Accelerated Route to Lean Manufacturing helps double production capacity for safety specialists

When Chris March-Jones enrolled on the Manufacturing Institute’s Accelerated Route to Lean (ARTL) programme, he never imagined the return on investment would be quite so immediate or pronounced.  

Within just a few weeks of starting the course, the Lean strategy he implemented at work had more than doubled production capacity in one manufacturing cell and cut customer lead times from five weeks to two.

“We could see there were inefficiencies and we knew there was a better way to do things, but we never anticipated making such significant improvements in such a short space of time,” says Chris.

Understanding Lean

Chris, a Chartered Mechanical Engineer by trade, has been involved in manufacturing for most of his working life. He joined Hughes Safety Showers in 2016 and became the EMEA Head of Continuous Improvement at the parent company, Justrite Safety Group, in early 2019. 

He’d experimented in Lean techniques throughout his career, attending a few training courses and picking up knowledge as he went along. He chose the Manufacturing Institute’s ARTL course as a way of consolidating his existing, ad hoc understanding into a more comprehensive framework, combined with a formal Lean qualification.

“I knew there were opportunities to introduce Lean concepts at Hughes and that the potential was there. What I didn’t understand was how to pull together all the disparate Lean ideas I’d experienced over the years into a coherent process,” says Chris.

Hughes Safety Showers supplies customers in the chemical, oil, gas and food sectors. Its products include emergency safety shower, eye/face wash and decontamination equipment, helping to save lives with products installed in sites globally.

Learning by doing

Throughout the ARTL course, Chris found himself learning Lean techniques that he was able to apply in the workplace immediately. He believes much of the value of the course lies in the practical, hands-on focus of tutors who understand the challenges manufacturers face.

“That’s one of the great strengths of learning with the Manufacturing Institute. The people providing the training are not just consultants. They’ve been there themselves.  They know how to adapt techniques to suit different environments. It’s great having that kind of insight from people that have bought the T-shirt and worn it,” says Chris.

Course participants are encouraged to put their learning into practice by implementing a Lean improvement programme in their workplace. For Chris, the impact was almost immediate.

Putting theory into practice

Chris and a senior colleague identified that there was potential to improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process for their EXP heated shower. And if they could reduce lead times, they could increase sales. 

“After applying Lean techniques to analyse every step of the manufacturing process, we could see there was a lot of waste, a lot of travel outside the manufacturing cell, and considerable re-work due to inadequate tooling,” says Chris. “In short, there were a lot of non-value-added activities”.

From the analyses and subsequent discussions, Chris and the team developed action plans, assigned actions to individuals, and used that as their ‘Kaizen newspaper’ – a working document to manage Kaizen activity visually. 

“When we’d completed an action, we’d ask ourselves, has it made the improvement that we thought it would make? If not, why not, and what do we need to do differently?” says Chris.

Some of the measures adopted included totally changing the workflow through the cell, revising the working area layout, replacing generic fixtures and fittings with tailor-made racking and investing in new equipment.

“The knowledge I gained on the ARTL programme with the Manufacturing Institute really helped me to break down the problem, and approach it in a very data-driven manner. We ended up with a U-shaped process flow, where you start on the left-hand side and add value at each stage until it completes at the finishing benches and goes into the packing area. It was more like a spider diagram before,” he says.

Tangible business benefits

The results of Chris’ efforts have been startling. 

“The unit price is slightly cheaper because the cycle time is reduced,” he says, “so we can produce more product in the same time and with the same labour. The other way of looking at it is that we’ve doubled capacity in the cell, from around 500 units a year to around 1,100 units, simply because we’ve reduced the cycle time from 214 to 95 minutes.”

Chris says that the whole process, which he started halfway through the ARTL course, has taken around four months. And the course itself has radically strengthened his understanding and competency in Lean techniques. Without, he says, the road to improvement would have been much longer and more difficult, with no guarantee of success at the end.

“The ARTL course gave me a pathway to use Lean. Lean is not a textbook – you can’t just implement an off-the-shelf technique and hope for success. It’s more like a toolbox. You pull out the tools to complete the task at hand. You might not need to use all the tools all the time, but you need to know what each tool is for, and how to use it most effectively,” he says. 

Thanks to his success on the programme, Chris is in line to be awarded a ‘Lean Fellowship’ by the Manufacturing Institute – the highest level of award available. He’s not easing off just yet, though, and already has his sights set on the next Lean project.

“We’ve already started another project that I’m doing all the background work for at the moment, and we’ll shortly be doing a Kaizen session with the team. As well as that, I’ve been over to our site in Romania, carried out something very similar but on a larger scale, and also at our sites in Italy and the Netherlands. So, we’re seeing real benefits right across the business,” says Chris.