Painting a new picture

AkzoNobel is the world’s leading decorative paint and coatings company, offering over more than 120 brands

A look at AkzoNobel’s website gives you a range of bases and contacts in more than 80 countries around the world. But in spite of its size, this is a global company with a local vision, responsive to the needs of each individual market, according to Head of Manufacturing for the new plant in Ashington, Northumberland, Jeff Hope. AkzoNobel is investing in this new £100m facility in the UK, seeing an increased demand for more houses and infrastructure which will increase demand in its largest market: “When more homes are built and more people move house, the demand for paint and coatings increases. We’re supportive of all efforts by governments and local authorities to expand and improve the stock of housing available because it is vital to create housing for the UK’s expanding population and also because it’s a really important growth driver for our business,” he explains.

Vision
The paint and performance coatings company is chiefly known for cutting edge brands such as Dulux, Cuprinol, Armstead, Polycell and Hammerite and Jeff has a vision for producing not only the next generation of paint, but the next generation of painters. The company is looking to train 10,000 UK decorators by 2020 via the Dulux Academy training scheme: “Our UK business currently delivers around one billion euros in revenue and employs 3500 people. We are committed to continue to innovate here and we are committed to the national network of Dulux Academies we have introduced to make sure the demand for painters is filled, the second of which we recently opened here in Ashington,” he declares. However, he doesn’t recognise any links between this and any uncertainty around the Brexit vote, “it is too early to determine the effect of the Brexit negotiations but our intent is to fill the skills gap in these trades in order to help house the UK population,” he stresses.

Another aspect of this vision is how AkzoNobel is changing. The business is set to split, with one part focusing on paint and coatings while the other will concentrate on speciality chemicals. Jeff explains that this is crucial for the company’s long-term development: “We have ambitious growth plans to take AkzoNobel to the next level. Our strategy is about accelerating top-line growth while managing our costs in the best way possible,” he outlines.

Ashington
The new production facility in Ashington is a crucial part of the company’s ambitious growth plans. However, the process to get to this point caused some debate: “We had a large but ageing site in Slough and another in Prudhoe by the bank of the Tyne. We had to think about whether to invest in the ageing facilities or start again and build a brand-new facility. We broke ground in the winter of 2012 and construction really got going at the beginning of 2013; it took about four years altogether to progress through the construction, pre-commissioning, commissioning, trialling and product transfer phases and we manufactured our very first paints over a year ago in 2016,” he recalls.

Jeff is very passionate about the Ashington facility and the levels of advancement in sustainability and innovation: “The idea behind it was to look at the best technology both inside and outside of AkzoNobel and then improve it – this was in all aspects such as the layout of the site and the flow of the materials; everything had to be moved up to the next level. We had quite a few design houses involved in the incorporation of the technology, they all said it was the most advanced and challenging project that they have had!” he enthuses.

In terms of how the plant changes the process of making paint, Jeff gives a comparison of how the production process used to work as opposed to how it now works in the Ashington facility: “The traditional method was an end-to-end process where you would take materials, mix them, add things like tinters and then fill it into cans. This site continuously produces slurries, the base of all of the products, meaning that half the process is completed proactively and this base material is always ‘on tap’. Then you add the tinters and other materials required to make the various products. It’s a step change in the basic process of manufacturing paint,” he says. As well as simplifying the process it can also result in better quality: “The dosing is more accurate and because everything is automated you get a very high rate of repeatability,” he states. He also believes that the facility can be a useful tool in terms of promotion and marketing: “Some companies are scared to show the process whereas we wanted to be open and show our supply chain as a strength. If a customer wants to look around we want to show them, it adds value!” he insists.

Impact
Jeff is very conscious of sustainability, both in terms of the environment but also the impact on the local community: “Our facility has solar cells on the roof and rainwater harvesting facilities to reduce environmental impact. We also invest heavily in the communities in which we operate and the culture of the workforce. This is important because we recognise that technology will only remain the most advanced for a limited time but if you have the right culture of sustainability embedded in the workforce, that will live on regardless of changes in the technology,” he reiterates. In short, while AkzoNobel develops its products and continues to grow as a company, there is a genuine desire to have a positive impact on the local area and create a positive legacy for the future.

AkzoNobel
Products: Paint and performance coatings supplier