The DS Smith plant in Spennymoor specialises in supplying plastics and foam products, principally to the automotive industry in the UK. It delivers high quality packaging and other components, for example bumper cores, seating, boot spacers and side impact protection components.
A lot of the products are supplied into Nissan through OEMs and it is also a Tier 1 supplier to JLR. Components are manufactured from Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) and Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam which lend themselves to local supply chains because they are so lightweight, as well as being recyclable, durable and resilient.
DS Smith are members of the Manufacturing Growth Network (MGN) which is a quarterly publication sponsored by NRG, Square One Law, EY, Lloyds Bank and EEF and published by Insider Media.
Insider spoke with Tim Wilson, who oversees the operations at the Spennymoor plant, to find out more about the impressive productivity performance that they have achieved last quarter. He began by saying that the key to DS Smith’s productivity is the people, specifically the training and progression opportunities that it provides.
Tim Wilson, Operations, DS Smith
“Last year, we provided 4,794 hours of training for the 90 staff on the site. A significant amount of this involves safety training. And our objective is for all of our permanent staff to go through the QCF process, so everyone on the site is part of this. And this training supports the wider polymer processing we’re involved in too.”
“We take safety extremely seriously and take our safety training to the extreme, certainly more than we are required by law to do. But we don’t only focus on process training. For many years we have provided Maths, English and ICT courses through local colleges to improve fundamental, transferrable skills.”
“And we’re proud of the fact that 67 per cent of our Spennymoor workforce have been promoted since joining the business which we think clearly demonstrates the opportunities we provide through the training.”
Another fundamental element to DS Smith’s productivity success is its focus on continuous improvement, most recently with the introduction of Lean Six Sigma across the business, including the shop floor.
The plant also has a strong focus on internal supplier and customers, driving issues back to the source within the site to improve and eliminate any waste in terms of time, energy and costs . As Tim Wilson explained: “Any issues that come up in the production process, for example delays caused through tool refits, we will investigate precisely why this happened, what went wrong and take this back to the supplier. And we think this creates accountability within the site and not just passing on problems to the next department.”
Improvement and cost savings are also driven through regular reviews from DS Smith’s automotive customer base which is of course always looking for us to refine processes. “This does keep us on our toes. They do quality audits all the time and our standards are incredibly onerous, and what we’ve found over the years is that our customer base is really influential in what we do and how we do it.”
“We’re working on developing other applications for the products. In the automotive industry the design is very heavily regulated but we do have a New Product Introduction team based at Spennymoor which gets close to our automotive customers. We think there’s some education we can provide and our teams are out there talking to the OEMs and engineers to make them understand our products. Engineers are constantly moving to work on different parts of a car so we need to remind them of what our products can do.”
The company has a significant programme of investment that will be introduced to the Spennymoor site over the coming years. “Our materials are being used in more and more applications, even within the automotive industry the material still has many applications which we can develop with our customers and suppliers.”
“To support this we will be investing in insert moulding technology which will allow us to introduce metal or plastic parts into our process and mould around them. This investment will include new presses and robotics to allow us to safely insert mould. Safety is again the key for developing these robotic products.”
“On top of this we will be investing £350k this year to increase our steam generation capacity at Spennymoor with a new more efficient boiler, as well as investing in upgrading our existing equipment to reduce risk and extend the life of our existing equipment. We will also be investing in additional material tanks, allowing us to increase our output.”
So what are DS Smith’s plans for the future? Tim Wilson is clear: “Our plans centre on growth. We continue to evaluate opportunities for entering new markets within Europe to support our existing customer base, and this could include investing is new manufacturing sites in Europe.”
“We are also in the process of evaluating significant expansion of the footprint of the Spennymoor plant as it is our centre of excellence for EPP moulding for the automotive industry. The plant is located on the old Electrolux site and there are some vacant buildings there that could be utilised but we’re probably about 18 months away with this.”
MGN is FREE for North East manufacturing businesses to be involved in, for further information please contact Julie Mordue, client relationship manager at NRG.