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Chimneys & Flues: Counting the cost and value of quality

Offering high quality, cost-effective products and maintaining profits in a tough market are real challenges for manufacturers. But they can be met, says Jason Lee.
Chimneys & Flues: Counting the cost and value of quality
Consumers inevitably and understandably look for a good deal and, to service this demand, suppliers are continually looking at new, affordable products. At the same time, manufacturers are always looking at how production costs can be reduced to maintain profitability in an increasingly competitive market. In the majority of cases, that means products being imported into the UK from emerging economies such as China and Eastern Bloc countries. This applies to heating flues and chimneys as much as any other products.

In Europe, products described in the Construction Products Directive (CPD) are required to meet a high quality standard and carry the CE Mark.

Currently in the UK, products classified under the CPD are not required to carry a CE Mark, although enlightened companies have their products type tested to the relevant standard.

However, type testing alone is not sufficient to gain a CE Mark on the product. The CE Mark is based around quality, both in the product and production systems employed, requiring continuous surveillance by a notified body to ensure that the quality and manufacture are to the same standard as the original tested product.

In an increasingly competitive market, it is in the manufacturer's interest to reduce costs. Unfortunately, in some cases, this can involve reducing material specification of the product or cutting corners in quality control or production methods.

As far as material specification is concerned on system chimneys complying with BS EN 1856-1, the UK National Annex ZA is very clear and offers a minimum material specification for both the inner liner and outer skin, which is as follows:

· Chimney liner: 0.4mm Grade 316 (1.4404) austenitic stainless steel
· Outer case (external location): 304 (1.4301) austenitic stainless steel

However, in some cases, lower grade magnetic ferritic stainless steels such as 430 are being used in an attempt to reduce the manufacturing cost of the product. Such materials can lead to integrity and stability failure of the product through corrosion because of the products of combustion and possible location (for example, on the coast).

Until the Construction Products Regulation becomes mandatory in the UK, the requirement for products to carry a CE Mark remains voluntary.

It is, however, the case that any product claiming compliance with BS EN 1856-1/2 has to have a Construction Products Directive FPC Certificate. The certificate is issued and audited by a notified body and relates directly to the required quality control system for the EN Standard being applied. This is independent of any other quality system such as ISO 9001: 2008.

But there are other standards that can be applied too. For example, SFL has over the last three years implemented a range of lean manufacturing principles employing Kaizen activities and introducing Kanban systems to increase the efficiency of production, inventory levels and reduced lead times.

The results of implementing enlightened manufacturing practices can be impressive. For example, here are some of the results that we have achieved:

· Total space saved: 2,130m²
· Walking distance reduced by 2,488m
· Value added ratio improved from 0.1 to 2.2 per cent
· Inventory reduced by 20 per cent
· Lead time reduction
· Operating expense improvements of 13 per cent

The success of these lean initiatives has allowed SFL to dramatically reduce its overall manufacturing costs while, at the same time, increasing efficiency.

All of this has been achieved without any reduction in material specification or product quality.

At the same time we can offer high quality products into the market which are highly competitive whilst maintaining a healthy level of profitability for future investment and sustainable growth.

• Jason Lee is technical sales manager of SFL
6 December 2011

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