The best way to improve the quality of an operation is to eliminate the need to carry it out in the first place, according to John Tonkiss, operations manager of Lucas Automotive Electronics' College Road site in Birmingham. It's a philosophy that underscores much of the manufacturing excellence that characterises the plant.
Lucas' plant produces automotive electronic control units such as cruise control, power steering and alarm systems for 16 of the world's toughest customers - car manufacturers such as Ford, Nissan, Volvo, Rover and Honda. It is a testament to the plant's performance that one customer ('just about our most demanding one,' concedes Tonkiss) is Mazda in Japan - impressive proof of the turnround in the capabilities of British manufacturing industry in recent years.
The judges found much to admire at the College Road plant, which manages to synthesise best practice in two discrete industries: electronics and automotive component manufacture. Take the supply chain operation. True to the simplification principle, much of the complexity has simply been outsourced.
All suppliers deliver to an off-site warehouse managed and owned by a third-party contractor, who twice a day delivers the …