Lean Continuous Improvement (CI) Adult Apprenticeships are helping to eliminate waste and build a Lean CI culture at BNL

A team of 10 employees from different areas of the business have embarked on this apprenticeship programme and they are starting to blaze a trail of waste elimination and process improvement that is setting the tone of our Lean CI culture.

BNL is owned by Synnovia PLC who have consistently prioritised Lean CI through a range of activities and investments.  In the last few years a Synnovia Academy Lean Manufacturing training course, developed by BNL, was delivered throughout the wider Synnovia group. More recently, Synnovia invested in two new roles to boost our progress, with a Lean Operations Director at group level and a Lean CI Facilitator at BNL.  BNL has a well-developed CI idea process but this is only one, small component of the overall system, so BNL established this apprenticeship programme to help build a Lean CI based culture to underpin our Lean & CI activities.

James Severn, BNL UK’s Operations Manager, said “The team at BNL have been doing a great job of improving our processes and eliminating waste via our existing CI idea system.  We have also completed a range of larger improvement projects that have exposed people to some of the Lean core tools.  However, we realised that this was providing quite small groups of people with in-house Lean CI training at a relatively slow rate. If we were to achieve our objective of building a sustainable Lean CI culture, we needed to accelerate and widen our approach.  This apprenticeship programme does exactly that. It enables us to train larger and more diverse groups of people in an exciting and engaging way, which will help us move beyond a mechanical CI system and embed a true Lean CI culture”.

The apprenticeship is a 13-month programme, delivered monthly, on-site, by a Lean CI expert from SwiftCI.  The BNL team consists of members from production, engineering, quality, supply chain and finance, and the apprenticeship will deliver nationally recognised qualifications for our employees.  The programme provides training across a range of Lean core tools in a practical, accessible and fun way. It relies heavily on set tasks to be completed in the workplace between training sessions to test and embed the learning. Birmingham based SwiftCI are one of the country’s pre-eminent providers of Lean CI training and have a track record of delivering apprenticeship programmes that help organisations build a successful and sustainable Lean CI culture.

Below, some our apprentices share their thoughts on the course and how they and the business as a whole will benefit from it.

Joel – Logistics, Packaging & Second Ops

Lean principles and continuous improvement are part of working at BNL – but I am new to the finer details and skills. The class is keen and we all get stuck into the practical exercises. It’s quite a young group and so many of us do not have lots of experience of CI and lean, so there is a lot to learn. I like that it is not just about big changes but steady improvement across a broad spectrum. When the training is rolled out across the business it will change the mindset across the company and define the culture. The business will have less waste, less margin for error – and save money, as gains in efficiencies and financial gains go hand in hand.

In logistics, packaging and ops, we are pretty streamlined already, but the course will allow us to fine-tune our processes going forward. I am gaining a better understanding of how our current working practices fit into a wider culture of lean thinking. I have been in my role for six and a half years and when you have worked somewhere that long it helps to be able to see things from different angles in order to improve. I think the skills and tools from the apprenticeship will allow me to do that.

We have covered various topics, including 5S, wastes in the workplace, audits and risk assessments. The training opens your eyes to what we actually waste and how simple it can be to make improvements. The practical exercise of building a bike is quite deceiving. We thought we’d do well but even when we think we have thoroughly planned for everything, we get thrown a curve ball and it’s back to the drawing board – but we’ll get there!

Khalil – Quality Department

I really like the mix of both contact time in classroom and independent study. Activities on the shop floor means we apply skills and tools to existing activities, relating what we learn directly to our business. What ‘waste’ is seems obvious but it isn’t. Dig deep enough and waste can be identified in almost any activity undertaken. Not just physical resources like materials, but time, over or under-production, movement of goods and people, etc. I can use the new resources from the course to apply principles of lean thinking to quality issues. Errors are more likely to happen where there are too many unnecessary steps or movements of the product.

Different functions, such as mould shop inspection, logistics and auto assembly are all represented on the course. Between us we have already identified processes where can reduce different types of waste. Much of the discussion comes from a practical exercise – building Meccano bikes to order. It sounds easy but it’s not! The volume increases and we have to find way of improving processes to fulfil the order. It’s a great hands-on exercise and leads to healthy debate!

BNL will benefit most when the first cohort is successful (which we will be) and it is rolled out across the whole company. There will be less of barrier to understanding and change as everyone will have the ability to identify and implement changes. The support of Operations and Senior Management plus the recent appointment of a CI Officer for BNL means we have a solid structure underpinning our desire to drive this.

Sam – Supply Chain

The course is well presented, really engaging and we can relate it directly to our business. It sparks conversations – only three sessions in and projects are already underway. One project that is underway involving employees on the course, is improving how inventory is moved between the mould shop and assembly departments. Understanding and defining the types of waste, highlights inefficiencies and uneconomical practices that can occur on a daily basis. Previously, these were not seen as a direct cost, but more of an inconvenience or annoyance. Once identified these can easily be eliminated to make working practices simpler and easier, saving time and money.

My department is cross functional, covering the supply of products from start to finish. It is clear to see potential for improvements along the value chain. The apprenticeship develops our skills, enabling us to have conversations with different departments and effect change. It gives us the tools to back up our reasoning and business cases for implementing certain actions.

Frustration at inefficiencies and recurring mistakes saps morale and makes a job harder than it should be. In departments where earlier Cl and lean projects are underway, people are proud of the changes they have made, and confident in the effectiveness of their role. Others see these positive working experiences and want the same for themselves and their team. Once conversations have started, most people’s reaction is – yes, I’m not really sure why we do it like that, how can we change it? – and that is exactly what we need in order to spread a lean thinking culture throughout the business.

Katherine – Finance

The course is very useful. CI and lean thinking are already part of BNL’s DNA but the training highlights where there are still areas we can be even better. My working day does not cross into the operations side of the business often, so being able to interact with the other apprentices from different functions and touring different areas, is helpful in understanding the challenges faced by other parts of the business.

Overall the company will benefit from us learning  to utilise the resources we have in the most efficient way, and avoiding duplication of effort or cost, for a more streamlined and profitable business. Initiatives in my department are mainly associated with the implementation of software and accompanying processes, which takes time, but in other areas of the company there are immediate small improvements that will all improve efficiency.