On 25th April, the B-DACS team was treated to a guided tour of Mitsubishi Electric’s Scottish headquarters.
The Livingston site employs around 600 people and produces almost 150,000 air conditioning and heat pump units every year.
It’s continually expanding and last year became home to the UK branch of the Mitsubishi Electric R&D Centre Europe.
We were taken around the factory that makes the outdoor condensing units, known colloquially as Aircon One.
It’s a model of manufacturing efficiency, with extensive health and safety, environmental and waste procedures in place.
The visit was particularly relevant to us as we’re currently going through ISO: 9001 accreditation. We picked up some ideas about productivity, consistency and quality management, which are valuable to any business.
Manufacturing Processes and Efficiency
Aircon One operates through a continuously moving production line, the kind popularised by Henry Ford in the early 20th century.
Each employee has a set time to complete their task before the unit moves onto the next station. The parts and tools they require are always available, usually within arm’s reach, reducing the risk of delays or bottlenecks.
Our guide explained how the factory aims to continually improve efficiency, assessing their processes right down to the number of steps each person has to take.
Japanese Working Culture and the ‘5S’ Method
Mitsubishi Electric is a Japanese company, so Japanese working practices are at the heart of everything they do.
The factory director is always Japanese and typically stays in the post for 3-5 years. This allows them to easily communicate with the company’s headquarters and keep their working culture alive.
Central to all the factory’s processes is the ‘5S’ methodology, which is based on 5 key principles:
- Seiri (Sort)
- Seiton (Systematise)
- Seiso (Shine)
- Seiketsu (Standardise)
- Shitsuke (Sustain)
The key is to organise the workplace into a well-ordered, clean and logical space.
By removing all potential obstacles, the system makes it easier for everyone to complete their tasks.
Minimising Stock on the Factory Floor
To reduce waste and damage to components, nothing is held in stock for longer than is necessary.
There’s only ever enough stock on the factory floor for two hours of work. If something isn’t going to be used, it isn’t brought out.
Small parts, including raw materials, pipes and electrical components, are bought in from elsewhere. But, they’re brazed, painted, welded and put together on site, meaning that everything is manufactured as and when it’s needed.
Normally, that’s just minutes before it’s fitted into an air conditioning unit.
Environmental Policy and Reducing Waste
Mitsubishi Electric has a strict environmental policy, which complements their eco-friendly product range.
Any waste materials are segregated directly on the factory floor for recycling.
Metals, including waste aluminium, are sold for scrap, giving the company a direct return on their environmental investment.
A new paint machine, only installed in the factory the previous week, is proving highly effective.
Using a combination of static electricity, powder paint and an oven, it paints panels at almost 100% efficiency and has all but eliminated waste paint.
Even though it wasn’t cheap, it will pay for itself very quickly and is great for the environment too.
Guaranteeing Quality in the Air Conditioning Units
Nothing is allowed to leave the factory until it’s been rigorously tested.
In air conditioning, leak prevention is paramount – leaking refrigerant is dangerous, illegal and damaging to systems.
Therefore, each part is individually leak checked and the final product is tested again before leaving the factory.
Mitsubishi Electric’s brazing process also highlights their commitment to quality control.
To become a brazer, you have to work through six months of training before being assessed.
If you fail, you have to start again from the beginning. Even if you pass, you’re retested annually.
However, despite the challenges, there are real incentives to becoming a brazer. Every year, the two highest performing brazers are given an all-expenses paid trip to Japan to compete in an international competition.
Last year, one Livingston representative came third, their best performance to date.
It’s a great incentive and sends out the message that if you work to the highest standard you will be rewarded.
Air Conditioning Research and Development in Livingston
In 2013, Mitsubishi Electric relocated the UK branch of their Research and Development Centre to Livingston.
This means R&D, design and manufacturing teams are all working from the same site, making it a key location for the company’s global operations.
As part of the move, they built two identical houses at the site in order to test how the Ecodan performs against other central heating systems.
Both houses are fitted with hundreds of sensors, enabling them to identify exactly how the system is working and how it could be improved.
Our Impressions of the Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning Factory
We took a great deal from the visit and our director Diane had this to say:
I was so impressed with the Mitsubishi Electric factory tour today. It is apparent that quality and efficiency are top of the agenda. The factory is so clean, the staff are conscientious and there is a real sense of pride in what they do.
Andy, who took us on the tour, was very knowledgeable and his passion for the company shone through. Big thanks to Billy Irwin for organising this for us.
It was great to let the B-DACS staff see how the units were made and the quality standards that are adhered to. It gives us great faith in the product we are installing for our customers.
Our engineers always speak highly of Mitsubishi Electric’s products and customers have very few complaints.
Much of that, no doubt, is down to the way they run their factory.
B-DACS is a Mitsubishi Electric Business Solutions Partner and Approved Installer. We can install any Mitsubsihi Electric system and they have one for all applications.
Get in touch on 0141 773 3355 if you have a project in mind.