Colt International’s Engineering director, Paul Langford, discusses the value in technology and how employee engagement is inextricably linked to the value gained.
In November, I attended The Manufacturer’s Annual Leaders Conference (TMALC) and The Manufacturer Top 100 events in Birmingham, for the first time.
As you would expect, there was a variety of interesting speakers, many focusing on how technology, and in particular the internet, has changed the way we operate our businesses and the products and services we offer.
Then a speaker reminded us all of the most important thing to get right when implementing change or looking to improve the operation of our business: the people. They are also going to give the biggest return on our investment.
IJ O’Hea, who founded Colt in 1931, believed that the people were a company’s greatest asset. He is not alone.
A valued workforce can make the biggest impact on a factory’s productivity
It made me think that actually, there are some constants in life, and for that matter business – and that is people.
Creating an environment where your workforce feels valued and respected results in motivation and loyalty. Motivated staff bring results; higher productivity and lower absenteeism.
Studies have found if employees are engaged, they put in twice as much effort, and will take just two and half sick days/year instead of six and half.
This involvement leads to staff identifying with the company, its products, and sharing the corporate values.
Engaged employees will have ideas on how to improve the business; ideas that often have the biggest impact on output and efficiency because they are the ones who truly understand the process or product at a nuts and bolts level.
I saw this first hand when I was responsible for the Colt manufacturing plant in Havant for the period running up to the financial crisis and in the recovery years that followed.
We were fortunate enough to have a range of product lines targeted at different parts of the market, which helped us weather the storm.
One product in particular was new to the market at the time; it was low energy and environmentally friendly, so it had caught the interest of some our key customers and sales were climbing.
The production line was fine for the early stages of the product life cycle, but it became clear that soon sales would outstrip production capacity.
We set a goal of doubling capacity and halving the production cycle time, but staying broadly within the existing floor area and at minimal increase in head count.
We sought advice from an external advisory service to help with this. After three sessions the production line team presented their idea: they had concluded that, with a small investment and a marginal increase in head count they could quadruple production capacity and reduce the cycle time by more than 60%.
They decided that our target was not a limit, but a starting point. We implemented the changes and their belief was borne out.
That team continued to find ways or re-inventing how they did things to improve their performance – it was their production line after all.
Technology enables us to maximise the potential of our assets
This is not to say that technology doesn’t have an important role to play in helping us improve the way we do things in our factories.
And it’s not necessarily the most advanced technologies and innovations that will make the biggest difference.
I spend a lot of time on manufacturing sites and I find the relentless drive to increase productivity, reduce waste and minimise the energy consumed to produce the end result is a constant.
We now benefit from technology that allows us to capture data and quantify our processes, so highlighting opportunities to gain a few more percent of efficiency.
We found that when our electricity supplier installed a new metering system we suddenly had access to half hourly data on energy consumption.
This enabled us to understand our base load and highlighted times when machines were left running, consuming power, when they were not required.
Technology provided us with more detailed information that made it possible to use our electricity more efficiently.
As we go forward, progress will enable us to capture more data, more easily and more quickly, offering greater opportunity to continue improving our facilities’ efficiency.
A comfortable workforce is a productive workforce
We strive to maximise the potential of all of our other assets, like our machines and process lines, but how many people put the same effort in to ensuring we achieve maximum performance of our most important asset, our staff.
There should be no limit to our efforts here – they will always be rewarded. Our marketing department recently found the original artwork for the advertising campaign that Colt ran through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
I thought it was interesting that a series of adverts was devoted to the impact of poor working conditions on the morale of shop floor staff.
This message is just as relevant today, in fact more so as people are more mobile than they were 40 years ago.
Technology can help us create the comfortable conditions our staff need to work at their best. Factories can suffer when temperatures rise during the summer months.
Surveys have shown that every degree above 20°C can reduce productivity by as much as a 4%: when the working environment is too hot, people work less efficiently, while accidents and absenteeism tend to rise.
Cooling the factory shop floor is essential for the well-being of the people working in this environment and to keep productivity levels high.
Conventional air conditioning systems are not a viable solution: they are expensive, installation costs are high, and so is the energy they use to bring the temperature down to desired levels.
Fortunately, new technologies such as evaporative cooling are now available, offering cost-effective solutions for production facilities.
Providing comfortable and safe working conditions – that’s what Colt is about: we provide the systems that will help create a pleasant climate inside a building, with a good light and air quality, and that will keep people safe in case of fire.
For industrial buildings, our solutions deliver great working environments in food processing, automotive production, printing, and general manufacturing.
That’s why we say that people work better in “Colt conditions”. One of IJ O’Hea’s favourite sayings was ‘the sky is the limit’ and I think that was never more true if you think of where we are today.