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30 September 2012

Benson Box

Leading UK print-packaging company Benson Box ably demonstrates that astute management combined with an empowered workforce really can pack a punch

Winner: 2012 Skills Development Award
Highly Commended: 2012 Best Household & General Products Plant
Highly Commended: 2012 Judges' Special Award

Benson Box has come a long way since it began making hat and shoe boxes in the 1920s. It first diversified into folded cartons for food markets in the 1980s, and today, the one-billion-carton-a-year site at Bardon, near Leicester, operates five medium-format digital printing presses (six-colour plus coat) capable of running 18,000 sheets an hour, making it the largest packaging supplier to the UK food retail market.

Downstream of the printers, a number of CNC cutting presses supply an impressive line-up of automated gluing lines. Filling 12,500 sq m in total, the plant flexes between six and seven days as required to meet demand – around September/October there will be a 20-40% increase in production due to Christmas. However, there are two other UK sites within the group, each with the same quality accreditations, so in theory the company can run any job at any site, making it very flexible in periods of high demand.

Because end-prices have been declining for the past decade, the company says the only way to move forward is via new plant efficiencies. But this is far easier said than done. Massive fluctuation against what is considered standard loading, very often at two days' notice, creates more than a headache or two. Also, ramp-up time from development to production can be very short: one recent customer went from zero to 17 million cartons in three months. And, highlighting the notoriously short visibility in the print-packaging industry, the company only has about three weeks' work at any one time.

Clearly, the ability to accommodate frequent product changeovers is pivotal to the plant's success. Like all quality print-packaging companies, Benson Box uses the 'make-ready' process, which essentially refers to getting everything done on a press in advance to prepare for final printing. Here, the company says it is one of few with its own 'pre-make-ready' facility, where die boards are prepared to be as close to 'lock and load' as possible, presenting huge time savings.

Today, Benson's reputation for manufacturing excellence is such that when it recently opened its doors to competitors (on the stipulation it would receive a return invitation), all bar two turned up. Visitors that day would have seen the company deploying a range of methodologies to achieve its world-class performance: 5S, TPM, automated OEE, SOP, visual management, value stream mapping, kanban, SMED and line balancing among them.

Of course, the secret to success with any manufacturing management tool is workforce engagement. With this in mind, Benson Box views employee development as one of its key responsibilities. A rapid change environment can only be served by people who are adaptive and focused on the future. Regarding its skills development, the company has an arrangement with Loughborough College for NVQ and ILM qualifications, although it uses Smallpeice Enterprises for Six Sigma training.

Around 180 Benson Box employees (and rising) now have an NVQ in Business Improvement Techniques. The business is using intensive skills development as a way to combat shortages of trained staff in the local economy, where much manufacturing has departed. Benson also nurtures engineering apprentices, while ILM Level 5 is delivered to the management team comprising office managers, directors, production department managers and HR. So what's the upshot of all these efforts? Well, for one thing, staff turnover is now just 2% as opposed to 50% a decade ago, while for another thing the company has secured the 2012 Skills Development Award.

Interestingly, Benson Box says it made no conscious decision to be world class – it simply strives to be better than yesterday. And it shows – the group is confident of growing its annual sales by 10% come the end of 2012, ultimately securing this progressive manufacturer a well-deserved highly commendation for both the Best Household & General Products Plant category and the Judges' Special Award.

Top 3 Points

  • First site worldwide to be audited independently for ISO 12647-2 colour management
  • First UK packaging printer to install a Heidelberg XL105 six-colour press
  • As well as productivity bonuses, an employee suggestion scheme offers £250 for the best idea each month


Benson Group Ltd

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