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Burbidge and Son

-- Success Story --

WMG serves up productivity improvements for kitchen manufacturer

Increasing productivity isn't about getting staff to do more and more work. It's partly about maximising efficiency by identifying areas where precious resources are being wasted.

Unfortunately, these issues aren't always easy to pinpoint as Burbidge & Son, a long-established kitchen manufacturer from Coventry, discovered. It approached WMG for help finding an intern who could analyse and improve their picking and packing processes.

Time to c-lean out the bottlenecks

Coventry-based Burbidge & Son Ltd has a long and distinguished history in wood-work manufacture, dating back five generations. In 1867, founder Henry Burbidge began manufacturing turned wooden products for a variety of diverse industries: bobbins for local textile companies, bannisters and newel posts for the building trade, and sports goods such as cricket stumps and croquet mallets for a customer list that included Slazenger.

Since the early 1970s, the company has been involved with the production of wooden kitchen furniture. Now running its operation across two factory sites, it supplies its ranges to primarily independent retailers, has 80 staff and is still family-owned: it's led by Ben Burbidge, Henry’s great, great grandson.

These days, retail customers want and demand product choice, which can be a challenge for manufacturers such as Burbidge, admits Mike Procter, Operations Manager for the firm. “We make a wide selection of furniture in around 30 colours,” he notes. “Plus, a large proportion of our kitchens are made to order, so we also offer bespoke colours and sizes. Picking and packing all of these items is a challenge because each order will feature a number of different components — including doors, pelmets and plinths — in different sizes. Nevertheless, it's essential that each order goes out on time and in full to the customer. That's what we want to achieve — and what our customers expect.”

This means the picking and packing process has to be as lean and as effective as possible. And while Burbidge & Son wasn't inefficient in this area, Mike and his team still felt that improvements could be made so that orders could be handled faster and total lead times reduced. The problem was someone needed to work out where productivity issues were occurring so that they could be removed from the system.

This could have been an in-house project for a Burbidge employee, but Mike decided to go another route instead. “I wanted to bring someone in from outside the firm who was a fresh pair of eyes and who could be a catalyst for change,” he says. “Sometimes you need someone new to your operation to hold your feet to the fire and create interest and excitement within the team. So that's what we were looking for. Also, frankly, we're busy people and I knew that a thorough productivity study would be very a time-consuming project for an existing member of staff.”

Collaboration leads to root cause analysis

In January 2019, Mike approached WMG to see if they could provide a solution and was told about the Group's Internship programme, which was created for SMEs requiring additional resource and expertise to overcome technical and strategic business challenges. “I had met Liz McArdle, WMG's Innovation Manager, at a Coventry and Warwickshire Green Business Programme event,” says Mike. “Also, around 20 years ago, Burbidge & Son had worked with WMG's Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya — and there are people in the firm who still have fond memories of their collaboration. Plus, WMG are local with a good reputation, so it was an obvious step to ask for their support.”

WMG advertised for a Process Optimisation Project Assistant who could conduct root cause analysis on the sources of waste at Burbidge & Son over an eight-week period, from early July to the end of August 2019. Candidates would need knowledge of Lean Six Sigma processes and continuous improvement tools, such as process mapping, data collection, solution generation and control plans.

A shortlist was drawn up and interviews were conducted at the company's Coventry factory. Ultimately, Sam Hill, a third year mechanical engineering student from the University of Nottingham, was given the role. “We chose Sam because he was extremely personable, had the skills we were looking for, was very hands-on, and demonstrated that he would be able to collaborate well with our team,” says Mike.

Cost savings and future opportunities

Using the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) approach from Lean Six Sigma, Sam quickly identified areas for process improvement and applied efficiencies to reduce packing times, in collaboration with Burbidge staff. For example, he created a lane system to ensure that high-priority tasks would be completed first. This meant that as soon as a staff member had finished packing a product, another task was already batched and waiting for them, complete with purchasing forms. No further instruction from their manager would be needed.

“Sam was able to identify some great, quick, short-term wins,” says Mike. “He also wrote an action plan which highlighted some longer-term efficiency strategies, including a recommendation that new automation machinery could be brought in and used around the factory to increase productivity.” It's estimated that the streamlining changes Sam implemented will amount to significant labour cost saving.

“Burbidge & Son are a well-known and innovative local company,” says Liz McArdle. “Bringing an intern into their business to optimise production processes was a two-way street. It brought efficiency savings for Burbidge and the experience was a learning exercise for Sam.”

The internship was so successful it has encouraged the Burbidge & Son team to look for efficiency savings in other areas of the business. “For example, we've been trialling packaging equipment to see if we can improve it,” says Mike. “We're now in the process of talking to WMG about finding another intern for a different project at our second factory.”

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