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Best Factory Awards 2013
Best Factory Awards Gala Lunch Date: 27/09/2013

28 September 2012

Colt International

This south coast expert in smoke and climate control has reinvented its manufacturing operations to become a true leader among UK engineering plants

Highly Commended: 2012 Judges' Special Award

With over 80 years of history, none are more experienced in smoke and climate control than Havant-based Colt International. In fact, the company today also nurtures a growing reputation in architectural solutions, ensuring the need for class-leading works management at this busy and diverse plant.

Among the recent landmark projects is Birmingham Library, where a smoke control scheme for the building includes certified ventilators and special curtains to control the spread of smoke and provide extraction during a fire. On the architectural side, the company provided the stainless steel and glass station roof for the new Blackfriars station, and supplied a range of new metal louvre systems to Terminal 2 at Heathrow.

With such a wide-ranging portfolio, Colt has some interesting manufacturing challenges. With its highest volume product representing around 3,000 a year, this is a low-volume, make-to-order business. There are no batches – the company makes what is stated on the order, and last year there were 2,500 orders with quantities ranging from one to 100-off (10-15% of sales are bespoke by volume).

The Havant site supplies its products to other companies in the group or to its external distributor network. According to engineering director Paul Langford, "failures are painful because the manufacturing site at Havant is charged for any rare instances of rework or replacements in the field, making it the best guarantee of quality".

The factory is divided into fabricated and extruded product manufacturing areas, and easy to spot is that Colt isn't shy of investment. With a £500,000 spend in the past three years, the fabrication area has been boosted by the introduction of new CNC punching and guillotine machinery, along with a re-engineered roll-former, while extruded products are benefiting from the introduction of £160,000, four-axis, pendulum-configured machining centre that offers six times faster throughput.

The automated CNC punch has had particular impact, reducing a two-shift, six-man operation to a single-shift supported by just four employees – the area can run lights-out if required and offers remote monitoring capability. This is crucial in a price-sensitive market where the only way to improve margins is to identify new efficiencies or waste streams.

Supply chain management also has to be smart. The site's annual spend is £4.78 million across 126 suppliers (105 in the UK), however, 51% is spent with five suppliers on order types that include kanban (mainly raw materials and fasteners), daily scheduled and consolidated invoice. In one recent initiative, the company has outsourced its electronic power panels to leverage the greater purchasing power commanded by the subcontractor. This was inspired by auditing another manufacturing company selling medical graduated compression stockings. Colt stages CI events with all of its top suppliers, particularly to target stock reduction: the business is on track to achieve 33% lower stock value by year-end.

In 2010 the 85,000 sq ft shopfloor at Havant was completely redesigned, with the press shop located centrally and product flowing out into adjacent cells. Playing a huge part in this vital transformation were the employees, who have all benefited from a company action plan to impart empowerment. This has entailed: creating a skills matrix for everyone; performing testing (with scoring) on core competencies to understand and bridge the skills gap; and creating fast-track leadership training for Colt's next generation.

As a management tool, the action plan has helped drive productivity (measured as charged hours divided by actual attended hours), which at the end of 2011 was 4% higher than the previous year.

Colt says that many of its competitors use subcontractors for manufacturing and as a result lack control and speed of response. According to Langford, among the Havant site's many distinguishing factors are its quality and delivery performance, both of which are closely-monitored KPIs. Few could argue otherwise – Colt collects a deserved highly commended in this year's Judges' Special Award.

Top 3 Points

  • Daily MRP reports look at material demand based on safety stock levels
  • Operators receive productivity payments where cell performances are totalled up and amortised into a factory figure that is shared equally
  • CI events with top suppliers are on track to reduce stock held by 33%


    Colt International Ltd

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