What’s the secret to supply chain excellence?

Domino is a global supplier of inkjet printing technologies and in 2017, and thanks to its highly effective management of a complex, international network of suppliers it won The Manufacturer MX Award for Supply Chain Excellence.

Domino’s continuous inkjet printing technologies are used by high-volume multinational companies (MNCs), as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to identify their products.

Steven Barr travelled to Cambridge to learn how Domino’s responsive supply network is designed to maximise quality and drive down lead times through both their factory operations and integral supply base of around 200 suppliers.

Celebrating their win: the Domino team with their The Manufacturer MX Award

Now celebrating its 40th year, Domino is a global company with a UK manufacturing HQ for its world-leading continuous inkjet printing technology. Operations director, Carl Haycock emphasises that every unit in the flagship Ax-Series range is made to order, specified by customers who want the shortest possible lead times and, in service, the highest possible accuracy and reliability.

High-quality parts are sourced from 200 suppliers worldwide. This includes the nozzle in Domino’s patented piezo-controlled i-Pulse printhead, which is supplied via the high precision Swiss watchmaking industry.

Demanding customers and numerous diverse suppliers do not always make for harmonious delivery. And yet, Domino’s growth has been exceptional in competitive markets in Europe, Asia Pacific, North America and elsewhere. How do they do it?

This article first appeared in the September issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.
The shortlist for The Manufacturer MX Awards 2018 has been revealed. Click here to view the shortlist in full.

Winning combination

The answer comes from Domino’s attention to the combination of product design, process innovation and people.

The Ax-Series range of printers is a big step forward from legacy products, both in terms of design for production and for service. Domino’s strategy of ‘mass customisation’ is actually their core competence, delivering high quality, but at the same time reducing the lead time from customer order to factory shipment to only eight days.

Know-how brought in by Carl and other senior staff from sectors including the automotive industry has enabled Domino to build a state-of-the-art production line matched to the flexibility of the Ax-Series design.

“On time, in full, to customer request, and a key competitive edge,” says continuous improvement leader, Chris Blake. “Every product leaves the factory fully tested, so there is no compromise between delivery time and quality”.

I was privileged to find out more about how the suppliers and the factory work together to achieve such high performance, from the engineers and technicians on the production line, to the managers at Domino’s Cambridge headquarters.

A journey along the production line brought to life not only the dependency on supplier performance to keep up with customer demand, but also the importance of the engagement between Domino’s workforce and suppliers.

That engagement starts a long way in time and distance from production. Suppliers are actively involved in the initial design process and David Carrington’s Supplier Quality team reviews supplier capabilities and confirms compliance with Domino’s requirements through advanced product quality planning tools, backed up by onsite audits.

“Prevention is so much better than resolution of quality issues or delays,” said David.

ERP operation

The trigger for the production cycle is a customer order, configured online and immediately loaded on to Domino’s Oracle-supplied ERP system.

This automatically interrogates the numerous factory bills of materials availability on site and in the supply chain, as well as factory capacity, thereby in an instant promising an accurate customer delivery date.

Up-front work with suppliers and shared testing with Domino have built confidence that the end-to-end process really can deliver high quality and short lead times.

Quality control

Once in production, staff are kept well aware of the progress of customer orders through the MES (manufacturing execution system) interface to the ERP system. Visual management of issues is supported through the use of a simple but effective ‘T-card’ tracking process that allows any problems with supplied components to be escalated and dealt with.

Printhead assembly operator, Arune Laurinatyte tests the sophisticated printer head sub-assembly before it joins the main production line. “I can sort out many minor variations in the assembly by making adjustments within the tolerances. If that is not enough then I can escalate the problem using a T-card and see it being dealt with in the Level 1 and 2 reviews”.

Suppliers receive feedback on all failures, to help their continuous improvement – they seem to welcome this feedback as they vie to be at the top of Domino’s supply chain performance ratings.

Only one fifth of 1% of components is rejected during production testing, and for each of these the Supplier Quality team carries out a root-cause analysis. Where necessary, they may carry out experiments on components at the supplier’s premises.

Domino operates a no-fault-forward approach with poka-yokes (equipment designed to help operators avoid mistakes) and semi-automated testing at each subassembly.

In the rare case of an inferior supplied part not being captured at subassembly level, the final test that Domino carries out on every manufactured printer with the specific ink that the customer will use should capture the issue and ensure reliability is protected for the customer.

Arturas Borkertas is a member of the Final Test Team. Arturas has to decide whether he can fix these rare late-stage problems within the customer lead-time.

He is also on the lookout for a repeat pattern of seemingly minor failures that might signal a systemic issue for the supplier to deal with.

Learn from the best

Given the complexity of the supply chain, through several tiers and many countries, Domino’s success in delivering on time and maintaining very high levels of service quality is remarkable. What special tips would they suggest to other manufacturers striving for supply chain excellence?

“End-to-end visibility of the production process from supplier to customer delivery helps us to drive continuous improvement,” says purchasing manager, Ian Whitehead.

“The starting point is good sales and operations planning to estimate demand and forecast supplies. Then having the flexibility of production to respond to actual customer orders,” adds ops director, Carl Haycock.

Manufacturing manager, Belinda Pryor singles out the flexibility of the workforce to increase or decrease hours as demand varies, using the flexible hours work pattern, which is developed through feedback from staff.

Supply chain excellence gives Domino many of the key pieces in its game plan. Up-front engagement with their supply base is integral to factory operations, and the end-to-end process is fully aligned with the goals of mass customisation and short lead times. If you want a winning strategy in a competitive market, take a look at Domino’s playbook.


Dr Steven Barr is a chartered engineer and expert in manufacturing business strategy and performance.

He is the managing director of Hennik Edge, The Manufacturer’s networked expert advisory team, and is an active contributor to university research on collaborative decision-making. Steven is a member of several industry panels promoting the adoption of digital technologies and new business models in manufacturing.