5 April 2017 | Article

In 2016, Foam Products embarked upon the next chapter of its continuous improvement program: to integrate the Lean and Six Sigma methodologies across all four UK sites (Northampton, Livingston, Torpoint, Spennymore), encouraging each department from manufacturing and sales, design to administration to become leaner and more efficient, offering added value to our customers.

Lean and Six Sigma are two different methods which work well when paired. Together they are viewed as a widely respected continuous improvement tool. Lean’s primary principles are to create value for customers by eliminating waste while Six Sigma’s are to target the reduction of inefficiencies and variation. Designed as a tool to effectively problem solve, five key stages are used to identify and address problems; define, measure, analyse, improve and control (DMAIC). Through this staged process, Lean Six Sigma enables the root cause of the problem to be identified and a solution implemented based upon facts rather than assumptions. By implementing Lean Six Sigma across Foam Products in a number of stages, the Operational Excellence Team aim to promote active participation and ensure employee engagement with the underlying principles of the tool. It helps employees to develop a sense of ownership and involvement, resulting in greater accountability and effectiveness in day to day operations.  

Championed internally by a group of Black Belt employees (of which we now proudly have 2), Foam Products is working on getting all employees involved and realising the benefits of Lean Six Sigma. With three tiers of training, employees earn their coloured belts. The initial stage of training sees employees gain an understanding of Lean Six Sigma terminology, awareness of the associated tools and philosophy and is regarded as a functional expert in their day to day job, with the awarding of the Yellow Belt. We currently have 47 Yellow Belt employees.

The second tier of training is the Green Belt qualification. As part of the training, employees undertake a project. To date, these projects have included identifying ways to improve the NPI process, to reduce the time taken to complete pre-expansion records and improving accuracy. Green belts are described as practitioners who are able to lead small projects and participate in major projects under the direction of Black belts. Across Foam Products 10 employees have been awarded their Green Belts and there are another 19 currently working on their Green Belt projects. 

The Black belts are the highest belt level (besides the Master Black Belts). Like the Green Belts, they are also required to undertake a project. Projects have included increasing the EPP storage capacity at the Northampton Foam Products Plant by 270%, saving approximately €400K ($435,200.00)  and identifying productivity improvements in the production process at the Torpoint Plant, saving £80-90K annually.

Seen as a facilitator and driver of positive cultural change throughout the business, the aim is for Lean Six Sigma’s principals to become embedded within day to day operations. To realise this goal, the long term vision of the Foam Products Continuous Excellence Team is for each employee to hold either a Yellow or Green Belt so that together, we offer more value to our customers while reducing our waste. It’s all about the voice of the customer and customer added value!

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