Chief Operating Officer Mark Lutton has been leading the company’s operations and driving ASSA ABLOY’s strategy of radically reducing break-even costs.
“My job is to cover operations, quality and operational excellence,” comments Mark Lutton, Chief Operating Officer of Prometal Group. Through ASSA ABLOY’s acquisition of Prometal in 2015, the company has sought to increase its market presence within the Middle East construction industry by becoming a ‘one stop shop’ in supplying the total door opening solution.
Undertaking a multitude of projects from specifications to execution and installation, the company is working on projects such as the Workers’ hospital in Doha and the Doha Metro (currently at design stage), in addition to the Jewel of the Creek, a residential development in Dubai, the company’s prominence within the region is significant. Having recently finalised Habtoor city, one of the biggest construction developments in Dubai, incorporating three hotels, an array of shops and several facilities, the company is also undertaking one of the most rewarding projects in Jeddah, the King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA).
There is no project too large or complex for Prometal, which aims to be considered for an array of projects going forward. Mark explains: “A lot more projects are now taking longer because of the current business climate. Saudi Arabia has been on hold all year but we’re starting to see signs that things are starting to move again.” Prometal’s acquisition by ASSA ABLOY has enabled it to offer a one-supplier strategy for doors, hardware, and access control, thereby reducing costs, hassle and complexities for the industry at a time when companies need to rein in costs without sacrificing the quality of their services.
By continually seeking to economise direct material costs without impacting the quality of its products, Prometal aims to ensure cost efficiency through various processes. Mark explains: “The cost efficiency comes from using technologies or manufacturing processes, such as Lean, Value Analysis and Value Engineering (VA/VE) and Automation.” All staff at the company are trained in using Lean tools, in addition to the hiring of Lean managers, ensuring improved efficiency within the manufacturing process. We also undertake sufficient research and development to improve products through VA/VE, reanalysing materials and the functionality of products to reduce costs and increase quality. By utilising Should Cost, a professional procurement tool, Mark explains “it is about going to the supplier and working out the price the components should cost based on the material weight, the material type, the surface finish and the quantity that we’re buying”. This method enables the company to reduce current labour costs, direct material costs and improve product quality, incorporating a zero defects policy.
However, the company is also keen to implement further technologies through the use of automation and robotics. “Our European sister factories have been implementing robots for over five years and we believe robotics is the way forward, even in the door industry,” Mark comments. “The labour rate will eventually rise and robots will become more effective. We are looking at investing in robotics in 2017 and 2018.”
Overcoming regulatory challenges
Prometal is currently able to produce 45,000 steel doors sets and 30,000 wooden doors sets per annum, and have recently had their Latched Single Acting Double Leaf Steel Doorset certified by Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants, a strategic supplier which undertakes vital tests of the company’s fire doors, for both British or UL American standards. In the Middle East we use European and American regulatory standards in the construction industry. Mark explains: “The government and civil defence have realised with several high-profile fires in the middle east in high rise buildings that there needs to be almost a higher standard. That’s going to put an emphasis on us to have tighter controls in terms of having certification and a verified supply chain to provide quality products meeting these new specifications.”
“Everyone will have to be more on their toes in terms of having the correct certification and traceability that the door has been manufactured to the correct standards and specification.” To this end, the company is currently working with Thomas Bell-Wright to construct a labelling system which Mark says will link back to an online website so anyone can scan the QR code on the door and immediately see what rating it is, who manufactured it and that it’s been approved.
The company currently utilises expert suppliers such as glass manufacturing company Saint-Gobain, in addition to Kilargo seals which provides vision panel beading and fire seals. On top of providing fire doors, Prometal have also the ability to offer a master key system for businesses who wish to obtain high levels of security. Mark explains: “Master key systems allow convenient access to authorised personnel while providing high levels of security against those without access rights. With both mechanical and electromechanical solutions ASSA ABLOY are able to ‘tailor make’ some of the largest, most flexible master key systems in the world.”
Rise of green building
Alongside the change in regulations, the Middle East is increasingly moving towards sustainable buildings and the rise of LEED through the prevalence of Green building regulations. Prometal is effectively responding to this change by transforming its products and services. However, Mark acknowledges that companies in the region are a few years behind Europe with regards implementation of sustainability initiatives due to the increased costs this incurs. “We need more suppliers here to offer LEED products to get economy of scale and bring down costs,” he says. More FSC materials, which Mark explains is “about how much of the wooden material comes from a sustainable forest” will need to be utilised, where it encompasses up to 100 percent of the product. With all these changes, staff will have to undergo vital training and an update of our current systems.
Not only are there a limited number of LEED materials suppliers, the company initially struggled to find suppliers who were prepared to undertake recycling services. However, Mark confirms: “In the last quarter we have managed to recycle cardboard and plastic. We’re also looking to remove organic solvents from our products, so we’ve made the decision to move to water based paints.” Mark is also currently collaborating with Emathal about how they can utilise water-based paints within the region on wooden doors. However, he acknowledges: “It’s going to take us working with Emathal and the Dubai municipality in order to change the behaviour of the construction industry. It’s only legislation that’s really going to drive it because price is still the key player.” Nonetheless, the company has become increasingly proactive, offering customers a LEED alternative up front, whilst also recording sustainability efforts through quarterly reports, covering various aspects, from energy and water consumption, to paper and plastic recycled.
Ensuring successful communication
ASSA ABLOY’s acquisition of Prometal has bought many advantages, alongside a number of challenges. Mark reflects that the company is multicultural, where many different languages are spoken within the factory areas alone, so translation is a large factor to consider. However, the company has overcome this through the use of visual communication boards. Mark explains: “We have visual communication boards to communicate with the labourers, who speak Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Bangladeshi and Nepali. We use a lot of photographs with as little words as possible and everything is displayed around the walls of the offices and factories.” With external staff, a number of technologies are used, such as video calls and WhatsApp to provide information to remote staff.
“It’s about adapting or taking on board the new technologies that are available today”, comments Mark, “teaching people to be proactive, and for managers to take responsibility and ownership of information and share it.”
With such diversity and communication techniques, ASSA ABLOY is eager to deliver a safe working environment, maintaining high global standards which many employees might not have previously experienced. Through rigorous policies and increased communication, the company has decreased its injury rate from 20 to 4 in 10 months, below the ASSA ABLOY group average. An impressive feat which Mark is proud to acknowledge. “My policy is to be open and empower people with information,” he says, supplying appropriate training and guidance. An employee survey over the last year has highlighted that more than 88 percent of employees stated they were proud to be part of ASSA ABLOY. “That was very positive, and that was within nine months of the acquisition that they felt part of the bigger company,” comments Mark.
Despite internal changes and external challenges, the company has seen an improvement in construction in the region due to the World Cup and various infrastructure projects in the region, which has enabled Prometal to implement distributor networks and enable future growth. However, Mark is cautious at this rapid growth, of which he explained: “I think the market really needs to learn how to expand at a slower rate. I don’t think we are going to get back to 100 dollars a barrel very soon, so the industry needs to learn how to improve cashflow in order to utilise its money better at a lower price of oil.”
Nonetheless, Prometal has a strategy to increase its sales, and is always looking for new companies to acquire in the region and worldwide, including opportunities in Iran. With regards to the long-term vision, Mark reflects: “If I look at the vision for the factory, it’s about improving efficiency to lower costs, maintaining our continuous improvement journey and speeding up automation by adding robotics.”