Magazine article Management Today

Best Small Factory Winner: HD Plastics

Magazine article Management Today

Best Small Factory Winner: HD Plastics

Article excerpt

The Best Small Factory Award went to HD Plastics, chosen from a survey of factories with no more than 500

HD Plastics was set up in 1977 in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire to make black refuse sacks for the growing local authority market. Tendering for council contracts is a notoriously cut-throat business-this year's surprise gain might be next year's equally abrupt loss when a competitor shaves a fraction off his price. Quality and innovation play second fiddle to price. In 1982, when the major supermarkets started selling refuse sacks, HD decided to reduce its exposure to the contract roller coaster, and at the same time branch out into the production of kitchen bindliners.

In the mid-'80s the company chose to cut back its dependence on low-value local authority contracts and in 1989 walked away from them completely, recognising that its manufacturing skills could earn a better return elsewhere. Managing director John Fellows clearly has no regrets about no longer being in a 'me too' business. 'First of all it's fairly boring - and secondly there usually isn't any money in it.' With a customer list that includes just about every UK supermarket chain on or off the High Street, no one at HD can complain of being idle. Overdue deliveries to this customer base are virtually regarded as crimes. 'We haven't had any this uear,' says Fellows. 'But we did have one last October.'

The backbone of the business is the volume production of heavy-duty, own-label binliners and refuse sacks. The cheaper end of the market is left to others. Giant ribbons of continuous tear-off bags weave their way through a series of vast two-storey extruders at around 85,000 bags an hour - and do so seven days a week, 24 hours a day; 1,000 tonnes' worth of bags are produced every month. Production from molten plastic to a supermarket ready-wrapped bundle takes under two minutes. There is some clever engineering in evidence here - one line of bags has a built-in drawstring fitted as it shoots through.

John Fellows explains the strategy of growing both the market and their share of it (currently around 40%) through innovation and market responsiveness. A lot of effort has recently gone into developing a 'green' range produced from genuine post-consumer plastic waste.

However, although the building's external architecture might hint at it, this is not some slick, hi-tech wonder factory. Plastic extrusion is not a glamour technology, and HD's application of it is both fairly conventional and fairly labour intensive. No push-button factory of the future here. …

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