Fujitsu fights back

Posted on 7 Oct 2010 by The Manufacturer

The metamorphosis of Fujitsu Telecommunications’ into the competitive, flexible company it is today has been driven by unforgiving demands on price, service and the broadening horizons of globalised industry. David Macready, operations planning and logistics manager at Fujitsu’s Solihull plant explains how the challenge has been met.

In 2008 Fujitsu Telecommunications’ Solihull base took a difficult but necessary decision to halt its manufacturing operations for the production of printed circuit boards and transfer them to its sister company in Richardson, Texas. “The move to Richardson had to be made because the peaks and troughs in demand from our customers were too extreme. We couldn’t smooth the supply chain and were incurring prohibitive costs.” The anxiety and disappointment caused by the loss of this business overseas will be something that many UK manufacturers can sympathise with but Macready goes on to explain how, determination and innovation have turned the misfortune on its head.

Firstly, the lean expertise and knowledge of process held by the Birmingham-based staff were soon proved to be in short supply stateside.

“The transfer quickly changed in character from being the movement of manufacturing to their facilities, and the imposition of their ways of working, to a realisation that the changes we had made here were invaluable.

Effectively we lifted our plant, and ways of working, and dropped it into their facility.” Over the course of six months Fujitsu Birmingham managed the transfer, including five manufacturing lines, testing and back-end assembly equipment as well as training. The processes devised in the UK will now influence many of the other operations in the Texas plant.

Turning their attention back home, the Solihull team thought hard to reassess their business and uncover opportunities to maintain their value to the organisation, instead of simply accepting provisions to keep the plant open as a collation, configuration and shipping facility.

“What we spotted was that there were huge elements of the business where we were losing out through subcontracting, so we brought back into this facility a couple of off-site warehouses, and also a cable and rack manufacturing, whilst building on our limited assembly functionality.” Dave Macready explains why the rack manufacturing in particular has allowed the site to leverage new value for Fujitsu. “Historically we had always done this work out at site. It used to take two engineers a couple of weeks to build, wire and test a rack in situ before the equipment there could be operational. Now we build the rack, test it and release it as a plug and play unit in about three working days, dependant upon the rack type. This means that when engineers take the unit to the site, bear in mind engineers time is at a premium, they install it onto a footprint, connect it to the customers facilities and it prevents additional work and dramatically reduces the install time for our customer.” For Fujitsu this means huge savings in time and, since the facility has also developed its own advanced testing equipment and processes, significant increases in first time quality. “Bear in mind these racks can have hundreds of connections in them, all individually hand wired and connected.” Before the Solihull plant took control of the manufacturing, engineers on a customers site would not know whether the rack had any wiring faults until they connected up the unit and would then have to carry out laborious manual tests until the fault was found.

“We have built testing equipment, at this site, that enables us to test the rack for faults during our build process that informs the person building the unit when a connection error occurs. This means problems in manufacturing are corrected using true lean, poke yoke principles from the outset.”

Turning the tables
These savings in time and improvements in quality mean that Fujitsu are now able to offer a prompt and reliable service to customers and in a drive to delight customers even further the Solihull plant now offers flexible supply solutions with the very products they used to manufacture. “We control the supply chain between the UK and the US ordering what to build and when. We then bring across what I call a ‘vanilla unit’ and carry out final configuration and testing. That enables us to put customer specific requirements into the units.” Cutting out the need to batch build customer unique products stage by stage brings the point of customisation far closer to the customer base and makes Fujitsu more agile in responding to their needs. “I now have a base stock that I can use for any customer closer to the point, before we ship it out the door.” This focus on agility, service and customer satisfaction is enabling Fujitsu to stay on competitive terms with its major rival Huawei Telecom. “That is just one of the contributory factors that has encouraged us to reappraise the way we manufacture, where we do it and what else we can offer as part of a portfolio of business solutions and products in order to delight our customers.”

Power to the people
Pursuing this agility however, especially in line with plans to further escalate a growing global telecommunications business has meant up-skilling the existing Fujitsu workforce. In Solihull this has focused on providing NVQ lean training to both frontline workers in manufacturing as well as the office staff. “There used to be about five or six of us who used to look regularly at our processes and try to improve them. That is all well and good but we have reached a stage with our need for continuous change [in response to changing customers and markets] that requires an everyday kaizen approach.

We need our people performing the manufacturing and support work to be able to question whether, why and how they are carrying out that work is right for what the company and aligned to what the company is trying to achieve.

If the answer is ‘no’ they need to be able to make a change and understand the consequences of carrying out any change activities throughout all our integrated processes.” Currently, thirty plus Solihull Fujitsu employees are going through this education in business improvement techniques, with the support of In-Comm business services, so that they have the scope to make continuous changes for the benefit of the organisation. With this training we have turned the traditional pyramid of authority on its head. We have seen that the best people to make change are the people who own the processes and our job as management is to make sure that they can do that.” Summing up Fujitsu Telecommunications’ resilience in challenging times Dave Macready says: “We seek to make ourselves unique through being flexible and adaptive, through changing with the times. We have recognised and embraced the fact that our old principles as a manufacturing site have gone. We are now a test, configuration and development site. We have broadened our focus from being UK centric to being a global player, through strategic partnerships with our main logistics providers DSV Air & Sea Ltd and Expeditors International.

We believe we now understand how best to develop our people in line with our strategic needs that not only benefits the business but also the individuals too. This will enable Fujitsu to be more adaptable and better able to develop our business with our staff more flexible and able to recognise, evoke and contribute to change and develop our business to our mutual benefit and ultimately delight our customers.”