Council Members of the British Leather Federation have paid a visit to Pittards leather processing factory to learn more about the '20 Keys to Workplace Improvement' system that has helped the company surge ahead in recent months.

Pittards is spearheading the introduction in Britain of this new Japanese system, already well-known in Asia, particularly in Japan where it has been adopted by major companies including Seiko Electronic Industries, Sanyo Electric and Mitsubishi with outstanding success. Pittards introduced 20 Keys at the end of 1997.

The concept came from Mitsubishi's Iwao Kobayashi, who believes that the success of any company is based on motivating the people working there. The system covers the involvement, training and motivation of all employees, giving workers at every level the opportunity to think about were they are in terms of global best practices and then where they plan to be in the future.

The 20 key areas included: empowering employees to make improvements; production scheduling; using information systems; conserving energy and materials; reducing work in progress; and cleaning and organising.

"Productivity and consistency has improved," said Richard Thurston, production director at Pittards. "Wastage has reduced and the time taken for skins to pass through the factory and out as the finished product has reduced by almost half, from 16 days to just nine."

Many other key British industrial groups are also examining the programme with a view to recommending it to their members.

From Peter Embling, Shoestyle