Bowmore whisky has been produced on the Scottish island of Islay since 1779, and is one of the world’s most recognisable alcohol brands.
Its superior standards have seen it become an icon of Scottish industry in terms of a luxury products.
The firm’s main blending and bottling site is in the Springburn area of Glasgow, just north of the bustle of the city centre.
The firm has been in situ since 1985, and has expanded to fill the site completely; needing to constantly re-jig its layout to fit an ever increasingly diverse and complex range of products. From miniatures to a premium luxury range catering to the super wealthy, made with hand-blown glass, and processed in a special, locked department only accessible with express permission.
Craig Mochrie, a 30-plus year veteran of the company and bottling manager at Springburn, showed us around and highlighted lean’s benefit to the company.
“People are one of our top priorities,” Craig said. “If you look around you’ll see morale is high and that’s what we strive for.”
Scottish and Irish (whiskey is across the Irish Sea. A touchy subject in this most hallowed of Scottish grounds) operations director Mick Ord agreed, stating the company’s six key areas of operational excellence: safety, productivity, cost, delivery, quality and morale. “But priority number one is definitely people,” he said. And when it comes to lean they are part of a global team and are all committed to learning. Ord added, “We share best practices with our sister sites all over the world. So if our colleagues in Spain, for example, have something to teach us, we’ll go there, and vice versa.”
Mochrie backs this up, showing how seriously Bowmore takes its lean journey that it started in 2006: “If you don’t have the culture, if you haven’t been through the challenges of transition, then you don’t have lean.”
Morrison Bowmore recently became part of the newly formed Beam Suntory, the world’s third-largest premium spirits company owned by Japan’s multi-national Suntory Holdings. There’s about to be an influx of new people as it merges with the Glasgow central office, adding to the 130 or so employees, around half of whom are on production on the floor. Impressively, nearly half are women, showing how fully the organisation takes its commitment to the future and a highly engaged workforce.
Beam Suntory itself is lean and has used the expertise of the CCI framework. Ord is positive about the recent transitions though, and is looking to the future: “We are going through a transition rather than an integration. The tools and techniques we use and have been taught are not new,” but they have given good results. Despite recent changes, one thing they are all focused on is that lean is not possible without total engagement. Mentions of morale and people as priority are not just lip service. “You build from the bottom up,” Ord continues. “You have to get the foundations right.”
There is however plenty more to be done; they’re in a transitional period and want to increase additional volume capacity and incorporate more lean technology.
Down on the floor it’s an impressively streamed process; casks come in from a range of distilleries across Scotland and are ‘dumped’ of their contents. The most iconic aspect of whisky making and a rich part of the heritage and something that is too precious to the history of the industry (and indeed to Scotland) to allow a machine to take over. It’s lean, with a quick turnaround time and all problems accounted for, but it’s still the century’s old tradition with a man, a funnel and cask full of charcoal and strong booze (LMJ was given a taster and had no complaints).
Once that section is over it’s off to where the real action is, and Morrison Bowmore’s system controller for bottling, Jim Donaldson, is keen to show the system has been data-mined to make it as efficient as possible. The factory has increased from 746k cases in 2006 to just over 1.2m cases in 2014, with a lot of help from HARFORD total product maintenance system.
HARFORD data capturing was part of the first stage launched in 2006, alongside more effective asset care, improving flexibility and maintenance, and is now apparent all over the work floor with touch screens everywhere showing data of the lines.
The hold ups and breakdowns are presented in real time, and the staff all follow the monitors around the factory with diligence. The monitors showcase the percentage of orders completed, with section by section analysis of the line and the timings that each segment of completion takes.
The computers also give a host of statistical process control information, which show the breakdowns, hold ups and completion of orders. All valuable information to make sure all root cause analysis is available at the touch of a button.
Morrison Bowmore’s recent changes have proved challenging, but the company is easily manoeuvring its way through the times with gusto and plans for more lean rollouts and developments. Mochrie is adamant they will achieve further growth; “Our target is to be the number one single malt specialists in the world.”