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26 September 2012

Entek International

Capital investment and lean focus have doubled production in Entek, the business with the go-faster stripe

Winner: 2012 Best Process Plant
Winner: 2012 People Management Award (joint)
Winner: 2012 Energy & Environment Award
Highly Commended: 2012 Best SME

Entek makes battery separators in a high volume, continuous process. It exports everything it produces and, together with its US sister plant, serves the global market. The Nottingham plant alone supplies nearly 60% of Europe's needs. Its product is a highly-engineered polyethylene membrane sheet which is robust enough to withstand years of immersion in a lead acid battery but sophisticated enough for ionic transfer through the membrane pore structure.

There is every chance that your car uses material made here, on one of the widest, fastest, most modern and environmentally responsible production lines in the world.

This is an extremely complex factory demanding a high level of technical knowledge and control. After a leveraged MBO, in 2008 the owners invested over £20 million in plant and equipment, followed in 2011 by £2 million in
environmental improvements. All loans were paid off before its sale to Entek at the end of November 2011. Several members of the original management team chose to remain with the business, including the UK MD Martin Lee.

Prior to the MBO, the plant was profitable but reaching nowhere near its full potential. Lee describes it as "on the grid but not racing". It is clearly in pole position now: in five years it has more than doubled its production through capital investment and lean activities, and its direct labour cost has halved. By centring its lean programme firmly on TPM, its process improvements are built on a solid foundation. Focused improvement projects have opened the throttle; one produced a breakthrough in a tricky niche product which accounted for the majority of customer returns, now at an all-time low. In addition, Entek has halved the amount of not right first time material in three years. All of this rejected material is recycled and reused so the scrap rate is almost zero. Its superb performance is not lost on its customers. In late 2010, the plant won the JCI (Johnson Controls International) worldwide supplier of the year award – one of only 13 winners out of 100,000 global suppliers.

Clear, fair management of its people has underpinned this performance. Company priorities are deployed as clear goals and measures throughout the business. Visual indicators are everywhere: you can see exactly how the plant is doing within 60 seconds of walking on the shopfloor. A culture of improvement and involvement is well-established. Hundreds of small kaizen projects are completed every month and they are well recognised and rewarded. A plant profit bonus scheme focuses on contributions to CI.

It has met other serious challenges. Top is the issue of trichloroethylene (TCT). This solvent is vital, removing oil from membrane pores to allow battery ions to flow. But it is also expensive, nasty and potentially carcinogenic. This plant recycles and reuses a world-beating 99.9% of its entire TCT purchase. It also tackles the problem at source. In 2012 the plant will make double the amount of material using only 15% of the solvent used in 2008 – a direct result of its 2011 investment in carbon bed recovery systems and improved production line extraction. Entek is probably one of the safest users of solvent anywhere in the world. It also reuses 99.9% of its process oil, and has cut gas consumption by 50% and electricity by 36%.

The plant recently won an environmental award for the most innovative environmental remediation programme in the UK. Basically, it is using anaerobic bugs to clean up its ground water. It didn't have to – contamination was well below safe limits. It did it because it was the right, responsible thing to do, which is why Entek is a worthy winner of the Energy & Environment Award.

Entek is well on the way to its goal of becoming the lowest cost global separator manufacturer. It is already competing effectively against the Chinese and it plans to go a lot further. Fast, effective, profitable, responsible, innovative – it all adds up to 2012's Best Process Plant.

Top 3 Points

  • Doubled production in five years through lean activity and capital investment
  • A superb, innovative environmental record – recycles and reuses 99.9% of solvent
  • A culture of improvement and


Entek International Ltd

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