06 October 2011
Coopervision: Winner, 2011 Innovation Award
This south coast manufacturer of contact lenses is proving that with the right innovation, investment and management prowess, anything is possible
Some manufacturers have harder tasks than others. Trying to think of a product more challenging to produce than contact lenses doesn't come easy, and yet CooperVision has everything in focus.
Among the CooperVision brands that many contact lens users will recognise are Avaira, Biofinity and Proclear. With a 17% share of the global market, the company is the second biggest supplier to Europe and the US, and is rising rapidly in Asia, where China is currently demonstrating market growth of 20-25% per annum.
With four sites in the Southampton area, the company's UK output is around 480 million lenses a year, an average of around 1.3 million a day.
CooperVision's central manufacturing facility at Hamble, on the east bank of the Solent, employs a one-shot cast moulding process to create soft, flexible lenses such as Biofinity.
Here, the overall product mix is complex, with contact lens categories including single-use and non single-use sphere, as well as toric and multi-focal types making up around 25,000 SKUs for cast moulded products (multiplied by four with different packaging) – a typical supermarket only has around half this number!
Keeping pace with demand is no mean feat and this is where CooperVision's automation scores. Lenses are formed between two plastic moulds that are sandwiched together, shaping a small amount of liquid monomer deposited on the concave mould surface.
As the product moves along conveyorised, U-shaped production lines, curing takes place to polymerise and solidify the lens before the mould halves are opened and the lens is floated out using hot deionised water. The moulds are critical, and these are produced from injection moulds tools with surfaces turned at 3,000 rpm on special lathes using diamond tooling.
Following a hydration process, lenses are inspected automatically using HD vision technology before being sterilised and sealed into foil packs.
But innovation here is about far more than the 160 pick and place robots in the company's UK manufacturing operation. CooperVision is a centre of excellence based on lean manufacturing and lens making competence. Clear leadership and direction have created a performance-driven culture fuelled by high productivity, low cost per unit and relentless CI.
This robust CI strategy is central to the company's performance. It focuses on a business improvement plan that defines "work priorities for personnel", and a CI framework that defines "how personnel work".
The former includes 88 tactics, 26 strategies and six key objectives. By way of example, one key objective is attracting, maintaining and developing an exceptional team. Beneath this, listed tactics are given 'A' or 'B' priority ratings. At present, A-rated priorities here include a first line manager development programme and the need for plans to address changes to the Agency Workers Regulations.
The company also references an improvement road map, where new strategies are introduced on a timeline of stabilisation, improvement and breakthrough. The initiatives completed or ongoing include KPIs, 5S, ideas management, standardised work, process characterisation/control, visual management, TPM, Six Sigma/structured problem solving, value stream mapping and design for manufacture.
In combination with its automated processes, CooperVision's astute manufacturing management team has helped increase output from the various business units at the Hamble site by an impressive 27% this year, making it a stand-out among UK household and general product plants.
Furthermore, total cost per unit has been driven down 10% in the past five years with approximately the same headcount. But perhaps the most impressive statistic is CooperVision's labour productivity trend, which measures the number of lenses produced per employee per year. This has increased some 44% in the past five years and is described by managing director Kevin Barrett as "the real measure of the company's CI". Ultimately, CooperVision has proven itself a real innovator in every sense of the word, and is the deserved recipient of this year's Innovation Award.
One further point to consider: CooperVision describes its purpose as "improving the way people see each day", a tag line that surely relates to both its employees and its product users. And let's not forget, the potential here for further growth is vast.
Despite the cost of contact lenses being roughly equivalent to replacing a pair of spectacles every couple of years, only a very small percentage of people who need sight correction wear them. How about that for an eye-opener?
This material is protected by Findlay Media copyright
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the