BSC Filters is a world-leader in the design and manufacture of microwave filters, diplexers and waveguide and coaxial passive components. Based in York with 65 employees and revenues of £6m the company is part of Dover Corporation’s Microwave Product Group, producing complex products for telecommunications and defence clients. We spoke to Managing Director Martyn Lee about their lean and continuous improvement journey that has transformed every aspect of the business; culture, financial performance and employee engagement.
‘The team at Manufacturing Excellence tailored the programme to what was important and relevant to us. You could feel and see results very quickly.’
ManEx: If you cast your mind back to the early days of your lean journey, what challenges were you experiencing at BSC Filters?
Martyn Lee: From the outset we were committed to lean and continuous improvement and we’d tried quite a few things with varying degrees of success. We’d experienced some big wins but we just couldn’t keep people engaged so we were struggling to sustain momentum.
ManEx: So how did you manage to get everyone on-board this time?
ML: We recognised we could stand up in front of the team and explain what we were trying to do (and we did). But that’s manager talk, flavour of the month stuff! By bringing in the Manufacturing Excellence team, it made it more serious for everyone. It gave the initiative the “big bang” it needed; got people enthusiastic and took some of the pressure off us as a management team to have all the answers.
ManEx: What would you say are the key elements to achieving and sustaining a lean culture?
ML: If you try to retain control for too long you will collapse from the stress. You have to share a vision and goals and surround yourself with a team that you can put your trust in. Not people who are clones of you, but rather people with complimentary skills and expertise. Once you educate and empower them they achieve so much more and become advocates for change.
ManEx: Tell me about the start of your lean journey.
We actually tried to start lean everywhere at the same time but failed to get sustainable results. The Machine Shop was the most receptive so we refocused our attention here and made a template of success. When we moved to this factory 5 years ago, we came with a mindset to make 5S the minimum standard and accepted nothing less.
‘We’ve saved money, our employees better understand how to eliminate waste, there’s a common language and approach to work across the business and the visual improvement in the factory has been dramatic.’
ManEx: How long did it take to achieve the lean culture you were looking for?
ML: It’s work in progress. The culture and ideas have come in layers, built over time but we’ll never stop learning and adapting. We have a completely different team than 7 years ago and new recruits quickly adopt our methods because it’s now our ingrained culture.
ManEx: You’d used external consultancy support previously so what convinced you to commit to Manufacturing Excellence’s 12 month blend of training and consultancy?
ML: We’d always struggled to sustain the improvement and I was looking for more than a quick fix. We needed to change habits and behaviours long term and that needed serious commitment from the business. Manufacturing Excellence tailored the training to our requirements. Our team were supported by experts to then put their new skills straight to work in the form of some practical improvement projects.
ManEx: How did you balance people being out of the business training and keeping everything running?
ML: We just decided we had to do it. I’d already set a target for everybody to dedicate 5% of their time each month to continuous improvement so this slotted into that nicely. We already worked a shift system and we split the learners into five groups of 7-8 people. Each group attended bi-weekly half- day classroom training with each group then working on a specific
‘New recruits quickly adopt our methods because it’s now our ingrained culture’
ManEx: How quickly did you start to see results?
ML: I admit, I was nervous and impatient for the first few weeks but actually, you could feel and see results very quickly. For example in the Machine Shop, the lessons learned regarding SMED helped us unlock additional capacity enabled us to reduce subcontract machining which has saved us tens of thousands of pounds each year.
ManEx: What were the tangible benefits of completing the training with Manufacturing Excellence?
ML: We’ve saved money, our employees better understand how to eliminate waste, there’s a common language and approach to work across the business and the visual improvement in the factory has been dramatic. The legacy is it has created has become ingrained in every single employee and is self perpetuating. Recruits who haven’t been through the Manufacturing Excellence training, quickly adopt our habits and attitudes, and proactively look for other things to do if they’re not busy.
ManEx: How do you keep continuous improvement alive on a day to day basis?
ML: By communicating regularly with the team to reinforce our strategic vision with action and training. We also have a healthy spirit of competition internationally within the Microwave Product Group and regularly get together to share our learning.
ManEx: Has investing in your lean transformation enabled you to grow?
ML: The activity supports our growth strategy and strengthens our relationships with major customers. Ours is a technical, niche market and growth tends to come in spurts and technological changes exert pressure on margins and profitability. Without a lean, adaptive environment we would not have been as successful.
ManEx: It sounds like you operate in a challenging market. Has lean helped you tackle these challenges more easily?
ML: We’re in a good position – Lean is the foundation we’ve built everything else on. If we didn’t have lean properly embedded in the business we wouldn’t have the capacity to keep up with the technology changes in our market. Competitive pressures mean we have to continuously look to add value and deliver excellent customer service.
ManEx: What’s your longer term ambition for BSC?
ML: Growth. We’re looking at other sectors that we definitely couldn’t do if we didn’t have the lean platform to work from and a committed workforce. We’re still continuing to invest in our culture and striving to be world class. In the more immediate term, I want to further develop our team leaders so they can be good coaches, mentors and more confident leading improvement activities.
‘We’re looking at other sectors that we definitely couldn’t do if we didn’t have the lean platform to work from and a committed workforce.’