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Transformation on shop floor leads to big capacity gains for flue and chimney manufacturer

Midtherm Flue Systems based in Dudley have big plans to grow their family business and a series of projects with WMG at the University of Warwick will lead to additional revenues worth at least £143,000 per year.

Company Background

Established in 1968, Midtherm Flue Systems is an environmentally aware flue manufacturer specialising in the production and distribution of Class 1 Chimneys, Vitreous Enamel and Flexible Liners for the Wood Burning Stove industry with one of the largest flue manufacturing, storage, and distribution facilities in the UK.

Challenge - Surging demand creates capacity issues.

Midtherm were keen to capitalise on a surge in customer demand for two products, that could yield two-three times their current sales levels. However, they did not have the capacity to deliver on the extra demand with their current factory layout.


Step 1 – Capture the data and look at new possibilities.

WMG’s Business Development Manager Russ NobleLink opens in a new window met with Midtherm to understand their key challenges, and suggested they undertake a business transformation project with Industrial Engineer Gun GokmenLink opens in a new window and Mechanical Engineer Manikanta RaviLink opens in a new window. The team undertook a series of site visits and product line walks to capture actual production data and compared it to the production figures needed to allow them to meet the required capacity.

Using a Lean 6 Sigma approach they identified the wastes and bottlenecks in the process and then made a series of recommendations for how capacity could be increased, including:

  • optimised process flow and optimised layouts
  • adopting single piece flow production
  • implementing workplace organisation methods
  • machine setup reduction methods
  • further capacity improvement options, such as machinery for specific processes, digitalisation, technology upgrades, and additional shifts

These changes alone without digitalisation and technology upgrades yielded production increases of 50% for a high selling product but the team thought there was scope to make even bigger gains by working further on the bottlenecks.

Step 2 – Bring in some extra resource to make plans a reality.

The team identified that there was an opportunity to reduce the unit time of two bottleneck processes the (Rolling & Welding and Lagging) and suggested the best way to go about it was to get some interns involved. Internships are a great way to get important projects delivered with fresh ideas and insight and they help encourage young engineers to develop careers in manufacturing firms.

Graduate engineers Febry Wardhana and Raneem Doudin joined the firm for two 12-week projects working on unravelling the issues and were supervised by Gun and Manikanta. They spent time focusing on machine capabilities to increase the speed of processes, identifying various problems, looking at the root causes, and creating solutions as they went along.

Febry for example suggested using a hoist system with a lifter to eliminate the need for a forklift truck for transporting raw materials, eliminating numerous manoeuvres, and eventually drastically reducing transport time. Raneem worked to resolve a blockage in a machine that undertakes the lagging process (injecting of insulation material into a flue) and developed an innovative tool design, which was delivered as a 3D printed prototype to speed up this process.

Impact – Transformation launched ready for the Winter rush.

Over the course of the three projects conducted between December 2022 and September 2023:

  • Midtherm are now running at full capacity and ready for the high winter season
  • Yearly production capacity of the two highest selling products each increased by approximately 50%
  • For these two products, the lines can now produce an additional 2,064 items per year
  • Yearly production capacities of several other products, which were transferred to the newly set up high performance line also increased by approximately 50%
  • Midtherm achieved huge savings especially on labour time per part, and reduced scrap rates,
  • They also hired intern Febry WardhanaLink opens in a new window, to continue their continuous improvement journey

Kevin Woodbine, Operations Director said:

“We have made huge improvements from actions based on WMG’s original report and we have now made additions to the layout for other large volume high labour-intensive products.”

Mick Whale, Training & Development Manager said:

“The team including the interns has done a great job over the last few months and have opened up a lot of new doors for us all.”

Gun Gokmen, Industrial Engineer at WMG said:

“Midtherm have big plans to double the turnover of their business by 2025, and it has been a pleasure to help them build capacity in the factory to make these plans a reality. Midtherm now have a series of options to take forward and with minimum input and investment, they are already making big productivity gains.”

Manikanta Ravi, Mechanical Engineer at WMG said:

"Midtherm's adoption of single-piece flow has brought remarkable results, boosting production, fostering collaboration among workers, and reducing scrap rates—a prime example of how to make improvements in operations”.

    For more information on working with WMG, please email wmgsme at warwick dot ac dot uk


    Wed 25 Oct 2023, 08:00 | Tags: SME