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Andy Dunn: Lean Manufacturing

Andy Dunn wants to see a culture change at his company. To this end, he is very happy to nip back and forth between his workplace in Luton and Warwick University.

Andy holds a manufacturing management position at IBC Vehicles, which produces light commercial vehicles for General Motors, Renault and Nissan. The firm has 1,970 employees and produces 92,000 vehicles a year, but he knows it could be far more efficient. Essentially, it needs to become a lean automotive plant. Andy’s aim is to move the company away from the lumbering mass-production culture reminiscent of the 1950s American automotive industry to the slick, lean approach spearheaded by Japanese giant Toyota. So, demanding though his day job is, Andy has taken time to gain a number of extra qualifications to benefit himself and the business.

The icing on the cake is the Engineering Doctorate, which he started after completing a part-time MSc through Warwick’s Professional and Executive Programmes. Andy started his working life as an apprentice motor technician and worked for Toyota and Ford dealerships before joining IBC 14 years ago. He says: “The MSc was a wonderful experience and when my academic supervisor asked me if I would be interested in continuing, it seemed a fantastic opportunity. My Masters thesis was connected very much to what I was doing at work and was particularly useful at the end of it. Having the chance to expand on that in far greater depth was what really appealed to me.”

The title of Andy’s EngD, which was sponsored by IBC and EPSRC, was: “How can IBC Vehicles, as a typical brownfield automotive plant, make the transition to lean manufacturing?”

Throughout the automotive industry, lean initiatives continually fail to reach their full potential. Andy believes this is because plants reach for the lean tools before they assess their true organisational capabilities. Without key enablers, many lean initiatives fall short. Andy’s research focused on 11 enablers, including a lean transition strategy, industrial relations and lean leadership, which he terms as “determinants of lean manufacturing.” Keeping the individuality of products, which so appeals to IBC’s customers - there are 68 different body styles available in 109 colours for instance - was one of the challenges. “This is all about coming up with a method of maintaining that level of product diversity while ensuring efficiency and reducing costs. The aim is to come up with an action plan and a framework for adapting to lean manufacturing which has appeal to other companies as well.”

Monthly sessions at Warwick with his mentor have given 44-year-old Andy the confidence to tackle some of these issues. His company is very supportive, but inevitably his ideas sometimes meet with resistance. “We review progress and set milestones and these meetings are extremely positive experiences. These one-to-one tuition sessions enable us to philosophise on some of the issues going on in the workplace and are very productive.”

Andy Dunn