Comfort improved

Posted on 7 Apr 2009 by The Manufacturer

Quality and continuous improvement go hand-in-hand at Rest Assured, as Ruari McCallion learned

If you want a good night’s sleep, you need a good quality bed. The Rest Assured brand has, over the past few years, gained a reputation for well-made, high quality mattresses and divans and has also, along the way, established industry-leading business processes. Not that it’s inclined to put its feet up or declare ‘job done’.

“Continuous improvement has become a habit,” says Dean Jackson, logistics manager. “It feels awkward if we’re not improving or working on improvement.” Rest Assured was, until the turn of the century, known as a reliable brand in the volume market. The trigger for change came when it became part of the Silentnight Group.

“We then took on the mission to become the preferred supplier to the pocket spring market,” says Jackson. “Previously, we solely made traditional, open-coil product. Pocket spring mattresses are by nature, more complex and are aimed at more discerning customers. Traditional products are relatively simple; pocket springing has a lot of differences – it’s essentially a bespoke product, it’s definitely not mass production.”

Over the past eight years, the company has launched some significant projects and facilitated lots of smaller ones – leading to the habit of continuous improvement. It used to be a batch manufacturer: now, it operates a ‘pull’ system into its loading area. It used to build inventory as a safety net and had a large finished goods warehouse; this has now gone and the loading area fills and empties every two hours onto the delivery vehicles, which travel both to retail customers and direct to consumers’ homes. It thinks lean, and is continually challenging itself to be better. It operates on the ethos of quality and service, safely. It sells into a market that is probably better placed to weather the economic downturn: pocket-sprung mattresses and divans, typically retailing at higher price points.

Change begins
The change really got underway with the beginning of a progressive move over to cellular manufacturing in 2001. The cellular concept requires more multi-skilling: training in order to deploy resources most effectively. Thought also had to be given to employees’ remuneration.

“We previously used PBR – payment by results,” says Steve Petrovic, site director. “When we went to cells, we paid our people in teams.” The implication is that the teams are then reliant on others in order to achieve their targets so the organisation of the process has to change, too. “We introduced kanbans. We also introduced colour co-ordinated work lists and coloured feed trolleys into the cells. It’s visual management – you can see immediately if something is out of place.” The company also introduced measures to ensure the teams were getting what they needed, on time and in full. Cellular manufacturing also threw into sharp relief the need to make some fundamental changes upstream, in its spring production and the wood mill.

In late 2002, the company introduced what it describes as “textbook” sales and operations planning (S&OP) and now has an operations development manager, Graeme Collin.

“We get sales forecasts and convert them into data that we load onto the business,” says Jackson. Naturally, it wasn’t a simple case of inputting numbers onto a spreadsheet. The planned approach that has become characteristic of Rest Assured was progressing steadily. “Over a rolling 18 months, we identified where the pinch points where, where there would be capacity shortfalls and excesses, where we needed training and where we would need machines.” The implementation of S&OP forged better communications with the sales force. “That was something of a turning point. Everyone was starting to think lean and we began to look at the operation at a departmental level. We were able to reduce work-in-progress in woodworking by introducing self-managed kanbans.”

Pressures of success
New products and improved quality and service were leading to more orders and sales and that, in turn, was leading to more pressure for increased output, so the need for investment in machinery was rising. In order to ensure that plant would be able to work to its optimum capacity, Rest Assured introduced shadow boards and began to drive towards TPM.

“In 2003, we introduced kanbans to the spring department,” says Petrovic. “We used to make springs to order and found that, at any one time, we had 800 finished spring units – beds – across 140 SKUs. The demand from the factory was actually greater than the spring production’s capacity. So we were working weekends in order to stock up ahead. We introduced the kanbans and put raw springs in cages, which the operators pull from as required.” It may seem strange to go away from buildto- order; but kanban has turned out to be much more effective at balancing production. “We now don’t make a spring unit until the mattress department needs it. By doing this, we cut work-in-progress and the number of SKUs by 80%.”

The following year – 2004 – Rest Assured introduced its direct-to-home delivery service and has continued to advance and improve it. The aim now, for certain products and for some retailers, is to be able to deliver in 48 hours. Apart from being a good thing to offer anyway, the service has other benefits, too.

“It reduces the possibilities of something going wrong, of damage and even of customers changing their minds,” he says. Quite a few consumers in the pocket-spring market want particular features which have to be built to order and the delivery norm remains 14 to 21 days. But it is another arrow in Rest Assured’s quiver.

Stepping forward with ERP
A new ERP system was introduced in 2006. Various commentators and consultants have observed that getting into ERP without properly structuring the business process is like trying to jump onto an express train as it’s going by at 100mph. It’s possible but the risks tend to outweigh possible benefits. Being prepared is much the better route to follow – and Rest Assured had been improving for several years. Not that ERP itself was simply automated icing on the cake; it showed there was still work to do.

“One of the benefits was that it made us review all our procedures,” explains Petrovic. “It’s a downstream reaction to upstream processes. We had the factory planned on four batches a day but it didn’t give us the best benefit. We changed to two-hour slots.” It is getting towards single unit flow.

One of the areas that has shown marked improvement is the warehouse.

“We have a small warehouse relative to the size of our business,” says Jackson. “Product now comes off the line and pretty much straight out onto the lorry.” The warehouse isn’t a warehouse at all any more – it has become a crossdock. It has significantly reduced dwell time and had a major impact on distribution costs.

Sight, sound and control
“The warehouse has been key in reducing costs, improving service and in selling the change to our own people,” says Paul Otway, production manager. “The bottleneck was the warehouse. We are now able to control it and the production going to it.” Movable storage equipment, introduced in 2006, has saved space and halved labour costs over three years.

The level of information the company now has at its disposal enables it to drill further down in seeking out improvements. It is seeking to reduce fuel consumption in its delivery vans, each of which have vehicle-tracking devices on board, through more effective route planning.

“We are getting into the fine detail in our quest to make savings, ” says Jackson. There have been some major steps forward but Rest Assured is characterised by continuous improvement, where no detail is too small to be tackled. Current projects include: introduction of a more formal quality management system; improving OEE in the spring department by further development of TPM and waste being reduced through value engineering. Costs will be saved in other areas by installing an energy management system and more efficient generation of compressed air.

“We encountered some issues with the home delivery service but good robust processes carried and helped us through,” says Petrovic. “The same applied with ERP. Everyone in our business has a focus on our core ethos: quality and service, safely. Our KPIs are all moving in the right direction. Our phones in the customer services department aren’t ringing off the hook, which is an indication that we’re getting it right.” All areas of the business have contributed to the progress made to date.

“None of these changes would have been possible, had we not had a flexible and committed workforce, who we endeavour to keep informed of what’s going on,” says Petrovic. “They’ve stuck with us and we have a better working environment than a few years ago. We’ve set ourselves up to meet difficult challenges that are ahead and we have definitely got our workforce behind us.”

Rest Assured is not falling asleep, having achieved so much. That is not the company it has become. It’s good; but it’s committed to getting better.