Interview with: Eiko White, Commercial Director of Blackman & White Ltd, Maldon.
What does your business do?
Blackman and White are the only UK manufacturer of flat bed cutting machines for materials ranging from composites to signage and graphic applications.
How long has your business been established?
Founded in 1964 the business remains a family owned company.
How long have you been involved in the business?
I have been part of Blackman & White for 15 years, starting as a book keeper and working throughout the business in all departments to today as Commercial Director.
- Who within your company do you work with to fully understand the productivity levels within the business?
As a company we work as team, each department has its own level of expertise of the business metrics, and to ensure all productivity levels are met we work together. From the machine shop leader to production supervisor, collectively we ensure timelines and costs are met.
- Has the business engaged in a production improvement project? If so, what was the main focus?
Yes. Blackman & White’s history has been based on providing bespoke products – working alongside our customers is a key part of our heritage. Going forwards our ongoing target is to optimise cost efficiencies through improvements in volume production. To do so, we needed to implement a production flow system to support our goals, incorporating a standard production line and implementing a full Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
- What changes have been made to your business to become more productive?
We’ve enhanced the company’s production by planning the ERP system, resulting in bringing in more people to support the increased planning and supporting the important cost forecasting. We have also employed more field-based staff to support with the service work given externally to our clients.
- What have been the most difficult tasks you’ve had to complete whilst trying to increase productivity?
Standardisation and corresponding process changes require a lot of change management and flag the importance of strong communication, accountability and team work.
- What are the key metrics you use to measure productivity?
Cost vs. lead time. Blackman & White provide large products to our clients, monitoring the cost against lead/production time gives us a good indication of how activity is going.
- If you see a dip in productivity, what are the usual causes and what do you do to make improvements?
As 20% of our work is bespoke, our goal is to ensure customer requirements are met and that we fully understand their requirements. This can sometimes lead to longer lead times as a result of the extra communication that needs to take place. We want to fully understand the original specification that our clients provide to reduce the risk of decreased productivity.
- What advice would you give to other SME manufacturers?
Keep developing – listen to ideas and encourage “thinking out loud” within your teams. Listen to your customers and keep an eye on the marketplace to see where it’s going and any upcoming trends. Cash flow is also really important, the pain of your cash flow should teach you where things may be going wrong.
- For you personally what keeps you awake at night.
There is a lot we want to do, but we have to be realistic about the resources we may be missing in order to achieve the timelines set.
- What have you implemented in your business that you would encourage other manufacturers to embrace and implement?
There are so many great technical resources in the UK. It is important to understand when it’s time to call someone in who is the expert instead of trying to do everything yourself.
- What one thing would you change to make your business more efficient and productive if money was no object?
I would bring in an entire team to set up the ERP system, create a full duplication of our factory to start from scratch, avoiding the production activities going on at the same time! ERP will make a huge difference in our productivity going forward.
More information on Blackman & White Ltd can be found here: www.blackmanandwhite.com or call 01621 843404.
Copyright © Economic Growth Solutions, 19th February 2018.