Packing a punch

Posted on 2 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

Fresh from its success at The Manufacturer Awards 2009, Edward Machin talks to LINPAC Packaging’s Chris Wright about winning hearts and minds in an increasingly competitive market

Linpac Packaging produces plastic packaging for the retail, foodservice, bakery, and fruit and produce sectors. With a product range of more than 10,000 items, from trays and films to disposable tableware, the company supplies to Aldi, Bakkover Pizza, Carrefour, Hilton Meats, Morrisons, and The Greenery, to name but a fraction of its client roster. The St Helens-based manufacturer is a subsidiary of Linpac — founded in 1959 as Lincolnshire Packaging and commanding annual revenues of £1.1bn, with a staff of 7,500 based at 83 locations across 29 countries.

And the winner is…
On a wet and windy night in November 2009, a team from Linpac took to the stage of The Tower Hotel, London, to accept The Manufacturer’s Operations & Maintenance Award 2009 from Formula 1 racing legend, Sir Jackie Stewart. Somewhat uniquely, however, the Linpac contingent was drawn largely from the company’s manufacturing area. “These were the very people who were engaged in the continuous improvement advances that LINPAC was being recognised for,” says Chris Wright, the site’s operations manager.

“It goes without saying that the wider industry recognition is very much welcomed. More than that, though, it gave those from the manufacturing area an opportunity to see a different side of the business and reinforced that we are not simply doing certain things because the site manager says so — there is a quantifiable end-game, in other words.” Conscious of the fact that only a certain number of employees could attend the black tie ceremony, Linpac laid on a buffet lunch for all those who didn’t make the trip to the capital. “Nonetheless, at both meals the thing that many of us commented on was the sense of pride that had rippled through the company,” says Wright, “and to see that within our colleagues and friends was particularly pleasing.”

With Linpac’s winning TM’s Operations & Maintenance award, it is unsurprising to learn that such a remit represents a central — and wildly successful — aspect of the business. For example, the right first time of materials embodies a culture within Linpac of, says Wright, “Don’t work harder; work smarter. If companies are manufacturing a product simply to discard it, the emphasis going forward must be placed on continuous improvement — something we identified very early on, making a reduction of 50% in our non right first time process during 2009.” At Linpac such advancements are often driven by those from the manufacturing area identifying areas for improvement, running their own action teams and bottoming out potential snags. While the strategic vision is conceived initially by management, “We create an enabling environment throughout the organisation, giving operatives a great deal of autonomy and the capacity to control their destiny,” says Wright.

After all, “These men and women are the experts — the ones who see more than anyone else how smoothly things are running on the ground.

We simply give them the tools and environment in which to thrive.” And thrive they do, with increased morale and motivation among Linpac’s empowered workforce leading to a year-on-year drop in absence rates.

“I think that employees, regardless of position, often get caught up in the hamster wheel effect: head down, never really taking stock,” says Wright. “While I’d like to think that it isn’t the case at Linpac, our recent award certainly gave us the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the fact that we are on the right path and, importantly, that others think so too.”

Waste not, want not
In conjunction with its focus on process efficiency, Linpac has a drive towards automating its manufacturing, wherever possible. We have two main areas of focus in this respect, says Wright. The first relates to its front-end processes, where the company operates a structured TPM Asset Care programme to improve the unplanned downtime of its bottleneck; significantly increasing output volume in the process.

“We recently introduced a scheme to ensure that on each shift there will be an Asset Care Champion — a machine operative who has undergone workshops and related training to become highly skilled in their understanding of asset care, thus driving our OEE to unprecedented levels.” Continually seeking to drive its OEE performance, in 2008 OEE improved by 16%. The target for 2010 is a further 15%, and will be achieved through increasing availability, reducing unplanned downtime and reducing manufacturing waste.

The second aspect of the company’s efficiency drive relates to its end processes, a primarily low-value adding activity, says Wright. Through the use of automation, productivity has been increased and enables operators to focus on problem solving as opposed to carrying out the repetitive manual tasks.

Central to this process is the upskilling of Linpac’s operatives, given the increased level of automated manufacture that is required. “As with all that we do, and given that those running the machines are our eyes and ears, there will be extensive training for operatives across the organisation.

More than that, however, they will become an integral part of the process for winning hearts and minds, visiting suppliers and helping effect the allimportant buy-in,” says Wright.

Designed to assist across the gamut of Linpac’s operational advancements, the company implemented a real time data collection system in 2009 — whereby performance data is input at the end of each production line and action teams are charged with analysing those aspects of operation which are driving improvements across the business.

Thanks to large monitors placed throughout the floor, staff can keep abreast of all production successes, further heightening the sense that Linpac is built from its employees up.

“With any fundamental change in operational thinking, you get the motivated minority to begin with,” says Wright, “and the mass waiting to see which way things go. Once the momentum swings in your favour, however, the real advances can begin.” Intriguingly, continuous improvement drives from the manufacturing area aren’t — on the face of it, at any rate — driven solely by a need to reduce the bottom line. Confirms Wright, “I don’t necessarily need to see large improvements; simply identify what demotivates your team and seek to remedy it. That said, if the issues affecting efficiency are removed it will almost certainly have a positive effect on an organisation’s financial health.

Linpac, for one, can attest to that.”

Tomorrow never knows
While working on a plethora of process-related advancements, Wright highlights the company’s safety drive as representing a particularly important aspect of its future strategy. “We have made a 60% reduction in work-related accidents in recent years, and expect to achieve zero injuries in the very near future,” he says. For those imagining lost limbs, or worse, the injuries — if, indeed, we can call them that — in the last 6 months have been a minor bump and a papercut. “As trivial as it may seem, every accident is put through a seven step problem solving exercise to ensure that we develop a solution which means that it won’t happen again,” says Wright. Indeed, the company is breaking internal records for time elapsed since its last lost time accident — currently at 385 days and counting.

Given Linpac’s course towards EBITDA growth year-onyear, customer liaison management is equally treated with the company’s fastidious attention to detail. Such is evidenced by the fact that it has maintained a 30% reduction in queries or complaints, no matter how small, since 2007 Should a client express concerns, a team — including those on our production lines — from the company will visit their facilities and, once back in St Helens, work on finding the most desirable solution to any given issue.

Rather than employees going about their business with little tangible appreciation for the end user, such policies have, confirms Wright, “Cemented a real feeling of both ownership and accountability within the operatives. It very much personalises the work, to the point where those on the product lines often independently look to offer suggestions for furtherment of our business.” “We are all about employee engagement throughout the organisation, while using LPOS (Linpac Operation System) to drive the company ever closer to world class performance.

While very much moving in the right direction, we are loath to think that we cannot improve a little every day” — the Linpac ethos in a nutshell.

“I am immensely proud of the fact that we have nurtured a culture of people — from the boardroom to operational area — who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo in all that the company does, because what is good for today may not be good enough tomorrow,” says Wright. “And tomorrow, ultimately, is a challenge we look to embrace with both hands.”