How to make the most of your factory move

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As Manufacturing Growth Director, Steve helps businesses to compete, innovate and grow providing advice and support on new product development, intellectual property protection and production process optimisation. His broad career includes MD of £75M multi-site, European medium volume manufacturing company, Director of global sourcing in a $12B US corporation, MD of an off-shore engineering company in India and design and engineering leadership in sectors spanning aircraft to lawn-mowers. He has a PhD and MSc in Aerospace Vehicle Design, Cranfield, BSc Aircraft Engineering, Salford and is a Six Sigma Green Belt. 

More and more factories are on the move. Whether it’s international – re-shoring production back to the UK – or a local or national relocation to more modern premises, manufacturing is moving thanks, in part, to renewed confidence and increased investment.

Some moves are driven by financial benefits: the government has set up 24 Enterprise Zones, where manufacturers can claim 100% relief on business rates for five years, worth up to £275,000. Some of the Zones are even enticing new occupants with offers of enhanced capital allowances for new plant and machinery.

Whatever the reason, a factory move is a great opportunity to set up your business in a more efficient and effective space. However, moving machinery, tooling and people – even supply chains – is not for the faint-hearted. Here are some of the key issues you need to consider:

Team tactics

Moving a factory or upgrading your existing plant is a complex activity that calls for a multi-disciplinary project team. As well as the obvious facilities and shop floor layout decisions, there are many other aspects to consider, including health and safety, and HR. The team must include a mix of people from diverse functions in order to reflect this, so that they can engage successfully with all the departments across the business.

Time for change

The timescale for a move depends on the size of the company and the distance involved, but often you don’t have full control over time as it may be influenced by other factors. That said, allow yourself as much time as possible for the planning stage: the longer you have to assess the risks before the first machine is unbolted, the less chance there is of an unexpected hitch or major disruption.

Minimise project and business risk

A strong project team is the first step, and a crucial one – without this, the project is doomed to failure.  Success hinges on good planning and realistic assessments. You need a robust plan and you need to communicate it to make sure the whole team buys into that plan. Think about using FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) – it’s a useful tool to identify and mitigate risk.

Be honest about your own capabilities, working out what you can do in-house and where you will need help. Choose the best partners: if you’re moving to a new or refurbished site, you will need good builders and fabricators, for example. And, however strong your project team, there’s nothing quite like experience: tapping into the expertise of an advisor – someone who’s been there and done it will only boost your chances of success.

Lean layout: go with the flow

Upping sticks and moving is a brilliant opportunity to challenge why you do what you do. Start from scratch with the customer demand (or order) and design the layout to pull that through the whole process in the most efficient manner – and this is equally applicable if you are reconfiguring your existing factory, rather than moving to a new one.

Too often, I see sites where a blinkered adherence to internal metrics means that lines, cells or departments are pushing to their own targets – churning out inventory – rather than pulling in the same direction, from the customer order.

The move is also an ideal chance to instigate – or reinvigorate – a 5S programme. What better catalyst than setting up shop in a shiny, well-organised factory?

Efficient use of resources

With energy costs continuing to rise, don’t overlook this chance to configure your new operation to use less energy. It’s the perfect time to sort out insulation, lighting, water utilisation, etc – all things that can have a tremendous long-term impact on how you operate, and the cost of doing business.

Make sure you get the maximum bang for your buck: if you are going to the trouble of moving a machine tool and disconnecting it from the electrical and compressed air supply, it’s vital that you put it back down somewhere where it will increase its efficiency, rather than mirroring the previous installation.

People power

If your move is local, the chances are it will be viewed positively. But if longer distances are involved – or international boundaries are to be crossed – there may be some potentially contentious HR issues to address. If this is the case, it might be advisable to keep the planning stage just that - planning - for some time. This will enable employment law aspects to be assessed, before you go live with the project team.

Use the multi-disciplinary project team as a route to engagement with everyone across the business. Don’t just tell the workforce what you are doing; have a two-way conversation and give them the chance to input their ideas and suggestions.

If your site is unionised then maximise that - union reps are excellent communicators, so if they understand why the move is taking place – and feel part of the process – they can be a positive influence and a great help. There are the official ways to comply with unions, and then there are the ‘official-plus’ ways to engage with them fully. I recommend the latter. Respect their position in your organisation and recognise that often a member will ask their union rep a question that they may not feel able to ask their employer.

Problems and pitfalls

Your supply chain could be disrupted if you are moving a long distance. Similarly, if you supply a tier one or OEM and they are moving, your relocation may be prompted by the need to stay close to them. Consider all stakeholders: the supply chain is vital to your future success.

However carefully you plan, there may be disruption to schedules. If you’re phasing your move to a new site and running the old site in parallel to ensure orders are met, an unexpected problem could occur which impacts your cashflow. A machine could be late arriving, its installation could be delayed, the first batch of components from your new supplier could be faulty... all these elements should be risk assessed and minimised. Any bump in the road will knock you off course – and there’s no greater bump than a hit to your bottom line.

If you’ve checked and double-checked every item on the plan, the move itself may go smoothly. But don’t overlook the people aspects: fail to engage them and you will move into your new site and face an uphill battle to gain the efficiency benefits you envisaged.

Opportunity knocks

A factory move can be an unrivalled opportunity to optimise your operation. Use this chance wisely, plan everything carefully and call on the expertise of those who’ve done this before.

Dos and don’ts

  • DO ensure you have a strong cross-functional project team
  • DO plan for every eventuality and build in as much time as possible
  • DO engage fully with everyone involved, including the unions if applicable
  • DO use the opportunity to optimise layout and kick-start techniques such as 5S
  • DON’T replicate your existing processes in the new site
  • DON’T overlook the possibility of supply chain disruption

At EEF we understand your opportunities and challenges and have developed a set of linked capabilities to help you move locations with minimum disruption. This is not a pre-set “product-in-a-box”, we will spend time with you and your team so please contact us on 0845 293 9850 to discuss a bespoke solution that is optimised to your individual needs.

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Manufacturing Growth Director

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