Set to expand

Posted on 7 May 2008 by The Manufacturer

Investment and process improvement have brought Paul Fabrications to a new level of competitiveness. Robert Pols hears the story from MD Ingard Sagstad and operations manager Chris Summers

There’s no advantage in having a lively demand for your products if you lack the ability to meet it. But Paul Fabrications has worked and invested to ensure the ability is there, and the time has come to reap the benefits.

Sister company, Precision Laser Processing, and Paul Fabrications make up Paul Holdings. The company manufactures a range of fabricated and machined assemblies for the aerospace, defence and power sectors, and in addition it offers a range of in-house treatments and surface finishing. About two years ago it moved into a new facility at Castle Donnington in Derbyshire, and it is now poised to make the most of its market opportunities.

“We’re looking at how we differentiate ourselves, and we’re seeking to represent the two companies in an increasingly integrated way,” said MD Ingard Sagstad. “Our aim is to achieve ever better delivery to our customers. We’ve improved our control of both internal and external processes, and we’re working to expand the range of processes we currently have in order to offer a wider breadth of product to existing and potential customers.”

This has called for serious investment in equipment, people and the working environment. “There has certainly been a lot of investment into new CNC machinery,” acknowledged operations manager Chris Summers. “But we’re also just going through a stage of creating new offices – production offices, training accommodation and board room. In addition, there’s significant recruitment of engineers, skilled machinists and skilled metal workers.”

This investment and a commitment to lean thinking have combined to strengthen the company’s position. “There’s a very healthy demand for our products,” Summers continued, “so over the last couple of years we’ve brought in a lot of process improvements which have helped create capacity within our manufacturing operation. Now, therefore, we’re able to go to market with a greater ability to meet its needs, and customers like Rolls Royce, Dunlop and Meggitt Aerospace are recognising what we’ve achieved and are, in effect, suggesting us to some of their suppliers. Our performance for Rolls Royce, for example, is monitored by means of a supplier scorecard, and the dissemination of that information is bringing in new work.”

Summers’ own experience in the automotive industry has been crucial to the company’s development of a lean culture. “We’ve tried to instil in our people an understanding of the principles of lean manufacturing: we’ve implemented kaizen activities, introduced 5S management, established a skills matrix and provided cross-training. Our people are now learning, moving around all areas and multi-tasking. It represents a move from ‘one man, one job’ to ‘one man, multiple jobs’, and it gives us the flexibility to deploy the workforce appropriately.”

But it’s not only the shopfloor employees who are changing their way of thinking. The company’s training plan spreads across all areas of the business, from operators to senior management. One of Summers’ current projects is to bring all managers together in one office in order to open up more effective communication. When people are in different offices, he argues, they send emails, and emails can become something to hide behind – a way of shuffling off a problem and putting on someone else the onus of remembering it. But when people get up and talk to each other, things get done.

The supply chain, too, is coming under scrutiny, and here again communication is highly valued. “We’ve started going out to our suppliers to look at what they can offer us and understand what we can do to help them. What we need is partners rather than just suppliers. We want them to be with us in the long term, so we have to build good relationships with them.”

To give a more precise idea of the way in which the company’s culture is changing, he cited the example of the lock plate cell. “We ran a full kaizen event, where we took the operators from that section off the factory floor, put them together, and invited them to redesign their own cell. They produced a completely different layout and way of making their products. They also went through the whole 5S process, and they now have visual management control boards showing precisely what needs to be produced per day and per hour, and indicating just who is doing what at any given time. They cleaned up and painted the area, and they’ve come to feel proud of the cell they’re working in.”

As a result, he went on, this has become something of a show cell. “We’re now able to take customers into that cell and show them our operation from the shopfloor perspective. After all, management can manage, but it’s the people on the shopfloor who can put value into the business. So they can talk to the customers and explain what we’re doing, and, thanks to the visual management approach, the customers can see exactly how we control production, achieve our lead times and manage our suppliers.”

This openness with visitors is clearly characteristic of Paul Fabrications’ thinking, and it evidently makes a telling impression. “We have some very good products and processes,” commented Sagstad, “and everyone who comes into the factory is surprised by the breadth of process we can offer them.”

That’s an encouraging position to be in, and he reflected on how it has been achieved. “Since moving to our new premises we’ve been through a period of consolidation: we’ve expanded our engineering capability – particularly on the high-tech side for aerospace and gas generators – but we’ve focused on a relatively small range of products.
We’ve also devoted a lot of time to training both management and workforce. We’re now ready to expand, working within our existing markets but broadening our customer base, and at the same time developing a closer integration of our two complementary companies.”