A TYNESIDE manufacturer which makes parts used in around 50% of Europe’s car batteries has swept the board at a national competition after doubling production in five years.
Entek International, which employs 135 people at its Newcastle factory making car battery separators, took the top place in the process plant, people management and energy & environment categories in the UK best factory awards. The £50m turnover business, up from £47m in 2010, is US-owned and has a sister plant in Oregon.
It makes goods purely for the export trade and is the only manufacturer of its kind in the UK.
The latest accolades add to a trophy cabinet which includes Queen’s Awards for export in 1993, 1995 and 2011.
UK managing director, Martin Lee, believes the company’s success is based on a combination of its people and its adoption of Japanese production methods.
“It is a team that uses ‘Lean’ manufacturing, drawn from the Toyota production system – which doesn’t mean getting rid of people,” he said.
“Lean is about stripping out waste – over the last few years we’ve done a lot of work with employees, teaching them Lean tools and techniques. For example, every single person in the company comes up with one improvement idea that is actioned every month; we get thousands of ideas from our employees.
“It’s unusual across most UK businesses but you’d find some examples of it in Nissan; you’d see examples in the best manufacturing businesses and some service businesses. It’s about the culture of the business.”
The team at Entek has been practicing lean manufacturing techniques for five or six years now and also uses the Japanese ‘five S-es’ method of improving efficiency in the workplace.
Lee said: “The five S-es are sort out, set locations and limit, shine and sweep, standardise and sustain. Essentially, it’s about workplace organisation.” In addition, the recent £22m investment in equipment to build what Lee called “the two largest and most environmentally-friendly production lines on the planet”, doubling the size of its Tyneside factory.
It means Entek is now able to compete on volume with goods made in low wage economies such as Asia and Eastern Europe.
He said: “There are people here making battery separators for around 50% of the West European acid battery market.
“It’s a 50-50 chance that your car battery contains separators made here in Newcastle.”