QMT Features: October 2009
Training the trainers
Defence Supply Group turns to world class manufacturer for training expertise to develop a culture of employee empowerment

Although the Defence Support Group (DSG) provides a highly specialised service – the maintenance, repair and overhaul of land and air based equipment for our armed forces – it faces the same commercial pressures as any industrial business: faster turnaround and demands for improving customer value.

On top of that, staff have another powerful driver, a deeply held commitment to get equipment back to the front line quickly and in peak condition. So when DSG’s Donnington site wanted to accelerate its own improvement programme, it looked for support from a company completely outside its normal area of activity.

It wanted to model its own culture and skills development on a business that was world-class by any standards, not just those of its own industry. It chose to work with PP Business Improvement, part of Power Panels Electrical Systems Ltd, winner of the UK-wide Best Factory Award in 2008. The company now provides business improvement techniques and training to a wide range of companies and sectors, all based on the proven methods of this highly successful organisation.

The partnership between DSG and PP Business Improvement has now been widened to include other DSG sites with a ‘train the trainers’ programme planned to allow the techniques to be cascaded across the business as a whole.
Aside from normal scheduled maintenance and upgrade programmes, DSG’s Donnington business repairs and overhauls damaged armoured fighting and reconnaissance vehicles back from the front line. Turnaround varies according to the condition and modification of the vehicle but, on average, DSG is expected to complete each package in less than three months.

There is considerable build variation between each job and some of the repair work is lengthy and demanding. The repair and build areas on the shop floor are mainly staffed by time-served engineers who can turn their hand to most of the skills required to strip down a vehicle, assess its condition and repair or remanufacture. Remanufacturing, which demands a wide range of craft skills, is also mainly handled on site. Graham Sargent, Head of Donnington DSG Business, is gradually introducing standard work packages to make the repair process more predictable, despite differences in the level of damage to the vehicles. “With more effective control, we can give a delivery date to the customer and meet it on the day promised.”

When Graham joined Donnington from another MOD operation last summer, he decided to embark on a benchmarking campaign across the local workforce. “I am a big user of benchmarking – I like my staff to see what’s going on in the world and it doesn’t have to be in the same industry. More often than not, it is about seeing how others solve similar problems.” During this process, one of his management team said he knew a company that could be useful: Power Panels Electrical Systems in Walsall. Although a small company, Power Panels had beaten many household names to win Factory of the Year in 2008 and, with an independently verified quality rating of 99.99 per cent, the company could set useful standards for Donnington to measure itself against. A site visit was therefore arranged in 2008.”

DSG has taken elements from Power Panels’ own route map in building its bespoke development and training programme. It starts with the solid foundations of health, safety and environment, 5S and visual controls and then develops into the more demanding Delivering Excellence course. The first stage is based at Power Panels’ own facility. It allows students to take objectives set in the classroom and investigate how they are being solved on the shop floor. They are also invited to find potential improvements. “For some, it’s a refresher,” explains Graham. “For others, it’s an opportunity to relate what they know to best practice.”

The next stage takes place in Donnington’s own workshops. Staff are given problems to solve in their own environment, working in teams and applying the theories of Lean and The Seven Wastes. Donnington opened its entire business to PP’s trainers so they could develop course materials and approaches that reflected the reality and issues of DSG’s own environment.

There is a waiting list of volunteers at DSG wanting to become trainers. At the moment, around 20 people have been through Power Panels’ training from the Donnington site, plus another 60 from DSG as a whole, and more will shortly be starting. All 16 of DSG’s sites now have the opportunity to link up with PP Business Improvement. Donnington alone has 850 people and DSG as a whole employs almost 3,800 staff throughout the UK. There are incentives on both sides to make the programme successful. Clearly, DSG itself benefits but the workforce can also gain an NVQ in Business Improvement Techniques, with Power Panels operating as the accredited workplace assessor.

Ultimately, DSG’s expectations are clear: it aims to improve processes, become more efficient, offer a better value service to its customer and win more work to sustain its business in the long term.

  email: foxd@power-panels.co.uk
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