Though communism may be declining in China, the theory of continuous revolution developed by its founding father Mao Tse-tung may have some parallels on free market manufacturing management thinking. This is particularly true in the case of lean manufacturing ideology, which demands constant change and re-assessment. The struggle is not a military one at Cressall Resistors, but one that constantly seeks to fight manufacturing inefficiency.

Even management initiatives that worked when they were first introduced may have to be set aside for new plans eventually. This was my experience when I joined Cressall Resistors five years ago as manufacturing director. The 100-year-old company’s order book was growing fast, but production was struggling to keep up, quality was slipping and its on-time delivery (OTD) was down to 50%. Having said that, while its own high standards may have been slipping it was still light years ahead of its UK competition.

The orgaisation has two manufacturing bases, one in Leicester and the other in Dereham, Norfolk. The company, which employs around 100 people, manufactures a range of electrical power resistors for customers in oil and gas, aerospace, automotive, engineering, marine, traction and defence. These are for applications such as dynamic braking for industrial drives and rail traction, neutral earthing for transformer and generator protection, harmonic filters, motor starters, and a range of portable load banks for on-site load testing.

Today, OTD and right first time (RFT) are 94-98% even though sales volume has grown three-fold without the need for extra floor space. This has come about through a process of continuous change. Having spent the last four and a half years ensuring that attendance and input into the daily operations meeting was mandatory, and everyone has recognised the importance of the meeting, the sessions were getting stale and it was time to change.

Driving ownership


We needed to revitalise the way the meeting was running and to drive the ownership closer to the cell leaders. The answer has been relatively simple, daily management boards focussed on each cell, so instead of cell leaders leaving the shop floor to come to a meeting room, the team goes to the workplace and has a stand up meeting there. It is up to the cell leader to report on where we are, what obstacles we need to overcome and what achievements we have made.

The meeting stays focussed on the issues at hand and problems that might have gone unnoticed are dealt with. The team, including the cell leader, are visible at the coal-face and actions that need to be completed that day are followed up. In most cases, the actions are completed on the same day.

The next stage was to ensure a place for everything and everything in its place, while striving to improve our six sigma (6S) process to identify all components. This was implemented with a bar code and a digital photo to represent the part within the tote – a logical step and not rocket science.

Operational strategy

The entire operational strategy was based on getting control of quality and delivery, studying everything from workforce development to key performance indicators (KPIs). We checked whether the right components were in the right place at the right time, factory layouts and equipment, and how everything was being maintained.

Cressall makes engineered products to customer-specific requirements. It holds no finished stock. We got suppliers on board to manage their own inventory (VMI), introducing kanbans for all fast-moving parts.

Our strategy incorporated the use of eight lean tools:

  • Value stream mapping;
  • 5S;
  • Standard work;
  • Flow;
  • Pull;
  • Total productive maintenance (TPM);
  • Mistake-proofing;
  • Set-up reduction.

The workers needed to feel they were part of the new team so we provided everyone with new work wear. This improved the image of the employees, heightened security (because if someone is on site without a uniform, there is a good chance they shouldn’t be) and allowed staff to preserve their personal clothes for personal wear.

We also introduced lean training – four and five-day offerings, leading the site towards leaner operations and the staff to NVQ Level 2. Little more than 18 months in, space savings range from 14% to 60%; employee and operator movement is down by between 50% and 60%; single piece flow has reduced work in process, stock-take time is down 50% and financial turnover has increased 100%.


When all orders are bespoke, most of the room for error occurs at the beginning, so we put closed loop systems in place to pick them up fast and take immediate preventive action to ensure that when similar projects come up, mistakes will not be repeated. Every instance is logged electronically and cannot be closed unless preventive measures are in place and signed off.  Our continuous revolution has only just begun and we do not expect it to ever end.