3 tips for making big improvements in productivity

Richard Shipperbottom, founder of industry specialists Applied Acumen draws upon vast experience of improving productivity in the food and drink sector over the last twenty years to give us 3 tips for improving productivity. How many will you implement?

1. Challenge your standards – independently!

Quite obvious, and every good factory manager does this, but very, very few welcome any kind of independent review. Sure, the finance department might take a look, but let’s not kid dc numbersourselves; in most factories it is a challenge to get the numbers to stack up at all! New products, new machinery, marginal costings based upon imaginary runaway successes…and poor data capture, such as the always challenging question: ”how many did you actually make?” all contribute to what is often described as ‘the black box”. This is even before one considers the adherence (or most usually not) to whatever standards are in play, giving rise to self-fulfilling planning assumptions and the fog of under achievement. Read more


3 tips for making big improvements in distribution

Richard Shipperbottom, founder of industry specialists Applied Acumen draws upon vast experience of improving distribution operations over the last twenty years to give us 3 tips for making big improvement. How many will you implement?

 1        Get the basics right!

Logistics network management

Start simple – count your vans!

How many vehicles does your company have? Seriously, it might make you laugh, but it isn’t funny: most of the businesses that run a fleet of more than a couple of dozen vehicles don’t actually know how many they have! It gets worse when there are more than one or two depots, too.


There will be vehicles off road (VOR) in for repair, MOT or service, there will be vehicles on hire, vehicles waiting to be returned, vehicles on order, vehicles all over the place. Of course, your fleet or transport manager is supposed to keep track of it all, but chances are the numbers on the sheet will be wrong. This includes all those running a decent TMS tracker system, too.

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Beat Food Inflation

With material price inflation now regularly making headlines, the Supermarkets have staked their intent very clearly: suppliers are largely expected to suck it up.

Richard Shipperbottom, founder of industry specialists Applied Acumen draws upon vast experience of reducing material costs in the food and drink sector over the last twenty years to give us 3 tips for reducing material costs. How many will you implement in 2017? Read more


A new dawn: Engineers are needed more than ever, but not in the ways you might think

Periodically we hear clamour for more engineers in this country, and a near continuous lament from all sides of industry for a lack of skills; that nefarious catch-all phrase “skills”, and concurrently images of James Dyson and Trevor Baylis are somehow conjured in the mind, a perception of successful modern engineering success forever burned into our psyche by our schools, our government and our media.


Images used under CC0 License. Source

And yet however strong this association, this is a hugely narrow and potentially damaging projection both of requirements and capability. How so? Let’s firstly examine requirements before examining engineers’ suitability to match them. Read more

Our Approach - Applied Acumen

Go Forward

There is a common thread amongst business conversations at the moment, and we won’t be alone in seeing it. Whether it’s a catch up with a business friend or a formal board meeting, the influence of external forces becomes the central theme. It could be the exchange rate, the increases in labour costs, the uncertainty surrounding all things European Union, the effects of the extraordinary weather conditions (which we seem to see every year), lack of government investment in just about anything you care to think of and lets not even start on the American Presidency. You can understand why businesses are adopting an approach to weathering the storm.

There are some examples of investment and job creation amongst this cacophony of uncertainty, and they are to be welcomed, but many of these are based on decisions taken some time ago and the effect of these external factors has yet to be fully realised. However, there are some examples of real business success that we would like to share with you. Read more

Best time for consultancy?

Hey Boss, TMI!

As managers, and especially as consultants, we thrive on information. Analysis is our bread and butter and we get very excited when we get new datasets and new ways to present and interpret it. Even if you’re not a data nerd, you know the importance of making decisions based on facts. Reliable up-to-date data is essential to our businesses.

Nowadays with broadband internet at home, we won’t make a big purchase, until we’ve done our online research. We read blogs and review sites for assessments on the latest and best TVs, washing machines and cars. We want to know we’re getting the best deal, and the best product, for our money. And why shouldn’t we?

In our world of Big Data and Internet of Things, we are surrounded by information. But, as various studies have shown, we must not allow ourselves to be paralysed by it.

Whenever we start a new engagement with a client, one of our first tasks is to gather all the available data. We need to establish a base level of performance in order to effectively measure the success of the project. In many instances, this is incomplete or poorly maintained, and we work with the client to get the data into shape.  Read more

Process Control

Technology is not a magic bullet


Source: Rog01 Used with licence

Source: Rog01
Used with licence

“Our back door discipline is appalling.”

“Our admin teams are constantly chasing paperwork from the factory.”

“We don’t have up-to-date inventory, and it’s costing us a fortune in unnecessary procurement.”

“We need a new ERP system to fix all our problems…”


While the first three sentences above might well be 100% true, the fourth is most certainly not. If you have poor systems and procedures in your operation, no system is going to be the panacea for all these ills.

If your managers and operators cannot follow basic disciplines now, what makes you think that a fancy new computer system is going to be any better? You will go from a mountain of paper to an ocean of incomplete data that will be just as much of a problem to fix and interpret. Read more


Planning Gaps

World class manufacturing factories are a rarity by definition. But there is one thing that all of these operations have in common: a joined up and effective planning function.

Planning is the “brain” of the manufacturing organism. It allocates the resources, sets the priorities, and coordinates each of the constituent parts to ensure they work together efficiently. If a factory has a disjointed planning process, you can be certain it’s not maximizing its full potential somewhere in the process.

Fixing a malfunctioning planning department can seem like a colossal undertaking. But it needn’t be so daunting. Planning is not black magic and no challenge is too great to overcome. Like many large problems, the solution may be lots and lots of simple fixes.

This is why whenever we take a look at planning department, we always carry out our Planning Audit. A simple but thorough RAG (Red, Amber, Green) audit: we overlay a best practice model onto the existing planning function that highlights a department’s strengths and weaknesses.

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To “blerone”

To “blerone”, verb.

Not many people know, but this is a verb with a variety of different and interesting meanings:

  1. To make a foolish error with chocolate. Ex. “I’m afraid, Greg, that your eagerness to eat that choccy pudding is misplaced, as it looks bleroned to me; there’s only half the right amount in it.”
  2. To modify an item in one place whilst making no change anywhere else. Ex. “It’s bad news, Sir Philip. It looks increasingly likely they’ll blerone this pension thing. At least you won’t be made to cough up the entire deficit, though.”
  3. To take the British consumer for an idiot, on occasion possibly with some justification. Ex. “Do you think we can blerone them again, Mr Cowell? Undoubtedly, Louis, undoubtedly.”
  4. To remove alternate pieces of something in the hope that no one notices. (ref. “Jenga!”) Read more

Resource Usage Variance

“Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble…” followed by a management report telling you that you have used too much “wing of bat” last week!

Understanding usage variances can often seem like a ‘black art’, especially when your accounts team present you with a vast spreadsheet with hundreds of seemingly meaningless numbers. In all likelihood, most of this is simply ‘noise’ that gets in the way of identifying opportunity. Even if all variances have potential for improvement, they can’t all be your top priority.

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