Case study

Improving production quality for park homes manufacturer

Our researchers have used process improvement techniques to raise production standards at a UK park homes manufacturer. Professor Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes and his team addressed a number of costly production errors at the firm. Our intervention has saved the company around £180,000 in the first year alone.

A critical problem

At one of the UK’s leading park homes manufacturers, every home is different. They are built according to the particular requirements of each customer. However, during the process of collecting customer requirements and translating these into orders and then technical drawings, something was going badly wrong.

Professor Garza-Reyes is Head of our Centre for Supply Chain Improvement in our College of Business, Law and Social Sciences. He explains: “They were finding a high number of errors in the drawings. They didn’t always match what the customer had ordered and there were often mistakes with dimensions and the position of walls, appliances and furniture.”

Managers calculated that the problem was costing the company over £300,000 each year. That was without taking into account the intangible costs such as employee frustration and dissatisfaction, since they were having to redo jobs. It was clearly a critical problem but what was causing it?

Applying Six Sigma principles

Professor Garza-Reyes knew that, to tackle this chronic problem, he could use elements of the Six Sigma quality programme, particularly the five-stage method known as DMAIC - define, measure, analyse, improve, control. This can be used for improving process problems with unknown causes.

He also knew he would need to gain full support from the board of directors. “They had the power and the purse strings to make sure this became an organisation-wide improvement goal,” he says. “So that’s who we started with and they helped us to define the project’s scope and goals.”

Professor Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes

Professor Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes
Professor of Operations Management and Head of the Centre for Supply Chain Improvement

Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes is a Professor of Operations Management and Head of the Centre for Supply Chain Improvement at the University of Derby. He is actively involved in industrial projects, combining his knowledge, expertise and industrial experience in operations management to help organisations achieve excellence in their internal functions and supply chains.

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Discovering the root cause

In stage two (measure), Professor Garza-Reyes and his team worked with the company to come up with reliable metrics for monitoring progress. In stage three (analyse), they moved on to building up a comprehensive picture of the process and the problems.

The team first carried out a process-mapping analysis. Then they invited managers from all the departments involved in the production of customer orders and drawings to attend several brainstorming sessions. During these sessions, our researchers used brainstorming and cause-and-effect diagram techniques to help managers uncover the root causes of the errors.

“Due to the relevance of the project and the board-level support we gained in stage one, none of the managers excused themselves from any of the improvement meetings and brainstorming sessions,” says Professor Garza-Reyes. “The meetings were very successful. We identified the root causes and came up with four actions to help solve the problems.”

Errors cut by 60%

The solutions included improvements to organisational structure, new training, document control procedures and digitising processes that were previously manual. In the last stage of the project (control), new standardised processes and documentation were adopted by the company to make sure the improvement initiatives were sustained.

The performance of the new process was then monitored for 12 months, using the metrics defined in stage two. During that period, the number of errors reduced by 60%. This suggested a cost saving to the manufacturer of around £180,000 per year.

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Centre for Supply Chain Improvement

We are a centre of excellence for operations and supply chain management in advanced research and industry partnerships. Our work is led by industry needs and contemporary research streams.

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