Lean times come to Barton Mill

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Why Kimberly-Clark chose to outsource the Humberside logistics operation.

Kimberly-Clark recently chose to outsource its logistics operation at Barton Mill, Barton-upon-Humber, where nappies are manufactured, to Unipart Logistics.

Kimberly-Clark brands include Kleenex, Scott, Andrex, Huggies and Pull-Ups. It has manufacturing operations in 35 countries and a supply chain designed to serve the world’s most demanding retail organisations.
Peter Surtees, European supply chain director, says the company is in the process of introducing lean thinking across the whole of the value stream to enhance productivity.

Unipart took over the running of the 370,000 sq ft Barton Mill distribution centre in November 2009 under an initial labour-only contract to manage the storage of finished goods – along with the loading and unloading of inbound and outbound transport. Since then, its role has grown to involve a broader portfolio of services from laboratory work to consultancy within the manufacturing plant.

Kimberly-Clark was looking for a relationship that went beyond the traditional cost-plus approach to logistics outsourcing. “We were looking for a third party logistics company that would come in and challenge us on what we were doing, advance “lean” in our supply chain and drive improvements in our processes,” says Surtees.

Keith Robson, operations and account director at Unipart Logistics, says: “Absentee levels were up to ten per cent prior to our taking over. So we looked carefully at why people were going absent. A great number didn’t like the shifts and the overtime.”

The Unipart Way encourages staff to work in teams and to constantly monitor and question the efficiency of the tasks they perform. Teams meet on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to review performance against key performance indicators (KPIs). A series of tools are used to examine processes and drive performance, delivering greater value to the customer. Staff are encouraged to research solutions to problems using modules available on the company’s intranet, enabling best practice to be shared across the organisation.

Visual management techniques have been used to enhance operational performance, by speeding decision making and cutting errors. Display boards are deployed to provide feedback to staff on their performance.
Along with Kimberly-Clark’s own set of KPIs, Unipart Logistics has introduced a set of its own to measure the performance of the operation at Barton Mill. “We’re now looking at cost-per-lift and have already moved the cost-per-lift down by 44 per cent in the last three months,” says Robson.

“It’s early days, but it’s been a very promising start,” says Surtees. “We understand that a lot of the improvements will take time, as it’s very much a people and cultural drive – ‘lean’ is a journey.”

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