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Recession to Recovery: How Billington's beat the blues

18 June 2010

Billington's, a manufacturer in the East of England, says it's emerged from the Recession having made £800,000 worth of efficiency savings - without making any staff redundant

With its head office in Peterborough and its packing plant in Ipswich, Billington's - a household name in sugar and part of the Silverspoon family of companies - has been working alongside the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) in the East of England to identify new ways of working.

Funded by the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), MAS-East provides practical support and advice to engineering, manufacturing and technology businesses within the region to help maximise their potential and increase competitiveness. In 2009, MAS-East supported over 500 businesses in the region and brought benefits valued in excess of £100,000 per company to those who participated in the scheme.

Les Blair, head of cane sugar operations at Billington's, explains: "We worked with MAS-East to map out all of our processes, looking specifically at how we handled, stored and processed all of our materials - it ended up looking a bit like spaghetti junction, which was a real eye opener."

The review highlighted real opportunities for simple changes to make big impacts on Billington's bottom line. MAS worked with Billington's to implement those practical step-by-step changes, reducing their bloated goods inventory and speeding up production times to make the company more fleet of foot.

"We actually managed to reduce our changeover times between production lines from just over 9 minutes when we started the project, to five minutes and eventually right down to just 1 minute - it's been an incredible transformation," said Les.

"Because our production lines are now more nimble, we have the confidence to effectively produce and deliver to order - raw product comes in, it's processed and we send it straight out to our customers."

"We always knew we could do things better, but MAS was the catalyst that we needed - sometimes you need that extra set of eyes to pin-point the pinch-points. The savings we've made have been quite staggering. "

Before MAS worked with Billington's, the company used three external warehouses across the UK to hold nearly 4,000 pallets of goods. "In just three months working with MAS, we've come out of two of those warehouses completely and reduced our pallet holding to around 1,500," said Les. "We're going to save about £200,000 a year on external storage costs by reducing the amount of raw materials and stock we hold - everything is just synchronised."

Chris Perry is the MAS advisor who worked with the Billington's team on the project: "MAS work around the principles of 'lean manufacturing'. Things like cutting out wasted time in production lines, re-organising the workplace to work smarter and reducing unnecessary inventories can have such a big impact on the balance sheets.

"During tougher trading times, the value of making efficiency savings like Billington's has can not be overstated - they can give you that competitive edge."

Alison Webster, executive director of enterprise and skills at EEDA, said: "Generating one sixth of the UK's overall wealth, two thirds of its exports and 3 million jobs, manufacturing plays an absolutely vital role in the UK economy. And there's no getting away from the fact that the manufacturing industry has been hit hard by this recession."

"MAS is another example of how EEDA is leading this region's fight-back against the recession, by offering companies access to the sort of support they need to both survive the current downturn, and thrive when market conditions inevitably pick up."

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