It’s boom time at baby bottle making factory

The famous baby bottles made at the Philips Avent factory in Glemsford. ANL-150622-153412001
The famous baby bottles made at the Philips Avent factory in Glemsford. ANL-150622-153412001

At a time when many people are concerned about where future employment will come from in the Sudbury area, with shops closing and leading manufacturers such as Delphi Diesel Systems cutting jobs, the picture at Glemsford-based Philips Avent is looking decidedly rosy.

Many people will have driven past the factory on their way to and from Cavendish, Clare or Haverhill and probably realise that it produces the dummies and baby-bottles that are known to parents world-wide.

However, a large proportion will not know just how big the site really is - the size of eight football pitches - how important the factory and its staff is to the global corporation of Philips, or simply how many people are employed from the local area in a wide variety of roles.

In fact, the company is doing so well that it is opening a whole host of new jobs up ready for a major expansion, for the first time producing medical products at the site.

Philips’ mother and child business has an annual turnover of some 400million euros, with the site producing 30 per cent of Philips health care products - the most profitable part of the whole Philips brand.

So why is the factory and its products doing so well when other manufacturing companies are hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons?

Well they are performing highly technical tasks, something Delphi bosses agreed the UK market can flourish in, added to this the market for quality goods is unsurprisingly strong in the mother and baby section.

There has also been a dramatic improvement in efficiency at the factory, with much emphasis placed on reducing wastage of any kind whether this be in products or time.

Mat Norris, director of engineering and manufacturing at the site, said one of the major factors behind the site’s success was the staff, who he said were driven by the product they are making.

“You can’t help but care about a product for a baby,” he said.

He described positively the family atmosphere at the plant, explaining a lot of staff know each other from their school days.

However he feels there is still a reluctance for local people to apply to work at the company, predominantly for two reasons.

“People say they don’t want to work in a factory,” he said. “We are growing, there are lots of products and a lot of roles. Our challenge is to get good people in. I’m sure they are in this area but I’m not sure people think about applying to work here.”

The director is a good example of the lack of understanding of what goes on behind the factory doors.

Originally working for Ford, he worked in Clacton and in Germany, despite living down the road in Cavendish.

He decided to ask some questions, putting in his CV and getting a job, now in charge of hundreds of workers and able to walk to work rather than catching a plane.

“They see it from the road but they don’t know what’s going on in there,” he said

“People also believe it’s just for machine operators. Of course there are machine operators but there are a number of positions. People can build a career here.”

From engineers, operations workers and quality control to human resources, finance and health and safety, there is a plethora of possibilities, particularly in the manufacturing side which accounts for 400 of the 650 or so staff.

Here especially there is a focus on finding and nurturing local talent.

“At the risk of generalising, people tend to stay here if they are local,” said Mr Norris.

“It’s quite difficult to get people here, especially with experience. We spend a lot on growing our workforce.”

To give all staff an opportunity to find their career at the site each worker is given their own development plan.

As was made very clear, if the ambition is there the company will make a conscious effort to invest in staff and their future.

There are career paths for all staff, even different levels of machine operators.

A perfect example of this is maintenance apprentice engineer James Ives, 23.

Having spent the last four years gaining experience in a number of positions at the site while completing qualifications at college, he will soon move into a permanent role.

However, he will also continue his studies, with the firm agreeing to fund his higher national certificate (HNC) in electrical engineering.

He said: “I want to get the HNC done and then gain some experience and see where I can go in the company.”