The operations director's job is challenging, needing to balance the sustainment of high productivity levels with the health and safety of a large workforce, while minimising costs often across multiple sites.
In a new series, The Manufacturer profiles the role of the Operations Director, beginning with Gary Clark, Vice-President Operations for Rexam Beverage Can Europe.
1. Lean: transformational business philosophy or merely good common sense packaged as a business technique and tools?
“I would have to say both. Although lean principles such as 5S, TPM and SMED have a certain degree of common sense associated with them, the principles were not used extensively up until companies became competitively disadvantaged.
“In that sense, in the current global manufacturing environment, it is hard to imagine surviving without a strong degree of discipline around implementing Lean principles and continuous improvement.”
2. How far have UK factories come with lean? Is it very mature in UK manufacturing or is there a very long way to go – and which company or country is the benchmark?
“Within Rexam, we have progressed from no lean principles in the UK in the late 1990s to a very advanced stage which we are extremely proud of. We have progressed from auditing tools to auditing culture.
“Rexam is now at the stage where we externally benchmark these processes through the Shingo certification process. The Shingo certification process is considered a measure of the highest level of lean implementation and culture, and our UK plants are well positioned for this.”
3. Same question on employee engagement: is this well ingrained into most manufacturing companies’ operations or is there still a long way to go?
We actively measure employee engagement every 18-months. Where issues are highlighted we have robust action plans that we follow up rigorously. The responsibility for employee engagement goes well beyond the local leadership team on site. In fact, we find that many issues around engagement are around wider ranging issues, like company strategy and communication mostly away from the local site.
In the majority of our sites, Rexam is well above the manufacturing sector benchmark for employee engagement scores.
“As a European business, we struggle much more with compensation across countries. Within the UK, when you compare manufacturing pay to some other disciplines, I do believe that manufacturing operations comes up a little short of where it should be.” Gary Clark, Rexam
4. Factory of the Future: will your (sector or company’s) products be fully manufactured by robots and automated systems in the future, or will there always be a human component? When will assembly ‘all’ be automated soon and is this a good thing?
Our process is already highly mechanised, with an emphasis on optimising throughput and run time using highly skilled employees to operate the equipment. As you continue automation, there is a trade-off between reliability, maintenance cost and labour. Of course, there will always be work that cannot be done by machines, but we do not foresee any major shifts here. Our focus on the plant of future is to reduce process steps to save on energy, labour and plant footprint costs.
5. Is manufacturing an attractive sector to work in? Why or why not? Has it its image improved recently?
In my experience, manufacturing is a bit like Marmite! Our industry tends to work 24/7 on a rotating shift basis. This life style is attractive to some, but not to many. Where it stands out; it can be highly challenging, continuously changing, generally well compensated and provides opportunity to learn multiple skills and allow personal growth.
In my opinion, the image of manufacturing has not changed recently. However there is certainly an attraction toward the technology sector that makes it more and more difficult to recruit skilled engineers. We find that this varies depending on the area of the country we are recruiting for.
6. Do you think school children are interested in their visits to your factory / your company? What could your company do more to inspire young people about manufacturing?
In my experience, school children are highly fascinated by our process, but also in awe of it. Large presses, making lots of noise and cans flying around at over 30 per second can be rather intimidating! Whenever we have the opportunity to present our process to children, we try to educate them through video and graphic presentation to simplify it.
7. Hypothetically, if resource was no issue, what one thing would you change about the way your products are manufactured? It could be process, technology, people, location, training, customer feedback loops to shop floor etc.
The marketplace is rapidly diversifying in the product portfolio. This puts incredible demands on the factory as the process is designed for very high-speed output on few sizes with quality parameter tolerances measured in microns. A quality issue can quickly amount to millions of pieces.
If there was one thing that I could change, it would be a process design that optimises changeover speed without sacrificing output. Unfortunately in a capital intensive process, it can be very expensive to undo legacy designs.
8. Taking the hours, technical knowledge, responsibility and organisational expertise into account, are manufacturing operations jobs paid well? Or paid appropriately? Do you think your opinion reflects the consensus in your industry?
As a European business, we struggle much more with compensation across countries. Within the UK, when you compare manufacturing pay to some other disciplines, I do believe that manufacturing operations comes up a little short of where it should be.
The opportunity to be able to get to 100% recycling across all countries makes Rexam, and packaging, one of the best long term bets to deliver products efficiently to the marketplace with minimal waste.
In most cases, the plant manager is responsible for the health and safety of their employees, the financial performance of the site, the quality and customer interaction, and most importantly, they tend to have the most people working for them, so they have an important role in leading and motivating a diverse workforce across multiple shifts.
In a 24/7 operation, this requires a multitude of skills that are not always necessary in some other sectors.
10. Do you think your manufacturing process is ‘sustainable’? What metrics do you use to support this claim?
At Rexam we look at sustainability across three areas……
We have a strategy in place and metrics to strive and improve in all three of these areas. In our industry, one of our key measures for sustainability is the recycling rate. The aluminium can is 100% recyclable, it is the most recycled drinks pack in the world and across Europe there is a wide range of can recycle rates ranging from around 60% to 98%.
These rates however, do continue to improve, and the opportunity to be able to get to 100% recycling across all countries makes Rexam and packaging one of the best long term bets to deliver products efficiently to the marketplace with minimal waste.
In addition, each year Rexam produces an equivalent number of cans with less metal through more efficient tooling design and tighter manufacturing process capability. Within our operations, we are moving toward zero landfill waste and have already attained this is at several sites.
We have also shown dramatic reductions in electricity and gas usage each year as we invest in new technology. There is no reason not to expect this trend to continue.