Excellence in execution

Posted on 8 Dec 2010 by The Manufacturer

TM hears how Mars Drinks is continually adapting its manufacturing operations in order to maximise its productivity and performance in an ever more demanding business landscape.

David Scott, drinks and manufacturing director, talks about how his team has embraced the company’s challenge of continuous improvement.

“Manufacturing is at the core of the Mars Drinks business” he explains. “We’ve had a factory presence in Basingstoke since the 1970s, so we have a real wealth of manufacturing experience. The people here are dedicated to delivering solutions across all aspects of our operations, and we’re really proud of some of the innovative ways we’ve been able to adapt our manufacturing approaches to meet business challenges.” In the current economic and social climate, these challenges are manifold.

The entire Mars Drinks team has been working towards maintaining and developing the quality for which Mars is known worldwide while continuing to operate sustainably – and doing all this against an economic background that demands cost efficiencies. The manufacturing team in particular has played a key role in meeting all these challenges.

Cost efficiencies
As smaller businesses close and working hours are reduced to help companies meet financial constraints, the demand for office drinks in the UK has declined, creating pressure on sales income. The increasing cost of coffee and polystyrene – core manufacturing ingredients for Mars Drinks – has simultaneously created manufacturing cost pressures. To combat the effects of this financial squeeze, the manufacturing team was tasked with driving big improvements in manufacturing unit conversion costs (MCCs).

“A key Mars Drinks business ethic is ‘no department is a silo’,” says Scott. With that in mind the manufacturing team approached the finance department to help them. “Inviting a finance representative to work full-time on the manufacturing shop floor and ensuring that all manufacturing managers received financial training has helped all of us to understand where we can realistically make cost savings, and the part we can each play to achieve them.” “Each member of the team shares in the planning of any new initiative, which guarantees a high level of engagement,” explains Scott. “You have to take people with you on the journey. By being more open and engaged, the team is more motivated and the business gets a better solution: everyone wins.”

Examples of manufacturing initiatives include working with employees to create more flexible working patterns to better match factory capacity with demand; driving down material waste by chasing down any overspend in this area; maximising waste stream recovery for every waste classification; and finding creative ways to reduce operational engineering spend.

With these and other initiatives, the team has already reduced MCCs by 15%.

Sustainable business
‘Excellence in execution’ is a foundation principle embedded in the manufacturing process at Mars Drinks.

The manufacturing team is continuously balancing quality, cost and delivery (QCD) with safety, engagement and sustainability (SES). The initials QCD and SES are displayed all around the factory as a reminder of their importance.

“Sustainable business practices are an essential part of providing value to customers,” says Scott. “Even in times of recession, it is still possible to be successful by keeping costs low and quality high – and maintaining a spotless environmental pedigree is a core part of this.” Reflecting this commitment to sustainability, Mars Drinks has recently reduced the amount of production waste sent to landfill by its drinks factories in Basingstoke from 600 tons per year to zero.

Over the last three years the factories, which manufacture KLIX drinks vending machines as well as KLIX and FLAVIA drinks products, have been reviewing each stage of their manufacturing process to find ways to reduce waste.

Mars Drinks looked at each step of its manufacturing process to find ways of either reusing or recycling materials – from the refurbishment of the machines to baling its cardboard for re-sale.

The company also uses the Waste To Energy (WTE) process, generating electricity from incinerating waste and sending it back into the national grid for future use. Through WTE Mars Drinks saves enough electricity every year to power at least 30 homes.

A question of quality
Quality is one of the Mars Drinks Five Principles: a defining characteristic of the company and everything it does.

Quality was, and still is, the foundation of Mars Drinks’ success. “Our goal,” says Scott, “is quality in everything we set out to achieve: the products we make, the services we provide and the people who make up the Mars Drinks team.” As part of the company’s drive towards achieving better quality, the Mars Drinks quality management system is audited against ISO2001, while its Environmental Management System Certificate is audited against ISO 14001. However, the company has also set its own internal standards that are far more demanding than either the legal or ISO requirements.

To help the company achieve these standards, the manufacturing management team looked at the core areas that affect the standards, allocating tasks and responsibilities through discussions within the team. To help focus and motivate team members, the management team created a mindmap that shows how each individual’s focus helps to meet the team’s goals.

“A good example of this is downtime,” explains Scott.

“For the last three years, the manufacturing team has been focusing on reducing technical downtime. If a problem is encountered, such as raw materials not being delivered on time or not being of the correct quality, an abnormality report is raised for that shift to investigate.” The Mars Drinks approach is to conduct Five Why analysis – asking questions to identify the route cause in order to remove the problem and ensure that it does not occur again.

A dedicated space – the so-called ‘PRIMP’ room – provides a focus area for these investigations. It is a type of incident room, with magnetic sheets lining the walls, enabling action lists and planning documents to be displayed.

“Since adopting this approach,” says Scott, “we’ve seen a considerable reduction in technical downtime, which is particularly important in an environment that operates twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.”

Continuous improvement
Twelve years ago, Mars Drinks invested in a large amount of new equipment, marking considerable expansion of its FLAVIA brand. Since then, the factory has been on a journey to standardise its processes and equipment – the start of its continuous improvement programme.

“The team had been achieving 85% overall equipment effectiveness,” explains Scott, “but we felt that we could improve on this.” Scott and his team identified staff attitudes as key to implementing a successful continuous improvement programme. So, over the last year, a team of five staff – the continuous improvement team – has focused on changing the perception of how people view continuous improvement, aiming to achieve a 100% effectiveness rate.

The team runs continuous improvement events for everyone linked to the manufacturing process. These involve taking a list of activities and encouraging fresh ideas for tackling challenges in these areas. Whoever has an idea sees it through with the support of a ‘champion’ from the continuous improvement team.

“We’ve seen huge improvements in all aspects of our manufacturing processes over the last twenty-five years,” concludes Scott. “I believe we are unique in the way we approach the motivation and engagement of our people.

Everyone actually sees the role they are playing in terms of helping the company achieve its goals – that’s good news for individuals and the company.” “Mars Drinks has an outstanding track record in manufacturing, but we’re not content with that. We keep having new ideas for ways to improve and there are plenty of people keen to play their part.” Mars Drinks will certainly continue to generate new ideas and innovative practices, and with manufacturing core to the business, it is sure to be playing a leading role in the company’s continuing success.

For further information on Mars Drinks, please visit their website at www.marsdrinks.co.uk