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PrISMS – Newton Commercial: helping a specialist classic car interior trim provider to grow

As part of the wider PrISMS (Practical & Innovative Solutions for Manufacturing Sustainability) programme, Institute for Manufacturing Education and Consultancy Services (IfM ECS) worked with 120 smaller manufacturers to improve their business strategy and support capability development. The programme enabled IfM ECS to develop business support tools to address firm’s strategic and operational challenges.

Newton Commercial was formed in 1979 by Richard and Vera Newton, in response to demand from classic car enthusiasts for hand crafted, original specification trim. Over the following years they set up a successful business specialising in classic cars. They now have three factories covering 26,000 Sq Ft with over 50 employees making trim. They export 45% of their trim overseas and 80% of their business is trade sales. IfM ECS worked with Newton Commercial on a range of projects including prioritisation, process mapping to reduce lead times and staff training and development.

Process Main Stages: 

Stage 1 - Prioritisation

IfM ECS began its work with Newton Commercial by using the Prioritisation Tool, a whole-business diagnostic and action planning tool that helps to identify key capability areas that needed improvement. The initial work focused on lead-time reduction and delivery performance improvement.

Stage 2: Identification of bottlenecks

IfM ECS facilitated process-mapping workshops, followed by a SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) exercise on an identified critical bottleneck area. Production reports were redesigned and appropriate KPIs were developed to drive customer-focused behaviours.

Stage 3: ERP system upgrade

During the engagement, the company upgraded its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Process mapping was used to challenge the status quo and to improve business processes before locking them into the ERP system. This key piece of work established robust processes and procedures to support future growth plans.

Stage 4: Training and mentoring

There were multiple training and mentoring engagements with Newton Commercial including; the development of a new part-time operations director role with one-to-one mentoring; training of key team leaders through IfM courses to improve their skills in production systems and people management; and support for junior managers seeking to improve and/or develop new processes.

Touchpoints & Bottlenecks: 

Touch point 1: INTRODUCTION

IfM ECS was identified from the new MD of Newton Commercial who sought to imporve company practices and expand its market.

Touch point 2: ASSESSMENTS

Some of the results of the engagement included:

Reduced lead times: For the key bottleneck area identified through the process mapping workshops, there was a reduction of lead times from six weeks to three weeks. As a result, Newton Commercial were able to clear the order book backlog for this process.

Financial improvements: Turnover increased by 23% per annum

Sales growth: Due in part to the marked reduction in the lead-time at Newton Commercial, one of its US clients grew their sales by 50%. New products were also introduced.

Jobs created: In less than two years, staff levels rose by 11%.

ERP system: Process mapping helped to improve sales order processing and product despatch. This established robust processes and procedures to support future growth and leverage significant value from the new system.

Culture change: Newton Commercial fully embraced the tools, techniques and training. The organisation is self-sufficient in process mapping and staff are better equipped deliver in their roles, freeing up the Managing Director to focus on developing the business

Benchmarking and reference to other similar initiatives: 

The ‘Practical & Innovative Solutions for Manufacturing Sustainability’ (PrISMS) programme was aimed at helping 50 start-ups and 70 SMEs based in the East of England grow and become more sustainable, whilst creating new jobs and safeguarding existing posts. Unlike other programmes for SMEs, the final goal was not simply to improve productivity but to enable firms to strategically review their business, adopt low-carbon practices and generate jobs in the longer term.

Success Factors / Barriers: 

Key objectives for the project were to:

  1. identify key areas for improvement and agree an action plan
  2. remove process bottlenecks to reduce lead times
  3. increase turnover
  4. provide training and mentoring to develop skills and capabilities
  5. make efficiency savings
  6. support the business in upgrading their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system

Measuring success

Newton Commercial measured success based on key metrics including lead times, turnover, efficiency savings and growth in staff levels.

IfM ECS measured success based on whether the project delivered on objectives and whether there were any learning points and enhancements to the tools and approach that could be applied to support future projects.


SMEs’ perspective

  • Seek external knowledge and advice to improve the business strategy and operations.
  • Address critical issues (innovation activities, finance) in appropriately sequenced steps.
  • Involve many people within the organisation in changes and improvement projects (not just managers).
  • Make time to understand the cause of issues and act upon improvement initiatives.

RTOs’ perspective

  • Have a holistic approach in business assessment.
  • Generate trust with the management team through actionable results and deliverables.
  • Provide a clear process and a clearly prioritised action plan for improvements.
  • Have an effective method to capture feedback, data and knowledge from the SME to improve future tools and engagements.

Academic perspective

  • Collaborate with SMEs to develop new approaches and methods.
  • Provide access to students for tackling and resolving business issues.

SMEs’ perspective

  • Assume that a “business as usual” mentality can provide a competitive advantage for the long term.
  • Attemp to tackle too many issues in parallel.
  • Assume that the business or sector is unique and external people cannot assist unless they have worked in this sector.