Chris Horton, vice president operations at Linpak Packaging is due to speak at the Manufacturer Directors Conference on November 9. Ahead of his presentation at there, which will give insight into the workings of the Linpak Operating System, Chris shares his thoughts on the outlook for manufacturing in the UK and the key messages he hope to impart to MDC delegates.
TM: Have external factors in 2011 brought any particular challenges to your company and how have you tried to handle these challenges?
CH: Certainly 2011 has been a challenging year with volatile demand in certain of our product families. However, the key challenge in our industry, as anticipated, is the trend toward more sustainable solutions, for example the use of lighter weight trays and films and the use of recycled raw material streams. This has resulted in requirements for higher investment in our processes in tough market conditions, which is always difficult, but more excitingly an increasing drive to develop new innovative products which meet these growing market needs and trends.
TM: Your continuous improvement programme has been progressing for some years now – what are the major achievements so far?
CH: Our strategy continues to be that we deliver the fundamentals in terms of our product quality standards and service performance. Our focus, in the difficult economic conditions of 2011 and 2012, is very much about cost, balanced with being first to market with fresh thinking, innovative product solutions.
TM: In change management and lean improvement circles there are often dabtes over the relative importance of top down and bottom up approaches – how have you tried to strike a balance and what is the logic behind your approach?
CH: Initially our programme was very top down where major changes were required and extra cost and timing control is required. Today, we still use this approach where it is appropriate, while of course involving the teams in the tactics of the solution. We’ve found our balance comes from making sure that the daily and weekly continuous improvements are carried out from the people at the front line who really understand the local issues and can take ownership of managing the process; whilst leaving major restructuring changes to the top down methodology.
TM: Linpac has met pitfalls and challenges on its improvement journey – what is the key to getting back on track when the programme stumbles?
CH: We’ve found that having committed, trained and proactive teams who understand when the improvements are starting to slow and who take fast action to understand why, is at the core of good continuous improvement programmes. We expect our teams to take ownership of their projects and take decisive action to reinvigorate a programme when needed. They are then recognised for doing so within their sites.
TM: What do you hope to give and gain through participating in MDC 2011?
CH: Personally I am looking to understand how we can improve our programme and benchmark it against other companies striving for excellence. Linpac Packaging prides itself of fresh thinking approaches and our commitment to this event reflects our desire to learn and grow as an organisation. In terms of giving to the event LINPAC has come a long way on its improvement journey and I’m sure our experience will be of use to others in the debates.
TM: What are your hopes and targets for 2012?
CH: As I’m sure you’ve seen from other attendees, we hope for a general market recovery and improvement in 2012 resulting in increased volumes through our lines. This will provide us with the ability to focus more on moving forward with new value added products, while maintaining our approach to getting the basics right, every time.