Dawson Precision Components, whose forte is in turned and milled components produced from bar up to 3 in diameter, has involved its workforce in NPL measurement training, NVQ training, took on two more apprentices about a year ago and is putting one of its recent qualified apprentices through a degree course. The 37-employee firm kicked off NPL measurement training before the recession, funding it from its own resources and putting eight of its shopfloor personnel through Level 1 training (NPL website, click here). During the recession, a further eight have been trained to the same level, but this time with the help of funding support from the Royal Academy of Engineers, to the tune of £4,000. "We will put another group through Level 1 training and the put the section leaders through a Level 2 course," explains managing director Simon Dawson, who adds that there have been a number of benefits. "Everybody got something different out of it. There is now better shared understanding between operators and inspectors, while the appreciation of maximum material condition, for example, is improved. Situations such as where people have something in the back of their head, think that they understand it, but didn't 100 per cent and weren't keen too display that fact. For me, the strong point was uncertainty of measurement." Image: Simon Dawson: everybody gets something different from the NPL course Sales director Paul Dawson adds: "Customers find it very impressive that we have had 16 of our shopfloor operatives put through NPL training. It gives them more confidence." That said, Simon Dawson is keen to underline the £1.9 million turnover company's existing quality credentials. "Dawson's has always been known as a company that delivers right and delivers on time. We won't give customers delivery promises we can't keep and will call them, even if we are just one day late. "We have even had customers chasing us up for parts that were delivered on time, but which have been held up in their goods inwards," an amused managing director relates. And, returning to quality, he highlights that a new customer reports being very impressed. "Feedback has been fantastic. Parts are inspected 100 per cent, put through a CNC CMM. We have been told that the CMM goes through a whole batch without stopping, something it used to do when problems were found with a previous supplier's parts." And the company has just upgraded its ISO9001 credentials to latest version, ISO9001:2008 – a CNC CMM is now on the shopping list to speed inspection, too. In between the two lots of NPL training, the company has also availed itself of funding support for NVQ training. Says finance director Julie Hughes: "Our training provider, OTC, pointed us in the direction of funding for this and we managed to get around £20,000 support, via Train to Gain." This has seen 26 of its workforce put through various NVQs, taking in business improvement techniques, team leadership and IT. Some of this was project-based and a first initiative has seen the company improve its raw materials stores, making it easier, and hence faster, to find the correct material. Image: A few members of Dawson's workforce with their qualification certificates. Paul Dawson is shown far right, while Julie Hughes is third from the right Being a subcontractor, various oddments from previous jobs were returned to the store, with the result that it had "bits and pieces all over the place". The offcuts are now stored in a separate area, with better organisation and identification throughout. A second project will see the newly-trained workforce tackle a reduction in energy usage through attention to the eradication of compressed air leaks. The company has already installed a new energy efficient compressor, with financial support from Carbon Trust, and is also going to investigate energy efficient lighting with, once again, support for this investment coming from Carbon Trust funding. Returning to training, this time apprentices, and the company is now educating one of them to degree level, funding the gaining of a mechanical engineering degree for an individual who will become a CNC machine programmer. Additional CNC programming training to use the company's Topsolid CAM system is also on the menu for the candidate. Agreeing that this is a large commitment for such a small firm, Ms Hughes adds that the company has sought a commitment from the employee that he will stay with the company or, should he leave, pay compensation. This is the first time that the company has educated one of its employees to degree level. Normally, apprentices at Dawson are schooled through the advanced apprenticeship route (NVQ level 3), with this taking three years to complete, although it may be less, depending on individuals' backgrounds. Dawson works with local training provider OTC (Oldham Training Centre) in delivering apprentice training. Apart from the direct benefits of this training, better understanding of measurement theory, improved processes and practices on the shopfloor, Simon Dawson offers that, especially during the recession, such investment in training has "kept the staff motivated during the quiet period, while at the end of it, we're going to be stronger", adding that the company has not lost any employees during the recession and has, in fact, employed two more apprentices. In parallel with training, the company is also a regular investor in technology, the most recent investment being a Citizen A32 sliding-head lathe, in 2008: in fact, the company was the first taker of this technology in the UK. Together with its training investments, the company has spent £2 million over the last four years. And, although company turnover has fallen from £2.2 million to its current level of £1.9 million during the recession, Simon Dawson says this: "To be where we were two years ago, we think is pretty good. "We can't make what we make with old machines. Some of our competitors haven't invested during the downturn, because they think they can't afford it. We can't afford not to. There are a lot of people who haven't invested over the years, in personnel or machinery, and quite a lot are going by the wayside." But isn't he afraid of losing his well trained personnel to such companies? The company loses very few, if any, he answers. Indeed, one that left asked to come back, he reports, while those that do leave tend to do so to pursue completely different careers. "We are a family run company, and we [the management] are very accessible and approachable. One of my employees said recently, 'not that Dawsons has ever not been a good place to work, but that it is now better than ever'." Box item 1 NPL training Course Content Day 1 - Geometric Product Specification (GPS) A Including what is GPS, drawing practice and geometrical tolerances. Day 2 - Measurement Principles and Methods A Including successful measurements, standards, traceability, calibration, uncertainty, units, relationship between tolerances and measuring equipment using micrometers and callipers, repeatability and reproducibility of measurements. Day 3 - Measurement Principles and Methods B Including the relationship between tolerances and measuring equipment by the use of height gauges, dial test indicators, dial gauges, plug gauges, gap gauges and temperature effects. NB: Fundamental Measurement Calculation is incorporated into all 3 days including powers, scientific notification and triangles. This is achieved by understanding the relationship of these calculations when applied to tolerance zones and practical measuring tasks. A workbook of evidence must be completed successfully during the training course and, where required, post assessment tasks can be set for each individual to be completed in the workplace. Box item 2 ISI 9001: 2008 for small companies A new edition of the successful handbook, ISO 9001 for Small Businesses, has just been jointly published by ISO and the International Trade Centre (ITC). The handbook has been updated to take account of the latest edition of ISO 9001, published in 2008. This standard, which gives the requirements for quality management systems, is among ISO's most well known and widely implemented standards ever. ISO 9001 is used in some 176 countries by businesses and organizations large and small, in public and private sectors, by manufacturers and service providers, in all sectors of activity. Available from here First published in Machinery, September 2010