Every manufacturer takes pride in increasing the efficiency of its manufacturing processes but when one company can claim improvements enabling growth of over a third in just one year, it might be worth a closer look.
That company is Apeer, and the need for increased efficiency goes without saying after the Co Antrim door manufacturer was transformed since the launch of the radical Lumi window and door system, growing the company beyond expectations in both output and acclaim.
Much of the change can be attributed to the implementation of specific and well-tried strategies such as Lean Manufacturing and Continuous Improvement. However, as Production Director Chris Wilson explained, a great deal of it was achieved simply by opening and improving channels of communication, keeping all production personnel informed, including regular meetings where all are empowered with input to influence key decisions about the running of the whole business.
The production team already had a wealth of experience when Chris joined at the end of last year, he says. Also, his own track record of 25 years in aerospace, oil & gas and automotive manufacture meant he had ample first-hand knowledge of the kind of strategies and practices that had become second nature to some of the biggest names in global manufacturing, and the two factors have enabled all to work well together.
From the beginning, production targets were shared with the workforce and detailed capacity planning models developed for each of the production areas. He explained: “This has given us the ability to react quickly to changes in the mix of products ordered and to plan ahead for growth across the business.”
“I chair regular strategy planning meetings with my team which empowers them to have input into key decisions about how we run our business. Key areas we have looked at are the flow of product through the factory using Theory of Constraints methods, together with contingency planning for equipment breakdowns and personnel absence.”
These innovations, combined with improved scheduling, have led Apeer to achieving record production levels in the first quarter of 2017 amounting to an increase of nearly 35% year on year.
As part of the improved communications, weekly quality review meetings are now held to focus on corrective actions addressing the root cause of any quality issues. Any potential issues where a product may be falling behind schedule and risking late delivery are addressed at daily reviews. He added: “We have also made a big effort to make our products more quickly – the focus on quality and on-time delivery has helped to significantly improve our lead times compared to last year.”
Of course, no efficiency programme would be complete without extensive homage to Lean Manufacturing. Specifically, one of the tools within that philosophy – 5S Workplace Organisation – is put to use at Apeer where the final assembly team have redesigned their workplace to make their overall physical movement more efficient and less wasteful simply by putting tools and materials where they are needed.
Also, of course, in the spirit of Continuous Improvement, the progress made to date is far from the end of the journey and one ongoing element is getting the right people. Chris explained: “We have appointed several key personnel within the production team who are making a good impact on the business.
“We are also recruiting for some new positions so that we have dedicated people to work on continuous improvement and efficiency projects.”
He concluded: “Apeer has changed dramatically in recent years, mainly through the development of innovative product lines such as Lumi as well as its contemporary and traditional door ranges, so it is hugely important that such a company should apply the same principles of innovation to its production practices.”