Keith Nicholl1 million parts per month, from brackets to fully functioning coffee machines. An average batch size of just 36 parts and the introduction of 450 new parts per month.

Yet the employees at this fast moving engineering firm still found time to save £435,000 last year.

I went to catch up with Operations Director, Keith Nicholl, to find out how KMF Precision Sheet Metal Ltd. has generated this improvement culture.

In the last 5 years the company have saved £1.6 million as a result of implementing employees’ suggestions.

All 385 employees are eligible to register in the Productivity Share Scheme. Each idea they submit is rapidly assessed and if considered worth investment the employee gets the go ahead to implement it.

Progress is monitored at the weekly Continuous Improvement Review meetings, held for both day and night shifts.

There is an established tariff for savings. A standard amount of money is allocated per hour of time saved and for quality, safety and welfare improvements.

Each employee can make unlimited suggestions and actual savings made over the year are accumulated in a pot. At the end of the year all those who have achieved the minimum savings target (£1500 this year) take a share of the pot.

Since starting 6 years ago the number of employees signing up has increased from 150 to 282 and the savings have gone from £100,000 to £435,000.

Successful entrants have risen from 65 to 176…its tough and so not everyone hits the target.

The savings have contributed to a profitable performance and have allowed KMF to expand their business. In the last 2 years over £2million has been invested in new folding equipment alone as the company supplies new sectors.

What is the secret behind the success?

“It’s a back to basics approach” explains Keith. “Employees get training sessions in 5C, 7 Waste and the Plug Game. This demonstrates the benefits of those tools as well as flow.”

Despite the complexity of the product flow it is the application of lots of simple ideas that has yielded the benefits.

Keith adds, “Lean had been tried before but ideas were rarely implemented. Making the person who suggested the idea responsible for implementing it has made a big difference. The weekly CI Review meetings have never been cancelled and A3 summaries are used to track progress and capture learning as well as instilling a PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) attitude.”

How will you sustain the culture as you expand?

“When I started as Business Improvement Manager 9 years ago, there were two of us leading improvement. Gary Sutton is now the Quality Manager. The CI team who report directly to me is expanding to three.”

Keith now manages engineering, quality, New Product Introduction, design and the CI functions. This includes the set up and layout of new manufacturing areas and will soon add the recruitment and induction function. Add that to the widespread involvement in the Productivity Share Scheme and you can see that the influence of CI is spreading.

However as the product range expands and the company grows it isn’t plain sailing. Keith points out that it is very easy for standards to slip in an environment that is constantly adapting to meet its order book.

“The focus now is to reinforce the back to basics approach through the Team Leaders. If we look after the 5C condition everything else will follow”

Write in if you would like to share your success story with us or to ask Keith a question.

For examples of how Industry Forum helps companies with the back to basics approach visit our case study section.