A clear way forward

Posted on 4 Jan 2010 by The Manufacturer

Saint-Gobain Glass UK is a member of one of the world’s foremost flat glass manufacturing groups and produces some of the most innovative products in their field. However it is the transparency in which they engage with the environment and interact with their employees that is simple, yet staggeringly brilliant. Tim Brown talks to operations director Steve Severs and health, safety, hr, environment and quality manager, Paul Frankish.

Saint-Gobain Glass UK officially opened the group’s first float glass manufacturing plant in the UK in April 2000. Near Selby, North Yorkshire, the 650-tonne-per-day process plant is strategically located to manufacture and supply the UK and Ireland. Globally the Flat Glass Division of Saint-Gobain is firmly established and proactive in Europe and South America and is now strengthening its presence in Asia. Its industrial capacity makes it the leading manufacturer of flat glass in Western Europe and a front runner worldwide.

“We are part of Saint-Gobain Glass within the Innovative Materials sector, one of three divisions within the global entity (along with Building Distribution and Construction Products) that constitute the French Saint-Gobain” says Steve Severs. “It is one of the 20 biggest industrial companies in France and one of the biggest 100 in the world in terms of employees and turnover.

Flat Glass accounts for about 22% of Saint Gobain turnover globally.” An important part of the success of Saint-Gobain Glass UK has involved the company’s approach to innovation and continuous improvement (CI). The implementation of a raft of different CI schemes has seen the company successfully navigate the economic downturn and initiate improvements in waste management, resource efficiency, employee attendance and overall productivity.

As a part of the parent company, Saint-Gobain Glass also runs a structured World Class Manufacturing programme sharing best practice techniques and targeted improvement levels across the plants in order to assist one another and drive efficiency. “We are an intensive user of gas and electrical energy,” says Severs. “So our energy consumption has been subject to the global improvement approach along with a drive to increase the use of recycled glass (cullet) such that we have reduced our energy consumption from 2008 levels by 6% to a level 5% lower than our suggested optimum consumption.” “At the site level, everyone at Saint-Gobain Glass UK is involved with continuous improvement initiatives,” says Severs. Neither the inclusion of these programs nor the means by which they encourage participation are revolutionary but they have proved very effective.

The company has engaged heavily with training and empowerment of employees to expand their core role.

This has included the training of eight staff in 6 sigma problem solving methodology, who run problem solving analyses. These ‘Green Belts’ work with a variety of teams made up of members from across the site across including operators through to sector experts and management. “That idea has given quite a wide range of people exposure to what has proven to be a very effective problem solving initiative,” says Severs.

Saint-Gobain Glass UK has also invested in Lean training. To this end, the first 28 employees that completed their training had to find a project with a target of each saving at least £1000.

According to Severs, this program was extremely successful with the average saving garnered so far being well over the benchmark figure. “These are operators that are working predominantly alone and doing their own investigation armed and charged with the Lean knowledge and training.” Paul Frankish says that the company also utilises a more formal Kaizan program which has tackled wider problems such as optimising material flow and movement.

This program involves removing people from their daily role and allocating them to teams to solve a particular problem which, once solved, will be incorporated across the site.

“Once the issue had been successfully amended,” says Frankish, “We make up a flyer and post it throughout our premises to demonstrate how successful the program has been with publicity concentrated upon high achieving areas with notable success.” In addition the company runs an employee suggestion scheme called ‘My Contribution’, which is an IT based scheme so that suggestions can be effectively tracked.

“We made it clear from the outset that it would be ‘My Contribution’ and not ‘My Idea’” says Severs, “because we wanted people to take ownership of their ideas rather than simply making a suggestion. We have provided incentives to encourage interaction with this initiative such as a cash incentive to the contribution that we feel has had the greatest impact.”

The offering of incentives at Saint-Gobain has proven to be very effective in encouraging employees to participate in helping improve the company’s operations. The initiatives range in scale and immediacy from an initiative called ‘Food For Thought’, where employees can obtain a free canteen voucher for making a good suggestion to the ‘Skywalk Competition’ which involves the awarding of an annual overseas holiday. The latter competition requires amongst other things, involvement in ‘My Contribution’ and a perfect attendance record and provides an all expenses paid trip to visit the Grand Canyon. The logic of the prize is that the Skywalk, which is a glass horse shoe that protrudes out 4000ft above the canyon floor, is made from Saint- Gobain Glass. According to Severs, this incentive has had a noticeable and impact on absentee levels across site.

The company’s productivity has clearly been successfully enhanced through a host of incentivised programs focused on efficiency and problem solving. However, it is Saint-Gobain’s approach to the environment that is perhaps most impressive.

Once again the company has achieved great results simply by effectively engaging with its workforce and clients through the simple offering of related incentives and training.

Saint-Gobain Glass UK introduced a waste initiative and has been nationally recognised for effectively educating their staff in the process. “We’ve done a fantastic job year-on-year reducing the total amount of waste going offsite,” says Severs. “Now for every 10 tonnes of waste we reduce we plant a tree.” Impressively, between 2001 and 2009 Saint-Gobain has effected a reduction of waste going to landfill from 5000 tonnes a year to 750 tonnes per year.

“We’ve also introduced a play on words with this initiative introducing a waist initiative to encourage individuals to get healthy and lose weight. To do this we measure the waist, blood pressure and some other vitals of employees and, after six months, the employee that has improved the most receives a cash prize.” To facilitate effective separation of recyclable waste, the company simply introduced colour coded bins. Prior to the collection of the waste, an audit is performed using a digital camera to record any waste cross-contamination. If any is found, the image of the contaminated recyclables is posted around the worksite along with the details of the added cost incurred due to having to add it to general waste.

“It is really simple stuff centring upon involvement and information of staff and ensuring we are providing them with a realistic system to be able to operate,” says Steve. “We entered the Times Top Green Company Award and came in the top 10 at our first attempt, also receiving a special recognition award for the quality of knowledge of the site staff responding to the survey. That surprised us because we just thought we were implementing very basic initiatives. In our opinion though, communication is key to inform why and what we are trying to achieve but you then also need to reinforce it, celebrate success and challenge when mistakes are made.”

The glass company also encourages their clients to recycle cullet and offers to collect material from customers.

The company has introduced a special system to help facilitate the recycling of its own glass products and offers the highest recycling payment rate in the flat glass industry.

“We take the waste back in specially adapted bags that sit on the same transport mechanism that we send the glass out on. So the transport for the waste is effectively free. We also provide a free bagging and frame mechanism to the client’s site and provide the clients with a strong price for the recyclable glass reflecting the gains we make when it requires less energy to re-melt it and promotes environmental benefits with reduced CO2 emissions. That initiative effectively runs itself with very few conformity issues.” Saint-Gobain Glass UK is certainly a role model for other industries looking to improve their productivity as well as their relationship with their employees and the environment. By being just a little imaginative, the company has successfully implemented a wide range of programs which have benefited the company greatly and assisted it to remain competitive during this period of economic hardship. Looking to the future, Saint-Gobain Glass UK will undoubtedly remain focused on improving its operations and, with the backing of its staff, these improvements will inevitably continue.