Productive spirit

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Diageo

Productive spirit
Mark Twain once said: "Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough." It's a motto that Diageo's Cameronbridge distillery in Scotland takes very much to heart, although perhaps not quite in the way Twain meant and with the inclusion of other spirits such as Smirnoff vodka and Tanqueray gin as well as Johnnie Walker whisky.

For Diageo, the challenge is how to boost production to handle demand using all the lean techniques it can muster. This, of course, is a core aim of any manufacturer. But in the case of Cameronbridge, the quest took a quantum leap forward just over four years ago in partnership with management training and consulting firm MCP, based near Solihull.

After the Scottish plant secured MCP's services in 2007, it first conducted a rigorous Asset Management Improvement Service (AMIS) maintenance assessment of the site. The process was created by MCP in 1987 in response to a Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) announcement that businesses should save £1.3bn a year through better maintenance management and asset care best practice.

10 years after its introduction, the DTI declared AMIS had saved UK manufacturers across all sectors £300M. Small wonder, then, that Diageo was so keen to make use of it.

Any company wishing to improve must first realistically assess its starting point. The initial AMIS audit aims to enable that, scoring business performance in areas ranging from general maintenance levels to materials management.

This did not make for pleasant reading for Cameronbridge. Its worst scores were in cost management (34%) and productivity and maintenance effectiveness (41%). But organisation and administration; workload planning and control; and failure analysis and betterment were all below 50% too.

Maintenance manager Stuart Morrison, who led the change process, bravely lists a litany of historical site shortcomings. They included poor use of computerised maintenance management software; poor asset availability and reliability; inefficient ways of working; ineffective maintenance plans; and quality issues.

There was a prevailing 'fire fighting' culture, with poor advance planning to prevent kit problems before they occurred. "We were great at responding to emergency breakdowns and reactive maintenance,"​ says Morrison. However, one spanner in the works was a lack of spare parts, which would sometimes cause significant delays while spares were on order.

In addition, maintenance and operations groups worked in silos. " There was a bit of an 'us and them' attitude,"​ says distillation business leader Scott Harrison. "The trades teams were very wary of devolving any maintenance tasks to the operations teams."​ There was actually zero operator input into delivering the maintenance strategy, he adds.

And in terms of production, volumes were fairly low in comparison to where the site is now and the achievement of targets was inconsistent, he says. "One week we would be over-producing, the next we were under-producing."

Attitudes to tidiness were also inconsistent, he adds. "We were great at cleaning up. If the queen were to have come here, the place would have been smart, but a week later it would be the same as it was before and that's not good."

Staff morale was generally high, but was mixed with apathy, he says. "There was a positive atmosphere on site and still is. However, we accepted failures and breakdowns."

In short, the challenge was considerable, so the response was radical and robust and involved all areas of the business.

A new management structure under Morrison was created to tackle priority areas. Heads were chosen for six workstreams: planning; 5S, the lean system for a tidy workplace; continuous improvement; review of existing maintenance; operator asset care and cost effectiveness.

In addition, each workstream included a champion from the general staff. Involving all levels of staff was vital in overcoming resistance to change, especially among longer-standing employees, says Harrison. "One comment I will always remember when this first came in was, 'ok, this will last a year'. Now we're four years into it.

"We actually took every employee off site and told them what the AMIS vision was. Early engagement with operators and trades is key. This can't be seen as a management led thing. We started it off as management, but quickly realised that wasn't the way to go." ​This was especially true in the case of painful changes, such as switching to a 365-day schedule, including Christmas Day.

As part of staff engagement, detailed training plans were introduced for every role, documented and tracked. This also had the effect of improving performance. Training was prioritised according to urgency.

At the same time as upskilling staff, teams were restructured to include maintenance and operations personnel, so they were not divided, and met far more frequently to review progress.

Staff morale and motivation was boosted by setting some early easy wins, says Harrison. "We selected early continuous improvement projects to maximise personal impact. Some of the guys have been here for 40 years and had probably seen the same issue turn up month after month for 10, 20 years. This was a real opportunity to bring that into the forum and get it resolved."

Trades teams were set a target to spend 1520% of their time on continuous improvement projects, with the aim to complete at least three a month.

Causes of equipment failure were thoroughly analysed in order to move from reactive to preventative maintenance, where failures could be more easily predicted and steps taken to stop them before they happened. Root cause analysis and continuous improvement sessions now run twice a week.

Aside from management and staff issues, one of the most significant lessons was that Cameronbridge was not using its SAP enterprise resource planning system nearly effectively enough. "We had plenty of data, but we weren't using it to our benefit,"​ says Morrison. SAP is now applied to everything from analysing maintenance and continuous improvement to organising the ordering of spare parts, stocks of which are kept topped up ahead of problems.

Site improvements have not been achieved without considerable investment too namely £105M. As of the end of April, £1.52M had been allocated in the current financial year alone, upping overall equipment effectiveness by 18.4% and netting huge cost savings.

The results speak for themselves. Capacity had grown by more than 60% by the end of July and average AMIS scores are now more than 80%, past the threshold for world class manufacturing standards.

Cameronbridge's initial harsh criticism of its performance must be viewed in the light of AMIS's tough standards. But this also magnifies its achievements. And it makes you think what those who haven't faced AMIS could do.

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