The Coke side of life

Posted on 7 Oct 2010 by The Manufacturer

Located at the junction of the M1 and M62 motorways is Coca-Cola Enterprises's Wakefield site, Europe’s largest Coca-Cola bottling plant. Tim Brown spoke to operations director Ian Johnson about the important steps the site has taken to reach its enviable status.

Having started his career as a technician at the plant more than 20 years ago, Johnson knows the site better than most. In fact, Johnson stood at the site while the plant was under construction and attended the opening of the factory in 1989. At that time the plant operated just four lines with 120 people and produced a very standard range of products. Today the plant has 10 lines, employs over 500 staff, runs 24 hours a day and boasts a massively diverse range of products which extends well beyond simply Coca-Cola.

“In 1989 we only did 24 cans in a tray as the standard. If someone asked what has been the biggest change since 1989, it would be the number of formats our drinks now take. What the market demands is variety and flexibility which is driven by consumer interest, promotions and the wishes of the retailers.” says Johnson.

The Wakefield site is operated by Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), a UK based subsidiary of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc, the world’s largest marketer, producer and distributor of The Coca-Cola Company’s (TCCC) products. CCE is responsible for manufacturing, selling and distributing over 80 different soft drinks products across Great Britain.

CCE has manufacturing sites in Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. “There is a lot of power in that network in terms of knowledge and best practice sharing,” says Johnson. “We have a good relationship with the other areas because we are not in competition as we have our territory and they have theirs. At present we are working towards developing standardised packaging among the different plants and have already achieved this with our Powerade product. A more modular packaging range not only assists with improving operational efficiency but is also of great assistance if one particular area requires extra supplies for any reason. In such a situation we wouldn’t necessarily have the labels or the artwork printed but could easily have this done.”

A fluid operation
To deliver the wide portfolio of products catered for by CCE, the Wakefield plant operates 24 hours a day, seven day a week, with distribution only closing on Christmas day. The staff at the Wakefield plant work a 12-hour continental shift system as standard. This involves employees working three day-shifts followed by three days off, then three night-shifts followed by three days off. “We also operate a talent management review where we try to identify people with potential for development within the business for the future,” says Johnson. “We conduct those reviews twice a year. The business is completely focused around team work. There is very much a team ethos.” To assist with its staffing requirements, in 2007 CCE began a close working relationship with recruitment partner Right Direction (RDUK). Using its expertise in change management, RDUK has provided a consistent standard of people and staff training on the Wakefield site. In addition to the recruitment process Johnson says that, as a part of their contract, RDUK “has also delivered a high level of onsite supervision which has been massively beneficial in maintaining our high operational standards”.

With over 500 staff working long shifts, the safety of the employees is of paramount importance to CCE management. Over the last five years, the plant has experienced a massive reduction in injuries and accidents reducing an average of 15 lost time accidents per year to less than five per year. So far in 2010 the site has experienced only one which was not actually work-related but did occur on the site. “There are three primary aspects which assist with safety improvements,” says Johnson. “The first is ensuring the physical condition of the machines is maintained.

The second is monitoring the area surrounding the machines including the correct guarding of any machinery.

Thirdly is the monitoring of staff behaviour to guarantee the general area is clean, safe and any defects are reported. The third facet is really all about leadership and demonstrating that safety is important and providing consequences for not following the rules. We reward good behaviour and there are negative consequences for poor behaviour.”

Because the high level of automation at the site, the number of workers doesn’t accurately represent the sheer scale of the operation at the Wakefield plant.

Sitting on a 146,860m2 site, when all ten lines are operating at full capacity, the plant can fill 360,000 cans and 290,000 bottles every hour, packaging a total of nearly half a million litres of product. “Our can lines run at 2000 cans per minute or 33 cans a second.

So when we have all three of our can lines are operating, we are actually manufacturing 100 cans a second,” says Johnson.

The company portfolio encompasses a full range of beverage categories, including soft drinks, energy drinks, still and sparkling waters, juices, sports drinks, fruit drinks, coffeebased beverages and teas.

“As a company we realised that we were very heavily dependent on a few core products so what we have tried to do in the last few years is balance the portfolio,” says Johnson. “When it comes to our products, the key is to give people a choice and have a wide enough portfolio so the choice is varied while also offering a number of different pack formats. This of course brings in complications in terms of the manufacturing process because of the different flavours and packaging variants. We now have up to 400 SKUs on this site.” Whilst most stores provide their own shelf or fridge space to accommodate a range of CCE products, the company also offers its own shelving solution to maximise brand exposure and store sales.

“We now also do point-of-sale merchandisable units which are stacked straight on to a pallet and just wheeled to the end of an aisle in a super market. This allows us to gain additional access to stores where shelf space is at a premium.

The plastic units are returned to us via a third party who cleans and checks them.”

Lifting the cap
The Wakefield site operates a five year plan to ensure growth in output will keep up with forecast headline requirements. “One of the things we do very well at Wakefield,” says Johnson, “is what we call our five year rolling master plan. In 2009 our output was at 108 million physical cases. In 2014 we believe this will need to be around 125 million cases with a peak capacity equivalent to 150 million cases. The central engineering technology team work with our onsite engineering team to come up with the best solutions for how to reach those targets.” In addition to capacity, the Wakefield site is also planning to increase its storage capacity from its current 53,000 pallets in the region to approximately 60,000 pallets by 2014. Up to 30,000 of these pallets are currently stored onsite and the company is hoping to expand its warehouse to accommodate planned storage growth and reduce its current reliance on offsite storage. This is a positive in both economic and environmental terms as it promises to significantly reduce the amount of unnecessary transport.

While increasing capacity and improving efficiency is of vital importance at Wakefield so as to allow for planned future growth, the site is also focused on quality assurance. Working in complaints per million units, the site has experienced a 29% reduction in complaints over the last five years now receiving only an average of 1.7 complaints for every million cans or bottles sent to market. “That reduction is all due to root cause analysis,” says Johnson. “Every single complaint that comes back gets looked at to try and get to a root cause. We try and get all the cans back to try and eliminate the cause.” The current global economic and environmental focus has not escaped CCE with operations having been affected on both fronts. According to Johnson, one of the most noticeable changes since the beginning of the economic crisis is a large increase in peaks and troughs due to a general destocking of supply chains.

He says that demand is now more closely aligned with the weather and promotions. “We work very closely with retailers and we know volumes will go up in summer but we don’t know when the big spikes will be.

As the requirement for reduced lead times increases, because the end-toend supply chain has less stock in it, improved responsiveness is definitely needed… While we are part of Coke and are a very robust company.

We are not simply riding a wave the whole time.”

In the current environment
The company has also increased its focus on corporate responsibility and sustainability. The site uses a number of key business indicators including water, energy and waste which are used to gauge environmental performance.

Using a program called Monitoring and targeting, CCE Wakefield monitors its levels of consumption and, using that data, investigates how to reduce it. The company is also committed to reducing the amount of unnecessary raw material used in its packaging.

According to Johnson: “In 1989 a Coca-Cola can weighed over 13g but it now weighs less than 10g. We have experienced even greater reductions with PET bottles where, in the case of a 500ml bottle, we have reduced the bottle weight from 38g to 22g.” Using such examples which greatly reduce the amount of raw material required, Johnson says “CRS is good business; most CRS projects are not only good for the environment but they are just good for business.” Not only reducing the amount of raw material required for the manufacture of the end product, CCE last year began a more concerted effort to increase the level of recycled material it uses in its bottles. “We are now in the process of introducing 25% recycled PET plastic into all our 500ml bottles,” says Johnson. “We are also trying to make it easier for consumers to recycle on-the-go. We’re doing a lot of work to establish recycle zones and we are trying to target music festivals and points where a lot of people congregate.

The entire company is really looking to push the recycling agenda because we feel we’ve got a responsibility to energise recycling.” As a large consumer of energy, CCE Wakefield is also focused on improving its efficiency and reducing its consumption. The company has incorporated an electricity monitoring system with nearly 20 individual meters onsite to allow data transparency and ascertain how much energy is being used, where and when it is being consumed, and under what circumstances. The company is able to see what particular pieces of machinery are using the most energy and formulate a plan to use them at the most efficient rate possible. The Wakefield site is also currently investigating the potential installation of a combined heat and power system to convert the waste heat from its boiler into electricity.

As a representative of one of the world’s most recognisable brands, CCE Wakefield has proved itself not only a worthy ambassador for the Coca-Cola Company but also an excellent collaborator in improving operational excellence amongst its various sites. By concentrating on improving performance while reducing consumption, the site has been able to make considerable operational improvements. Not content to rest on its laurels, Wakefield has firm plans to strengthen its status as a CCE leader through sustainable growth and continued efficiency gains.