The clinical approach

Posted on 13 Aug 2008 by The Manufacturer

Mike Skelt and Bob Galvin of Olympus KeyMed tell Debbie Giggle how the company is pushing up standards

As a division of the global Olympus Corporation of Japan, the Southend-on-Sea based company Olympus KeyMed currently plays an important part in the Olympus global network by developing and manufacturing a range of medical and industrial equipment for distribution worldwide. Continuous improvement, in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with equally ambitious Olympus sister companies around the world, is a key objective, and a multi-million pound improvement programme, introduced in 2006, is speeding the way towards achieving this goal.

KeyMed has grown from a staff of four in 1970 to an international leader in the manufacture and supply of specialised medical and industrial equipment. Today it employs around 1,000 people at its Southend-on-Sea headquarters, including subsidiaries in Ireland and Plymouth.

Since 1987, it has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Olympus as a global business centre for manufacture of endoscopy ancillary products and a sales/service centre for the entire Olympus range of endoscopes, accessories and ancillary products in the UK, Ireland, Middle East and Africa. It also distributes the Aloka range of diagnostic ultrasound systems in the UK and Ireland.

A key challenge from a manufacturing viewpoint is that the endoscopy product range, including specialist pumps and purpose-designed endoscopic platforms, requires an extremely broad range of processes. These range from sheet metalwork and powder coating, to the intricate assembly of technologically advanced medical devices. In 2006 the company identified the next step in its evolution and embarked on a radical rethink of manufacturing.

“A major part of the programme has been the construction of a state-of-the-art Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC) for in-house designed endoscopic platforms and fluid management products,” explained head of medical manufacturing Mike Skelt. “Our original manufacturing facility housed three different divisions: medical/industrial product assembly and component manufacture. The new MDMC, completed in March 2007, provides a dedicated resource close to our existing location, specifically for medical device manufacture. Industrial product assembly and component manufacture continues at the original location.

The project went further, however, than simply moving production from one site to another. Senior manufacturing engineer Bob Galvin explained: “Part of the improvement project involved a re-engineering exercise to move to a single piece build cellular manufacturing approach. This involved investment, not so much in production equipment, but to provide the required infrastructure of materials handling and production services. Having designed this flexibility into the new site, work centres can be easily moved around the building without restriction in meeting production demands.”

The project was led by a collaboration of engineers from KeyMed with support from Olympus in Japan. In addition to establishing procedures for the new site, it encompassed the roll-out of a comprehensive continuous improvement programme harnessing lean manufacturing tools such as 5S and value stream mapping. This has been introduced across all three manufacturing divisions.

“Now that the move to the MDMC is complete, manufacturing engineers assigned to each assembly area champion the lean activities,” continued Galvin. “The team leader for each area monitors the defect rate at final inspection, internal delivery performance, stock accuracy, labour efficiency and safety performance.

“A six sigma programme, consisting of five projects, is tackling issues such as vendor quality, stock accuracy and process improvement, with another project in place aimed at reducing supply lead time (from receipt of order to dispatch date).”

The company is also investing in the training of its workforce to make its ambitions a reality. “Employee development falls into a number of different categories,” explained Skelt. “We undertook a skills gap analysis as part of the manufacturing improvement project. A BIT (business improvement training) programme has sprung from this, which will provide NVQ Level 2 certificates for a wide range of staff.

“Recruiting qualified engineers with lean experience can be a challenge as we have competition from local automotive companies, but we have been able to fill vacancies as they have arisen. Skilled fabricators and turning centre machine operators are becoming more difficult to find; however, we have introduced an apprenticeship scheme for these skills. Last year we had an intake of three apprentices and hope to recruit a similar number this year.

“Being part of an international group is just one factor of a company’s success. You need to go further, try harder, and keep achieving more to retain your position in the world market.”