Waste. For most manufacturers, it’s a dirty word. For skin care and hand hygiene manufacturers, Deb Ltd, however, it became a challenge – and one that saw them named Team of the Year at Manufacturing Management’s Manufacturing Champions Awards last year.

The company was tasked with reducing the amount of waste they created at their site in the pottery village of Denby, just north of Derby. The challenge came with a bold target: a £50,000 reduction in product over-fill. It was a big ask, says Wayne Base, the site’s continuous improvement manager, but finding a solution would make a massive difference. “Once we had dug down into the detail, it was alarming to see how much waste we were generating through overfilling,” he explains. “According to our data, across all the packs we were producing, we were overfilling them by an average of 1.73%. We put a number to that – it was costing us £118,000 in materials per year.”

Once they had picked up their jaws from off he floor, Base and the rest of the management team set about finding a solution. The first job was to get the rest of the workforce to realise the scale of the problem. Surprisingly, this wasn’t as easy as it may sound, explains Allan Harley, Deb’s safety, health & environment manager. “In terms of overfill per pot, the numbers were negligible,” he says. “Instead of putting, say, 220ml in one pot, it might be 222ml. On an individual basis, that’s nothing – and for the operators responsible, it seemed insignificant – but if you add it up over a batch, then a day, then a month, it suddenly becomes massive.”

This is where having the figures became vital. “Once we had pulled the facts together and laid out exactly how much their overfills were costing the company, it changed opinions dramatically,” says Base. “That was the hook – making people realise that one slight misjudgement can have a huge impact on the bottom line. If we hadn’t done that and had just tried to implement change without presenting the data, the staff would never have bought into it.”

“The idea was to create a situation where we all won”
The next step was to create a waste-busting dream team. This was drawn up from every
area of the company and relied heavily on the Belbin personality types test to ensure that there was a balance of attitudes and skills across the team. The result was manufacturing’s very own version of The Avengers: the Waste Reduction Team.

The success of this new team, Base knew, would rely on honesty, openness and a healthy dose of realism from everyone – including those at the top. “We had to set achievable targets, so went on a line-by-line basis looking at their performance,” he says. “It was important that they were within reach. We added control boards to the lines to track daily performance, which the operators themselves had to update – this helped engage them all in the process.”

Each line was told weekly what saving they had made, both compared to the target and compared to other lines. Inevitably, this led to competition between the lines, which Base was more than happy to encourage. “We set up a league table based on how they had performed against their target,” Base explains. “This was a real success – it created healthy competition and a bit of banter between the lines. Everyone contributed, but it meant that they took an active interest in what other lines were doing to try and catch up.”

This competitive environment saw each line trying their hardest to work their way up the league table, and trying to find reasons why they were behind. Quite often, there was a very simple fix. The work done in the factory is not dissimilar to a chemistry lab – mixing precise amounts of often dangerous chemicals to get the perfect blend. This requires the right tools. “People were coming to us and saying their scales were out of alignment, and that was causing serious quality issues,” says Base. “A new set was only a couple of hundred pounds, so it was easy to put right. As soon as we did, their performance improved and their waste levels fell hugely.”

In the end, overall investment in capital was about £10,000 – mainly on better equipment and a host of visual management boards. However, says Harley, the money was never the issue. “We knew that this project wouldn’t succeed just by making huge investments in machinery,” he explains. “We just asked people to help with a site-wide issue. The idea was to create a situation where we all won. For the company, we could save money; for the operators, it saved them doing extra work for the sake of it. They would be able to make more batches in the same amount of time and without a million-pound investment.”

By banding together, the Waste Reduction Team saw successes beyond their wildest dreams. “We thought, at best, we might make a half-percent improvement in overfill and a £20,000 saving,” admits Base. “In reality, though, we got overfill down to 0.35% and saved £86,000 in raw materials. It took about a fortnight of the targeted way of working before people got engaged, but as soon as that happened, targets were being hit left, right and centre. The overall benefit to the company eventually came in at about three-quarters of a million pounds, which is incredible.”

“A lot of people had been working in a certain way for a long time”
Those numbers only tell half the story, though. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the success of the
Waste Reduction Team didn’t come out of nowhere. A culture of continuous improvement has been part and parcel of the Deb way of working for many years.

Back in 2009, the company had just moved to Denby from their old home in nearby Belper. As part of the move, the firm’s senior management dreamt up a bold vision.

“The goal for us was that people would be able to do their job with no input from management,” explains Base. “When an issue arises, we wanted them to be able to solve it themselves without having to rely on help from those above them or, even worse, without having the entire factory
grind to a halt.”

This wasn’t going to be possible without a major cultural change – which was never going to come easily. “Five-and-a-half years ago, there was no dedicated CI team, no visual management system and no dedicated way of solving issues that arose,” says Base. “A lot of people – including me – had been working in a certain way for a long time and didn’t want to change. It was only once Andy Hume, the head of operations, restructured the company that I saw the benefits a culture of continuous improvement can bring.”

Those benefits are now fully ingrained in the way of life at Deb. Many of the staff can be relied upon to come up with CI ideas on a weekly basis. Indeed, since July 2017, Harley estimates that there have been at least 640 improvement ideas, with a 93% closure rate. “We’re a family-run company, which used to mean that people knew their job and just got on with it,” he says. “Now, we want to offer personal progression and allow people the chance to use their skills and talents to improve the work we do here.”

For the company, there are clear upsides to reinforcing a CI mind-set amongst the staff; not least that hundreds of minds are better than one. “One person, or a handful of managers, may come up with a few ideas,” says Harley. “A whole site will come up with a lot more, bringing with them some huge savings and productivity gains.”

The focus on getting staff involved in problem-solving has also honed a highly intelligent workforce, continues Harley. This is especially important at a company like Deb. “The jobs here aren’t just a case of pressing a button and watching everything happen around you,” he explains. “Our staff have to be switched on and aware of what they are doing. This means they have to have the right mind-set to be able to react if anything goes wrong.

As a result, the shopfloor staff now get involved in everything we try and implement.”

Base is adamant that the focus on continuous improvement has to be maintained in the long-term. “We want people to constantly look at their day jobs and come up with ideas that will help improve them,” he says. “There are always going to be problems that arise, but if there are only a handful of people who can go and solve them, we will be inefficient. We therefore needed to develop more people into problem-solving roles, giving them the time to go and break the cycle of inefficiency.

“That way, the workforce is empowered to take ownership of their issues, rather than expecting management to run down and fix it for them. As they do the job day in and day out, the shopfloor staff will have the ideas to make their jobs better; senior management just have to give them the time – and trust – to let them implement those ideas.”

“We now have tangible proof that we are world-class at what we do”
The success at the Manufacturing Champions Awards last December vindicated the hard work of the Waste Reduction Team, says Base. “As a company, we made a huge deal of the fact that we won the Team of the Year award,” he explains. “Every department, from marketing to R&D to the shopfloor, was buzzing about it – because it felt like they had all been involved in the project that won it. The award has also vindicated what we do, and inspired the workforce to look at the next opportunity.”

As part of the S.C. Johnson group, Deb have sites across the world, and news of the Denby site’s win made headlines throughout the group. “The fact that we’d won such a prestigious award was shared amongst our colleagues globally,” says Base. “We have manufacturing plants in the USA, Australia and Germany that all wanted to know what we had done, and how.”

Senior management from those sites were soon on the phone to Denby to learn the tricks of the trade – and the award has bred a wider CI culture through the entire group, continues Base. “Our operations director came up with the idea that all the Deb plants should look to share their best ideas with each other. Everyone had been a bit guilty of working in their own silo; the idea was the branch out and share best practice.”

Harley is adamant that the team’s success at the Manufacturing Champions Awards has given them belief to develop even further. “We now have tangible proof that we are world-class at what we do,” he says. “People like being the best, so having it proven to them meant so much. To be able to say that an independent panel had judged them as the best manufacturing team in the country really vindicated all their hard work.”

Deb’s success hasn’t been achieved overnight. A five-year dedication to continuous improvement has transformed the site’s fortunes. The Waste Reduction Team may have been showcased for their efforts, but a CI mentality runs through the entire site. “People are key,” says Base. “They are the ones who join everything together. You can have all the machinery and systems in place, but without the people they’re useless. They are the ones who can give ideas and make improvements work.”

With entries now open for this year’s Manufacturing Champions awards (see below), Base is clear on the benefits of benchmarking your company against others. Deb were against companies including Coca-Cola and Weetabix in their category: something that, at first, he admits, worried them. “People saw those household names and automatically assumed we had no chance,” Base concludes. “However, if your story is good enough, you can win. Everyone should consider entering to pit themselves against the best.”

Want to follow in Deb’s footsteps?
Is there a team or individual on your site who can match the good work of the Waste Reduction Team? Then the Manufacturing Champions Awards are your chance to celebrate them. With nine categories to enter, from Rising Star to Health & Safety Champion, there is something for everyone. Also new this year is the UK Manufacturing Hero award, which will be nominated exclusively by Manufacturing Management’s editorial team to reward the site, team or individual who has made the biggest difference to UK industry this year. Entries for the 2018 awards are now open – turn the page to find out how you can get involved…

The 2018 Manufacturing Champions Awards categories:

Manufacturing Leader:
The site leader who is a figurehead for on-site excellence. A team player who inspires those around them to perform to the maximum, day in, day out.

Manufacturing Team: The group that has brought the most to a manufacturing site in the past 12 months, through impressive CI work, close collaboration with customers
or an improvement to internal operations.

Rising Star: One to watch for the future, the Rising Star is one who shows that age and experience are no barriers to success. Whether an apprentice delivering immediate success or a manager who is smashing KPIs, this is the category for you. NOTE: THIS CATEGORY IS OPEN TO UNDER 25s ONLY

Unsung Hero: The employee who goes above and beyond. Whether that involves coming in outside of a regular shift to get a job done or singlehandedly improving the performance of their department, we want to celebrate and recognise the go-getters.

Skills & Community Champion: The employee who recognises that manufacturing’s influence extends
beyond the four walls of the factory, and gets out into the local area to share their work and experience to a wider audience.

Employee Innovation: The team or individual whose bright idea has led to impressive on-site gains. Often the best ideas are the simplest ones, so we want to hear about any innovations that have boosted performance.

Health & Safety Champion: This award celebrates the safety-conscious amongst our manufacturing teams: the ones who embody the ‘safety at all costs’ ethos that is at the cornerstone of world-class standards.

Maintenance Award: The team or individual who seeks to make downtime a thing of the past. We want to hear about
a proactive approach to asset care that has brought tangible benefits across the site.

NEW FOR 2018 Energy & Environment Champion: The employee or team who has done their bit for the planet – whether investing in energy-saving measures or making the factory a haven for wildlife, this category has been designed to highlight their good work.

NEW FOR 2018 UK Manufacturing Hero: The site, team or individual who has made the biggest impact to the UK’s manufacturing industry in the past year. This is shortlisted and awarded by the Manufacturing Management editorial
team, based on their experiences from
time spent in the industry.