Core strength

Posted on 6 May 2010 by The Manufacturer

UYT continues to build upon its core manufacturing principles in order to achieve class leading performance. Whilst the economic downturn has had a dramatic effect on the organisation, Tim Brown finds out from Head of Operations, Graham Staley, how UYT has endeavoured to ensure that they emerge from the recession in a position of strength

As Body-in-White (BIW) manufacturer, UYT produces car body sheet metal (including doors, hoods, and deck lids) which has been assembled or designed prior to the addition of other components (chassis, motor) and trim (windshields, seats, upholstery, electronics). Operating from a 24,000m2 facility in Coventry supplying directly to Honda, and through a Toyota first tier supplier, a range of components that includes safety critical underbody structures. UYT has experienced explosive growth since its inception in 1996, both turnover and workforce swelling from £5m with 50 associates in 1998 to £70 million and 516 permanent employees, 10 years later.

A joint venture between the two founding companies – the highly respected Unipart group and an equally formidable Japanese manufacturing company, Yachiyo – provided the origin for the UYT company name.

With subsequent changes in shareholding, UYT is now the UK subsidiary of a manufacturing group, represented by 32 plants on 3 continents. Considering purely the BIW segment of the business, the main shareholder of the company is now H-One. The global giant had turnover in 2009, although down by 25% on the previous financial period, of £1.26bn, 61% of which was generated outside Japan.

The H-One customer base includes Honda, Nissan, General Motors, Mazda, Isuzu, Daihatsu, Renault and Ford.

The UK facility has been subject to significant investment in both weld and assembly areas with three extensions to the original plant providing press capability from 200 tonne to 1800 tonne. This has included a 600 tonne four stage tandem and 600 tonne blanking line. Weld and press processes manufacture a range of materials from 270 to 780 high tensile steels, including laser welded blanks.

Like many manufacturing organisations, UYT has been severely affected by the global downturn, with turnover falling by more than 50% from 2008 levels. Recognising both the widespread effects to the economy and specifically the impact to UYT, associates have been engaged in revolutionising the companies approach to manufacturing product.

In its drive to improve equipment utilisation, the press department has introduced a cartridge concept which allows the production of smaller parts than the constraints of the machine would normally allow. Already a fully automated process, the cartridges which provide registration for the smaller blanks are automatically ejected by the robot, the innovation has allowed for greater ‘in sourcing’ and was deemed sufficiently technical as to warrant merit at Honda’s annual Engineering Festival. Cost savings have also been achieved through the introduction of standardised tips and parameter settings on thin gauge materials, yielding electricity savings in the order of 10%.

Most significantly, UYT has been able to reduce supply chain costs in excess of £600,000 per year, to its principal customer, through the elimination of their intermediate warehouse. Whilst the principles of lean have always been practiced within UYT, with an internal ‘kan-ban’ system used to control production including: inventory turns of 23 between press and weld; highly concentrated supply base allowing for minimum incoming stock holdings; and storage space limited to half a day for finished production units. The move to sequence build requires the direct delivery of all 148 parts supplied to the Swindon customer.

To guarantee the process, a high level of stable efficiency is required from the press hall and 37 final production weld cells. This has been in addition to the creation of a technically skilled, flexible and responsive workforce which is able to react in the unlikely event of a significant stoppage.

Development of the IT systems infrastructure was also key to achieving sequence delivery. Department Manager, Chris Foster, tasked his team with the ambitious project of developing an internal production delivery system, further underpinning the JIT philosophy. The outcome, which builds on the existing IFS ERP software, was not only a highly integrated solution, but was far in advance of anything currently available within the market. Also thinking holistically has provided functionality far beyond that of the initial scope.

The implementation of cell based thin clients, not only provides the cell leader with accurate stock data and visibility of re-order points, but can be expanded to provide data input for cell performance; confirm production associate attendance and holiday planning; as well as a host of other features.

UYT also worked closely with Codeway to track and trace materials and control every process: from registering goods in, to parts manufacture, finishing, storage, and shipment.

Highly intuitive handheld scanners are used to read barcodes on Kanbans, materials, products, and stillages. The scanners are wirelessly enabled synchronise data with the ERP system and automatically feed records into UYT’s business intelligence applications. Decision-making about stock requirements and production is much more efficient, enabling UYT to hold less inventory. The priceless business benefit lies in the fact that UYT, which supply JIT to Honda’s production line, has never missed a Honda schedule.

People are seen as key to UYT’s long-term success, and one highly influential group are the first line managers, referred to as cell or team leaders, depending on discipline.

Without their ongoing commitment, support and growth “we are unlikely to realise our ambitions”. Working with the SMMT’s Industry Forum, carefully selected from a host of available training bodies because of their ‘hands on’ approach which is considered to be key to sustained improvement, 22 associates from within the organisation have embarked on an NVQ in business improvement techniques – a significant proportion of whom are now cell leaders. The 12 months of training commenced during the enforced four month shutdown at the beginning of 2009. Performance has been carefully monitored throughout the three projects focusing on Q, C and D, with presentations by the five teams to senior management. All business improvement teams will showcase their activity at the company’s annual Quality Circle Convention, with the prospect of the winning circle travelling to Japan to compete in a global convention.

Changes within the organisation have also required that the company revisit many of its core manufacturing principles, establishing a manufacturing focused 5S regime which requires the participation of all associates regardless of department or grade.

At the equipment level, with the increasing pressure on vehicle manufacturers to achieve high body accuracy, UYT has invested in an Optigo non contact measurement system. With UYT’s purchase taking the total number of units sold in the UK to three, two of which are applied commercially and one owned by Warwick University, this white light scanning system is at the forefront of measurement technology.

The system was selected following a thorough evaluation of available scanning technologies. The Optigo demonstrated high levels of accuracy whilst also being the quickest, with a good level of technical support, provided by Hexagon Metrology.

The Future
A significant challenge is to improve organisational resilience; volumes from the existing customer base are unlikely to recover to 2008 levels until 2014.

This has prompted UYT to commence preparations for its next evolutionary phase, approaching new customers, which it does with the support of its shareholders. “It is important to acknowledge that recent events are only likely to occur every one hundred years, and we should not therefore overreact,” says Staley. “We recognize that our core competence lies within the manufacture of high value added, safety critical components and whilst diversification out of the automotive sector is one solution to resilience, UYT feels that it must first capitalize on the benefits of being part of a global manufacturing company.

“With sister plants in China; India; and Thailand; mother in Japan; there is an opportunity to supply components on a global scale and having established unified standards across all plants for press tools and weld processes, should be able to achieve consistent global quality and process costs.” One barrier to a broader automotive customer base has been the absence of accreditation to TS16949. Again, working with Industry Forum, UYT has developed an implementation plan which comes to fruition in July 2010.

In the pursuit of improved productivity and consistent with nomination to supply Jazz to Honda from January of 2011, UYT Engineering has worked with Japan to develop their ‘innovation’ line. The ‘blue print’ will serve as the first manufacturing global standard process, for the group.

Rigorous planning combined with benchmark evaluations against plants in North America, Japan and the UK, have resulted in a concept which will return a 10% increase in efficiency and 32% improvement in productivity.

UYT continues to grow its technical support functions, an aspect often overlooked by companies, resulting in significant quality and efficiency losses in the long term through failure to innovate. Broadening ‘engineering’ capability is pivotal to developing self sufficiency, recognised as crucially important to building a sustainable manufacturing operation.