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05 November 2014


Despite BFA acclaim in 2008, tablet maker MSD Cramlington then faced the bitterest pill of all – closure. But trusting every individual to commit to the site's turnaround has paid dividends and MSD is now flexing its manufacturing muscle

Winner: People & Skills Development Award

When it comes to burning platforms, few are more scorching than the threat of closure. That's what faced MSD (formerly Merck Sharpe & Dohme), Cramlington in 2010.

Standards hadn't dropped since MSD achieved BFA acclaim in 2008, but a combination of market factors and US parent Merck's 2009 merger with Schering-Plough meant the site was at risk. Its impressive revival has resulted from a determination to be the most competitive plant in the group.

MSD's survival depended on maintaining reliable, compliant supply, but at a lower cost. Martin Inskip, senior director of operations, pulled together a team to decide how best to communicate the threat to his 360-strong workforce. 'Don't gild the lily', they told him.

His stark message worked: 'Do you want this site to become another supermarket?' This was crystallised by his '£4 vision' – to produce tablets at £4/thousand. It proved a winner and still underpins all decisions, with everyone understanding how a purchase, changeover, or improvement affects this number.

In 2011, Cramlington became the back-up facility for Januvia, a type 2 diabetes drug. The site's razor-sharp focus on reliability and cost resulted in Merck's decision last year to make MSD the main global producer for Januvia, as well as 12 other products for existing and emerging markets.

Greater product complexity means the site has doubled its SKUs to 700. It produces 4.5 billion tablets each year, 90% of which are exported – some in bulk and some packaged.

Worldwide manufacturing strategy

As well as its own £4 vision, Cramlington is committed to Merck's worldwide strategy for manufacturing. Called Target 15, it sets goals to enable Merck to compete in a changing pharmaceutical sector, delivering more drugs to more of the world's population. This demands high-performance processes, products and people – which Cramlington has in spades.

Asset reliability is high, driven by rigorous application of TPM and continuous improvement. A £12 million investment programme is streamlining efficiency and costs, and providing the foundation for expansion. It includes two new coating machines, compressor upgrades and a new powder charging unit, which could ultimately halve cycle time and costs for the main product.

Ability and creativity course through Cramlington's veins. Empowerment and inclusion are well established, and trust runs deep here, as Inskip describes: "We've never had a union. No one is asked to clock in; everyone takes responsibility for their own time and work."

MSD gives people the tools to make change happen. Two years ago, it embarked on a plan for 100% Six Sigma yellow belts. It's a huge commitment and is almost complete – 93% of operators are now qualified. Every employee, no matter what level or department, attends the two-day course, with a project assignment relevant to their area.

The site's apprenticeship scheme has restarted after a break of several years. It has taken on five apprentices this year: two in engineering, two for the laboratory and another for the warehouse.

Appraisals are tightly linked to career development to unlock potential. Individual development plans identify untapped talent and skills gaps, enabling MSD to target training and spot the best candidates. In the last 18 months, 54 people have been involved in a career progression assignment, applying new skills by covering long-term leave or projects. It gives MSD unrivalled workforce flexibility, but also gives its people the opportunity to step up and prove themselves.

Cramlington has displayed pride and persistence. It won over the doubters who penned its potential closure, becoming a major global supplier. And now it has a glowing report from the BFA judges, as the winner of the coveted People & Skills Development Award.


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