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Vanguard, a wire products, wire components, retail display and storage systems manufacturer, has adopted lean manufacturing to streamline its working practices.

This has helped the company minimise waste, boost productivity, cut production costs and slash lead times and has put it on course to achieve record turnover.

John Bake, production manager at Vanguard, said: ‘Making a typical product – for example, a single wire basket – used to involve nine operatives, a production time of 28 minutes – 11 minutes of this in movement time alone – and a lead time of 117hrs.

‘By bringing together lean manufacturing in a single cell, we now have six operatives involved in the process and have cut production time to 12.5 minutes, with movement time down to just 30 seconds.

‘We can now assemble a basket every four minutes and have slashed lead times by 97 per cent to 3.5 hours for every 50 baskets.

‘Our production costs have been cut by around 70 per cent and we now have the ability to respond to customer demands within 24 hours if required, compared with up to two weeks’ lead time previously.’ Paul Howcroft, managing director of Vanguard, said: ‘In the past, we mainly undertook batch manufacturing, producing component parts for others, which created a great deal of waste, increased stocks and long lead times.

‘Since adopting lean, we have turned the whole business on its head by seeking to introduce ‘single piece flow’ at every stage of the process.

‘This has resulted in much reduced waste, improved efficiencies, a major boost in manufacturing capacity and a drastic cut in lead times.

‘We have also introduced a much more diverse range of products.

‘Now a significant percentage of our sales are the finished product.

‘We used to operate costly multiple shifts, but now run a single day shift only.

‘We are firmly on course to achieve record turnover of GBP3m by the end of 2009, an increase of 25 per cent.’ Vanguard introduced the lean manufacturing programme in June 2007 when it started working with The Lean Consortium, an associate of the EEF, the industry body for engineering and manufacturing employers in Yorkshire.

Lean reorganised key areas in production, welfare and office areas.

This included installing a cell to produce C2DS wire baskets, a high-volume product demanded on short lead times by many customers.

Storing these was a problem as they measure 800 x 400mm and stack rather than nest.

Vanguard’s lean teams drew up a value stream map of the current production process, followed by a future state map to show how it should be.

The teams planned the cell to minimise movement before producing and following an action plan.

The final cell transformed production and gave lean leaders the skills and knowledge to make improvements without outside help.

A second cell was then planned for another key product.

With the valuable lessons already learned, this took just five weeks to implement and has had similar beneficial effects to the first, without significant capital investment.

Howcroft added: ‘Without the cells, we simply couldn’t compete.

‘We were making a loss on every C2DS basket we sold.

‘Now it’s a profitable and successful line.

‘We also offer a maximum four-day lead time, which our competitors simply cannot match, and have 200 production hours capacity extra every month.

‘It’s the transformation we were aiming for and has been key to our recent growth.

‘Lean has had the effect of engaging staff and customers.

‘Staff could see that there were benefits for them, the customers and the company.

‘It wasn’t all plain sailing though and many lessons were learned along the way about the best ways to communicate and to sell changes to staff.’ The next leg of Vanguard’s lean journey is to introduce a programme of manufacturing excellence involving NVQ Level 2 and 3 training.

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