Flooring the competition

Posted on 7 May 2008 by The Manufacturer

Ben Naylor tells Debbie Giggle how fashion, innovation and continuous improvement work hand-in-hand at Amtico

Like many UK manufacturers, Amtico has competition from low cost economies. But by continuing to develop new products and manufacturing techniques, and by implementing continuous improvement activities at its production facility here in the UK, the company has minimised the impact and captured additional market share.

Founded in 1969, Amtico International is a manufacturer of luxury vinyl flooring. A management buyout in 1996 began a process of capital investment and growth. This has been re-energised by the recent acquisition of the company by ABN AMRO. Consolidating manufacture at a single site in Coventry has enabled Amtico to streamline operations and reduce manufacturing costs. The site in nearby Solihull now houses the sales and marketing functions.

“Competition from countries such as India and China has attacked pricing in our market, but our levels of innovation, and the strength and quality of the Amtico brand have enabled us to continue to grow,” explained supply and logistics manager Ben Naylor. “New product development for us isn’t just about anticipating fashions in interior design. It also involves developing new ways of manufacturing that create unique finished effects and performance.”

Research and development takes place in Coventry where the company has a dedicated NPD team. Innovations have included the launch of Stratica – an eco-polymeric flooring which is chlorine-free – and the development of a new product to meet the specific demands of the marine market.

Amtico Marine’s portfolio of products is one of the first products in its class to fully comply with modules B and D of the Marine Equipment Directive (MED) and to achieve Wheelmark certification issued by Lloyds Register. The company has also extended its range of flooring for workplace environments with the new ColorZone Brights and Stardust products boosting the commercial range to almost 200 designs.

The concentration on new product development, however, is just one part of the company’s strategy. Just over a year ago the company embarked on a continuous improvement programme focused on quality, productivity, waste reduction and shortening of lead times. “Some improvements have been made possible by investment in automation,” Naylor said, “but the real advances have come from individuals taking greater ownership.”

The manufacturing process for the company’s range of flooring tiles is a complex one. “The first stage is a largely continuous process by which granular raw materials are used to create films which are pressed through rollers. The next stage involves bonding layers together by lamination to apply colour and print. The final stage takes the bonded material and cuts it to size.

We manufacture and cut to order, so in addition to focusing on enhancing quality, continuous improvement activities have focused on how we can streamline processes and shorten lead times.”

Since introducing techniques such as root cause analysis, failure mode effect analysis and 5S in the workplace, significant improvements have been made in both lead times and quality. Around 85 per cent of products are now made to order within five days, and on-time delivery for all orders is now nudging 98 per cent. Quality problems have also significantly reduced to a record low level.

Continuous improvement is seen as part of everybody’s role at the company. Shopfloor and managerial personnel have been working towards NVQs to support the implementation of the techniques. Amtico is also working in collaboration with suppliers to achieve its objectives.

In addition to traditional methods of production, Amtico is now involved in other forms of manufacturing and sourcing to extend its product range and market share. Having cornered the market as a supplier of luxury products, Amtico International has recently entered the standard sector of the market – this manufacturing is overseen by Amtico in the Far East.

Amtico has also achieved recognition from other external bodies. It runs regular ‘floorlaying schools’ for customers and contractors, and RIBA recently approved a continuous professional development module created by Amtico for training architects on the specification, installation and maintenance of laminated vinyl flooring. In last year’s Flooring Industry Awards, Amtico also scooped the ‘Best Vinyl Tile Product’ title.

For 2008, the focus is on staying ahead of fashions, and the competition.