Measured response

Posted on 9 Mar 2009 by The Manufacturer

Bespak’s operations director, Modestino Graziano, introduces Robert Pols to a highly automated site where people really count

When, in 2009, Consort Medical celebrates its 50th birthday, it will be able to look back with pride on a half-century of change that has improved countless lives. It’s a half-century that has given countless patients the opportunity to manage rather than merely endure their condition, and the company has played a very significant role in that revolution.

Consort Medical is the new name of Bespak, which last year saw significant reorganisation. The Bespak Division of Consort Medical was created and the manufacturing at Milton Keynes terminated and a concentration of production at the extensive King’s Lynn facility, where device manufacturing services and the proprietary business of – in particular – valves now operate side by side.

“It’s a simpler organisation that will benefit us as we move forward,” commented Bespak operations director Modestino Graziano. “But the strategy remains unchanged. We have an incredibly good track record, and we aim to continue doing the things we do well, and to ensure that we’re providing the right solutions to remain competitive.”

The Bespak Division of Consort Medical develops and manufactures metered dose inhaler valves, actuators, medical check valves and dry powder inhalation devices. In addition, it provides pharmaceutical and healthcare companies with a range of services including product development and contract manufacturing. It is, indeed, a competitive business. Though Bespak is one of only a handful of principal players in the world’s metered dose inhaler (MDI) valve business, there is constant pressure on costs. As for the contract manufacturing side, the advantages of intellectual property are largely absent and the barriers to entry have become less daunting over the years. Bespak functions, therefore, in an aggressive arena. But its response to the market’s challenges is (like the metered doses in which it specialises) carefully measured.

The customer is at the centre of this response. “Some companies have a single-point interface with their clients,” Graziano observed, “but all our customers have direct contact with us at almost department level, with access to quality, development and production functions. I believe these multiple points of contact add value to the business. After all, our sales performance is dependent on that of our customers, so we give them every kind of assistance that they need.”

Where appropriate, manufacturing activities are outsourced.The company is firmly focused on its core activities of moulding, assembling and tooling, but as a measure of its focus Bespak no longer manufactures its new production tooling nowadays. It is, however, prepared to bring into the business any critical skills that it has previously lacked. Elastomers are at the very heart of certain products, so elastomer manufacturing has been brought onto the site in order to ensure long-term supply, improve risk management and support its development ambitions.

Laboratory skills, too, are vital, and lab facilities have been recently upgraded and extended. “In our industry,” Graziano explained, “there needs to be very close attention to extractables and leachables, and defining the chemical content of products is of great importance to both customers and regulators. The lab supports new product development and introduction, and the testing aspect of the ‘design-make-test’ loop is a vital element of everything we produce for our customers. The lab has also developed the technology to meet the US regulators’ guidance that dose counters should be a part of any new MDI product.”

Given the laboratory resources, the willingness to invest in the latest equipment, and the input of a strong design centre, it’s perhaps not surprising that Bespak maintains its place at the leading edge of precise metering technology.

Investment is, in fact, always high on the agenda, whether it’s in improved accommodation such as the lab extension, or in additional capabilities such as elastomer manufacturing. One current investment is in a new training centre – complete with project room, IT and conference call facilities – that’s designed to accommodate (among other activities) expanded six sigma training.

Six sigma is central to the manufacturing approach, with a network of black- and green-belt experts at both corporate and divisional levels. The primary concern is with designing better processes (though these can also bring welcome cost implications), and there’s growing attention to design for six sigma and to integrating the methodology ever more closely into the way the business works. For Graziano, this all ties in with one of his primary aims.

“I’m always concerned with the simplification of manufacturing and with how we can achieve it – though, of course, simplification is not simple. Our business is completely submerged in constraints, whether it’s the contract manufacturing or our own proprietary products. But, as far as I’m concerned, the simplification agenda has been greatly helped by our recent consolidation into one Bespak division. Being able to look at the business as a single organisation offers marked opportunities in terms of the improvement agenda. Admittedly, what’s simple in Bespak terms may look complex from outside, but the simplification process is ultimately about ensuring that existing manufacturing processes are robust and rigorous and that new processes are designed that way from the start.”

The value placed on simplification is evident when you walk round the manufacturing areas. In the tooling room, in healthcare manufacturing, in the MDI hall and in the elastomer facility there’s a sense of clarity and order. In the MDI hall, for instance, the work flows in an obviously direct line from moulding, through intermediate goods and assembly, and on to packing. There’s an absolute lack of clutter, and the clean-cut layout is helped by the fact that services to the injection moulding machines are run through a 30 centimetre-deep underfloor space. In addition, waste material from the moulding machines is managed unobtrusively by a Bespak-designed concealed removal system.

The Bespak working environment is one where the wider environment is also acknowledged. The company is moving towards ISO14001 accreditation and has various recycling and waste avoidance measures in place. It is also very conscious of the energy it uses to run its injection moulding machines. Electric and hydraulic machines were carefully compared, and the results suggested that – as well as having a smaller footprint and being usable in a cleanroom – the electric machines could consume significantly less energy. (It’s a finding that has since been confirmed by a Carbon Trust study). As a result, Bespak purchased its first electric moulding machines from Fanuc in 2002, has since established a battery in excess of 50 per cent of its machines based in King’s Lynn with a policy to select all electric machines in the future unless for specific technical reasons.

But an emphasis on automation and the best machines for the job is not allowed to obscure the importance of people, and Bespak is fully committed to training and development. “We’ve built up a range of different skills here, and we’re now looking at how to leverage more training across the business,” said Graziano. “There are a number of new qualifications that need to be accessed for our operations staff – qualifications in improvement, general skills and subjects related to the shopfloor. So we’re looking at an integrated crossmanufacturing approach to training, not as a route to accreditation, but because we know it’s the best way to get our people involved in our operations. We’re already heavily involved in apprentice training, and that’s very diverse: as well as studying basic engineering, they are exposed to all manufacturing areas within the business, and they spend time in the lab and on project management. Every single apprentice has subsequently been taken up by Bespak, and we’re very proud of the scheme.”

To this should be added regular team briefings, the creation of intermediate roles to encourage development beyond operator level, and a new personal performance development process. But none of this can take away the need for simple encouragement and communication.

“You can create barriers by too much talking-up of formal schemes,” Graziano argued. “There has to be an atmosphere where people feel able to challenge what we do and offer their own ideas, and management has to be receptive. If you can get that right, an organisation can achieve more; if individuals think they can influence what goes on, then the potential is greater than the sum of people involved. This is a multifaceted business, and our people, when they come together, can accomplish just about anything. I believe our competencies and skills create an organisation that’s unique, and that’s one of the things that attracts customers to us.”

He concluded with a personal reflection. “I originally started here in a shopfloor technical role, and the moment I walked through the door, I was excited by Bespak. That hasn’t changed over the years. We’re quite rare in the range of what we can do, from concept design through to contract manufacturing, and after quite a long career I’m still excited by the business.”