Productivity in the face of adversity- markets & diversification


DS Smith Plastics Foam Products is a supplier of custom designed packaging products, material handling systems and speciality components to many of the world’s largest manufacturing companies.

DS Smith’s manufacturing plant in Spennymoor, County Durham opened in 1996. This brownfield site was originally opened to supply packaging for Electrolux and to fulfil the packaging requirements for many other big brands including Samsung, Phillips and Ebac.

In 1996 white goods packaging made up nearly 90% of all business output at DS Smith. However as time followed DS Smith, along with other manufacturers in UK, witnessed a decline in demand as increasingly businesses turned to Eastern Europe to lower the overall cost of manufacturing.

During this time DS Smith looked to new markets and diversified its product range to secure the future of its business and their workforce. They moved from the delivery of low value packaging for white goods businesses into expanded polystyrene and polypropylene for the automotive industry. This was new territory for DS Smith and required a huge level of commitment from all employees at every level.

To ensure that DS Smith met the demands and requirements of the automotive industry the business undertook many changes to manufacturing processes and commissioned workforce training initiatives to support staff development. Accreditation to TS 16949 was achieved by Spennymoor plant in 2004 making them one of the first expanded moulding foam companies in the UK to achieve such a coveted standard.

These changes have helped to accelerate growth at DS Smith – the Spennymoor manufacturing plant’s turnover has grown from £4m in 1998 to £11.4 in 2015 and forecast to increase to £13m in 2016/17.

John Cant, Sales & Marketing Director at DS Smith comments “We have achieved this successful transition by promoting creativity in the workplace and encouraging our people to believe that there is always a higher level to strive to. Being part of the Manufacturers’ League has given us an opportunity to showcase how empowering employees to improve manufacturing efficiency and increase productivity brings business growth, which in turn attracts investment to the UK economy.”

“During 2015 1731 hours were committed to staff training, we currently have 82 employees in Spennymoor and many are trained in more than one role. All employees have a minimum NVQ in polymer processing and many have received qualifications in Maths and English since joining the team. The commitment of the team and knowledge acquired has resulted in cost savings of over £1m since 2012.  In 2015 we delivered over 10.8 million parts with a reject rate of 45 dppm.”

Julie Mordue, Client Relationship Manager, NRG “At the heart of DS Smith, Spennymoor is their people.  The business has always been employee-orientated, focused on empowerment and the on-going development of a productive and adaptive workforce. Their journey is unusual; to stay ahead of the curve they have diversified their product range to secure the future of its business and their workforce.  DS Smith is an important addition to the Manufacturers’ League and shows us all how we can transform and adapt to face and conquer adversity.”