Industry: Darkroom factory wins award for enlightenment: Kodak captures 'Management Today'/Cranfield prize

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A FACTORY which works in the dark has been judged Britain's best. Of 188 entrants, Kodak's Annesley factory near Nottingham scooped the Management Today/Cranfield School of Management Best Factory 1992 Award.

The site, which produces camera film, has to undertake virtually all its processing in complete darkness because light would destroy the film. Operatives are trained to carry out complex spooling, slitting and sprocket punching operations by touch.

Plant manager Peter Aldrick, in an acceptance speech at London's Savoy hotel, described Annesley as a small place with only two commercial activities - mining and Kodak. The community would rejoice at two pieces of good news - the award, and the last-minute reprieve of the village's pit.

The judges thought that the factory stood out for many reasons. Annesley was alone in demonstrating a comprehensive command of the new tools and techniques of management: statistical process control; fast and flexible machine set-ups; total quality; and employee empowerment.

James Bentley of KPMG Peat Marwick, a sponsor, pointed out that the effects of such a sophisticated approach work back right through the supply chain, bringing employment, prosperity, and an improved balance of trade. 'If the rest of Britain's factories were as good as the finalists,' he said, 'the visible trade deficit would rapidly shrink.'

The figures say it all. The overall winner, Kodak, exports 80 per cent of Annesley's output; other category winners Kimberly-Clark and Ketlon, an engineering firm, send 75 per cent and 40 per cent of their output abroad respectively.

Two contenders for the 'small business' category were especially impressive. Willett Systems, a 26-person factory in Runcorn, exports 90 per cent of its output, and has a 20 per cent share of the world inkjet printer ink market. Category winner HD Plastics of Biggleswade, which makes ordinary black plastic sacks, exports 20 per cent of its production.

Several finalists illustrated the extent to which Japanese- inspired employee empowerment can go.

In fact, the judges spent little time in the Kodak factory. They concentrated on a team of ordinary employees and the team leaders, whose articulate and cogent descriptions of how the plant operates were regarded by Professor Colin New, of Cranfield School of Management, as particularly impressive.

Oki, a computer printer manufacturer, won the electronics category and provided a new twist by despatching Louise Wood, a production operative, to receive the award.

The winners performed well in the areas of lead times, changeover performance, inventory control, labour productivity and delivery reliability, which were evaluated for the first time. Modern techniques such as integrated management teams - out with memos, meetings and agendas; in with talking problems through as they arise - also impressed the panel.

The keynote speaker, Sir Denys Henderson of ICI, contrasted the emphasis placed on manufacturing industry in the UK with that in Japan, Germany and the US. Calling for the Government to provide a consistently high priority to re-establishing a competitive manufacturing base, he told the winners: 'I hope your skill and determination will provide a model which many other factories in this country will follow as speedily as possible.'

(Photograph omitted)