Apollo’s day in the sun

Posted on 8 Sep 2009 by The Manufacturer

‘Best of breed’ performance remains limited to a select group of British manufacturers. Edward Machin explores the parts, people and processes ethos with Apollo Fire Detectors’ manufacturing director Barry Roach, which has seen the company positioned on the verge of “World Class entry.”

Apollo Fire Detectors is the world’s largest independent smoke detector manufacturer, and a global leader in the design, manufacture, and sale of commercial grade fire detectors and associated products, including analogue addressable and audio visual signaling devices; interfaces for intelligent systems; manual call points; loop calculators; and mounting accessories.

A subsidiary of the Halma Group, Apollo, established in Havant, Hampshire in 1980, has undergone considerable refinement in its operations since the appointment of managing director Danny Burns in 2006. Burns immediately set about recruiting a senior management team of similarly-minded personnel – including Manufacturing Director Barry Roach, who joined the company in December 2008 – charged with guiding Apollo into the realm of elite manufacturers.

Promptly making good on such an ambition, in January Apollo Fire Detectors was granted the Royal Warrant by Her Majesty The Queen in recognition of its official supplier status to the British Royal Household. Moreover, the company has won a raft of prestigious contracts, including fire protection installations in: Westminster Cathedral; the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; Manchester Piccadilly Station; IKEA Belfast; a ₤43m commercial development for Ove Arup in London containing 600 Apollo devices; and a bespoke fire detection system for Dinorwig Power Station, a subterranean industrial complex situated near Snowdonia National Park.

The 3 P’s – Parts, People, and Processes
Central to enabling world class entry for Apollo is the company-wide philosophy espoused by Barry Roach of ‘Parts, People, and Processes’. “I am adamant that where many manufacturers go wrong is that they concentrate largely on the processes within their own factory, and, to a lesser extent, the people,” says the dynamic Roach. “However, and while it is a greatly exciting time for everyone at Apollo in that we are fast approaching the practices associated with world-class manufacturing, we are, and will only ever be, as good as our vendors.”

To guarantee such consistency, Roach systematically undertakes visits to each of the links in Apollo’s supply chains, ensuring that vendors follow the culture, principles, and processes which he advocates. “All too often, senior management can be naïve in thinking that success in manufacturing is dependant on their on-site operations alone. The nature of our products, however, means that it is not uncommon to acquire mouldings from five separate companies, who in turn source their raw materials from a further five vendors.” Given the length of the supply chain: “It is imperative that each and every link along it must be world-class, starting with ourselves, and cascading down through each vendor, including, ultimately, those who produce the raw materials.”

While the company’s external operations are being revolutionised through meticulous Quality, of equal importance to the company’s success is the blossoming of Roach’s ‘internal culture of Quality’. Accordingly, and as the second facet of his ‘Parts, People, and Processes’ philosophy, staff development is very important, and successful, at Apollo. The company offers multiple training and development initiatives, with its 250 floor workers encouraged to undertake specialised NVQs, AVQs, and career advancement programmes, thereby raising the technical skills vital to a thriving factory while simultaneously ensuring that staff are included in the company’s aspirational journey.

Similarly, Apollo holds weekly KPI meetings, with both shopfloor and management staff being kept regularly updated as to the company’s successes, efficiency drives, product advances, and areas specifically targeted for development. Production Manager Martyn Dolphin says: “We need to be the best at what we do, and, crucially, be recognised as the best. The training and development of our employees is the key to underpinning the core Apollo principle that our people are our difference.” Indeed, such forums, says Roach: “Provide a platform for continued and inclusive company-wide improvement, and serve to further cement the organic culture that has ultimately made Apollo one of the foremost players in our industry.”

“For example, since joining Apollo Fire Detectors, I consciously use words like culture, crusade, world-class, pride, and best of breed to my staff on a daily basis, especially to those supervisors on the junior tiers of management” says Roach, a sentiment echoed by Paul Fisher, Product and Test Engineering Manager: “Everybody now uses the word “World Class” in their day-to-day vocabulary. It’s not just a wish, but a real aim and desire that our staff truly believe is achievable – one which we are on the threshold of achieving.”

Continues Roach: “By continuously reiterating the pride I, and our staff, feel in the organisation and where it is going, employees at every level – from our cleaning and catering staff to the Board of Directors and entire management team – become enthused with a desire to become part of the team that will ultimately see Apollo positioned as the world-leading manufacturer within our industry.”

Developing research
Given that lean practices represent one of the prevailing trends in contemporary manufacturing, and coupled with Apollo’s commitment to continual innovation, the company is on “a crusade towards ever leaner operations.” Both lean and six sigma – defined as the reduction in variation – remain central to the company’s effective factory processes, with each quadrant of the floor subject to specific lean initiatives from the Apollo’s recent Lean Crusade. The firm’s lean journey began with a comprehensive 5S programme, aimed at improving workplace organisation and standardisation. This was followed by value stream mapping initiatives and targeted kaizen projects aimed at improving manufacturing efficiencies and quality. Says Aaron Kentish, Production Engineering Manager: “5S is the pre-requisite for any lean initiative aiding the identification and elimination of waste. Far more than simply a routine tidy-up, it represents the foundation for cultural change”.

Nonetheless, and in line with Roach’s vision for Apollo Fire Detectors as a whole: “While we are currently operating at industry-leading standards across our plants, we will never stop striving for that world-class level of quality.” Indeed, the search for optimum lean processes is, insists Roach: “Never-ending. And coupled with the mathematics of engineering, which are quite obviously central to our business, I see lean as a cultural phenomenon within the company, being driven by the Board of Directors right down to the staff on the shop floor.”

Undeniably, while Apollo has a pioneering, robust suite of products, including the Discovery, XP 95, Xpander, Series 65, and Orbis ranges of fire detection systems: “It remains vitally important that, for all our firm-wide cultural initiatives, we must simultaneously have a strong product development department who are constantly innovating, designing, and testing new products across our entire remit.” As part of its ongoing commitment to R&D, the firm holds long-established links with Portsmouth and Southampton universities, collaborating with both on cutting-edge scientific research, design, and knowledge-sharing programmes. Furthermore, the company is currently pursuing a relationship with Cambridge University, an undisputed global leader in the fields of scientific innovation, research, and scholarship, a collaboration that simply serves to reinforce Apollo’s commitment to establishing a culture of world class performance, whether it be with parts, people or processes.

Barry Roach, unsurprisingly, is excited as to what the future holds for Apollo Fire Detectors. “While we are altogether confident of the health of our business and its long term strategic vision, given the global economy’s profound contraction, a degree of prudence must be exercised with regard to those advances which will enable us as a company to join the global pioneers,” he says. “That being said, we have, and always will, continue to pursue investments in those areas which will facilitate our aspirations, because when the upturn does come, as it inevitably will, it is crucial that we are positioned strongly.” The firm’s most recent investment is in the purchase and installation of Microsoft’s AX ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) programme, a comprehensive business management system which will go live on 28 August 2009, at a total spend of ₤1.6m.

Far from battening down the hatches, therefore, under the progressive leadership of Roach and Burns – together with Chairman Nigel Trodd, Business Operations Director Chris Elkins, Finance Director Tim Preston, Marketing Director Richard Bramham, Sales Director Gary Craig, and Head of Technical Services Jeff Cutler – Apollo Fire Detectors is positioned perfectly for “World Class entry in early 2010”. “Ultimately, our vendors, staff, and customers have come to expect a level of absolute service which sets us apart from the chasing pack. Yes, we thrive on producing a wide range of innovative, award-winning products, but in world class manufacturing that is almost a given,” says Roach.

“What remains unique about Apollo Fire Detectors is our single-minded dedication to success through the use of our ‘Parts, People, and Processes’ model, meaning that whilst we will undoubtedly achieve world class entry, we will do so with a workforce, supply chain, and collaborators who can say that without their involvement, we would not be where we are today. And that, we believe, represents an infinitely more satisfying facet of the company’s long-term strategy than success alone.”