more time you will have to identify and plan for any issues you may encounter.

Focus on what you know

It’s perhaps easy to feel a little bit daunted by this. After all, none of us have ever been in a situation quite like this before. However, you probably already know more about it than you realise. If you’ve ever opened up a facility in a new location on the other side of the world, or ramped up a new piece of equipment in your SME, then you’re familiar with the types of processes you need to go through to start something new. The same types of approaches apply here. And it’s much more helpful and empowering to focus on what’s familiar about this situation than what’s different or strange about it.

What is more, thanks to lockdown, most of us are now familiar with the concept of interacting remotely with each other through apps like Zoom or Google Meet and are set up to do so, so the experience of working collaboratively online has been demystified. This makes it easier to hit the ground running, even when we’re all working in different physical locations.

Ask the right questions

You don’t need to be an expert in management theory to get this right, and you don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to know the right questions to ask, when to ask them and to whom.

Your start-up planning process should no doubt begin with a brainstorming session of the senior leadership team. However, one of the first questions that group should ask is, “Who do we really need round the (virtual) table to make this happen?” The task in hand is of maximum importance to your business, and you’ll require a winning team to lead it.

Inputs from different departments will be needed at different points in your start-up timeline. Subgroups may be required to take forward specific pieces of your plan, for example, plant maintenance. By working through methodically what needs to happen and in what order, your planning team can work out which people need to participate when. Some may be currently furloughed, so it’s important to work out when they should be brought back into active duty before start-up, to avoid delays.

Another key question that needs to be asked at the outset is, “What do our customers want?” This leads to other important queries about how much your marketplace and business environment have been changed by Coronavirus. Are your customers still in business? Do they still need the same products from you as before, in the same quantities and timeframe?

These in turn lead to questions about materials and machinery. Are the materials you need still readily available? What does your own inventory look like? Have some components surpassed their shelf-life during the lockdown? Is your plant ready to start operating or does it require some maintenance? Who needs to do that and how long will it take? Was it shut down properly? Can you get the parts?

If you’re preparing to ramp down from peak demand rather than starting up, the same kinds of questions will apply, as you seek to match your levels of production to incoming orders. What inventory will be needed where and how can you avoid ending up with excess stock?

The answers to all these and other similar questions will greatly influence your direction and speed of travel. Thinking them through in a methodical way and plotting out the resulting actions sequentially will help to define a water-tight plan to ensure your start-up proceeds as quickly and smoothly as possible.

How you articulate your plan is up to you and will depend on the levels of complexity with which you’re faced. It could be a gated process, driving very clear ‘yes’ and ‘no’ decisions points, it could be a Gantt chart, or it could be a simple list of actions.

The verticality (i.e. speed) of your start-up will also depend on the nature of your business. If you have a hot process, for example, you may need some time for your furnace to heat up, so your start-up timeline may be more extended.

What’s important is that you consider:

  • who are all the stakeholders in each activity – identify clear ownership of tasks.
  • when each decision and action needs to happen – develop a sequential decision-making process that starts early enough to avoid unplanned delays.

For each action point, you should think through in advance what could go wrong and what alternative approach you can take if you hit a roadblock.

Early management for a vertical start-up

There are some management methodologies that can provide useful pointers here. Perhaps the most relevant is Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), which provides a structured approach to eliminating losses in manufacturing, and, in particular, implementing the perfect ‘vertical’ start-up.

TPM involves eight ‘pillars’ of activity which guide organisations through a structured system to remove all losses from different stages of production processes. The pillar that deals with vertical start-ups is the fifth one, known as Early Management, which aims to help companies implement new products and processes with minimal lead time. Early Management seeks to identify in advance all the things that could go wrong, in plenty of time to take appropriate steps to mitigate the risks.

There are two parts to the Early Management pillar: Early Equipment Management and Early Product Management. Both focus on eliminating the potential for losses through the planning, development and design stages, as well as shortening development lead times, with teams working on different activities simultaneously.

The approach works by developing a shared accountability for success, involving all departments across the plant. While it is more commonly applied to projects relating to installing new plant or launching new products, the technique can also be applied to support a restart, or even managing down from peak production.

TPM and Early Management provide a helpful structure to work through the start-up planning process and make sure you don’t leave gaps, but really, they are just ways to write a really good to-do list.

Reverse fishbone technique

Another simple and helpful tool is the ‘reverse fishbone’ diagram. Instead of working through the fish from a defect or failure at the ‘head’ to then plot out the various causes along the skeleton branches, as in a conventional fishbone, you put your goal – a perfect vertical start-up – at the head and work backwards along the bones to scope out what you need to do to reach it.

The four bone branches cover the four key elements you need to consider: people, processes, equipment and material. Each item on each branch requires an owner. Items can be either actions that you already know need to happen, or they can be questions that must be answered in order to define the next steps.

This simple technique can be used to identify everything necessary to create a plan of action. Furthermore, it’s a helpful tool for enabling multiple stakeholders to participate in managing the start-up process, which supports the aim of sharing accountability for success.

Just get started

While approaches like TPM and reverse fishbone can be helpful, you shouldn’t let the variety of planning tools and techniques out there bamboozle you. Just start somewhere – and start soon. A plan that is 80% right is good enough to get going.

Remember, you know your business best, so don’t be afraid to dive in. If you do feel you need some external support to guide you, do contact us. We can certainly help.


Article written by: Simon Carr, General Manager SMMT Industry Form

Simon has 24 years engineering and operations experience gained within aerospace, industrial processing, automotive, food and drink, defence, electronics, fabrication, petrochemical, offshore systems, pharmaceutical, healthcare and banking. Simon was one of the original Industry Forum recruits and was trained by the Japanese Master Engineers.  Recent assignments include significant capital projects for the Ministry of Defence and in the Oil & Gas sector.

Today, we are celebrating International Women’s Day! In recognition of all the women across the globe, we’d like to shine a light on two of Industry Forum’s own. Read on to find out a little more about two of our Senior Consultants in Lean / TPM, Anna Vaughan and YeeHuan Lim.

Tell us a bit about your career before working at Industry Forum.

Anna: I started out as an apprentice toolmaker, and used this as a platform to get into manufacturing engineering. I developed a keen interest, specifically in continuous improvement and lean manufacturing and worked in a variety of industries where I led and implemented Lean and TPM programmes.



YeeHuan: Before joining Industry Forum, I was an Innovation Engineer working with the management team to improve company competitiveness using Lean and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) principles. I worked with companies of varying sizes, ranging from multinationals to small and medium manufacturers, across a range of diverse industrial sectors including automotive, oil and gas, petrochemical, medical devices and optics.



Tell us about your current role at Industry Forum.

Anna: In my current role as Senior Consultant in Lean and TPM, I have been able to use my combined background in continuous improvement and maintenance to successfully coach, steer and develop TPM and Lean programmes for a variety of different clients. I work with customers in multiple sectors including automotive, aerospace, electronics, industrial products and food and packaging industries throughout the UK as well as internationally in USA, Europe, Asia and Russia.

YeeHuan: My current role as a Senior Consultant in Lean and TPM involves the following:

  • Assessing the capabilities of a business to improve its competitiveness in national and global markets.
  • Consulting in Lean and TPM philosophy for the manufacturing sector and its supply chain, working with organisations of various sizes and business models.
  • Training material development for bespoke programmes, including translation.
  • Implementing improvement projects and conducting programmes with a holistic approach for businesses.

What do you enjoy about working at Industry Forum?

Anna: I enjoy working with my customers and helping them to achieve their improvement goals.

YeeHuan: I enjoy having the opportunity to work with different sized companies and all levels of people, both nationally and internationally to improve business capabilities.

What would you say has been your biggest learning over the course of your career?

Anna: One thing I have learnt is to never stop learning and to always listen.

YeeHuan: I would say one of my biggest learnings is the skill of consultation on mindset changing, to enable people to look from different perspectives and empower people to have the confidence to step out of their comfort zones.

What has been the most memorable project for you and why?

Anna: I’m most proud of my working relationship with my main customer. I am now into my seventh year of providing support and guidance, working with multiple sites, at various levels in multiple locations. The longevity of the working relationship is the greatest result!

YeeHuan: One of my most memorable projects was when I worked with a refractory solution business to improve its warehouse system for identifying the type of material or storage quantity. One of the tangible benefits was that the time taken to complete the stock counting activities reduced from 3 days to 3 hours. This not only improved the delivery time, but also resulted in cost reduction. Intangible benefits included reduction of stress and increased morale amongst the team.

What would be the number one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s starting out on an improvement journey with their company?

Anna: Have a plan, set goals and go for it, no excuses!

YeeHuan: Doing something is better than doing nothing; improvement is a process of change, change to be better. Nothing could be worse than no change; it is a practical experience that can never be bought.

If you’d like to find out more about working with our fantastic team, email us or give us a call on +44 (0)121 717 6600.