AkzoNobel has a passion for paint, the pitman painters and Ashwood Business Park
AkzoNobel is an expert in the craft of making paints and coatings. It has a world class portfolio of brands including Dulux, International, Sikkens and Interpon. Headquartered in the Netherlands, the company is active in more than 150 countries and employs around 34,500 talented individuals who are passionate about delivering high-performance products and services.
The company began the construction of its facility at Ashwood Business Park, Ashington in 2012. It is the biggest single investment to date made by the company and the facility has been designed to be the world’s most advanced and sustainable paint manufacturing plant of its kind. It has brought together the most advanced manufacturing technologies from its sites across the globe.
AkzoNobel saw huge opportunities in the area. The single biggest factor was the availability of skilled, enthusiastic people to work at the plant. Added to this was the fact that the North East was already a region in which AkzoNobel had well-developed relationships with suppliers.
The site has good access to AkzoNobel’s International Paint factory in Felling. Employing 800 people, it has been producing high performance coatings for the marine industry since 1904 and houses a major R&D centre. There’s also a sister plant in Prudhoe, South of the Tyne, which has been a mainstay of the ICI decorative paints operation since the 1940s. AkzoNobel was therefore able to transfer skills and knowledge from its other plants to its Ashwood Business Park operation.
Good transport links were also a major deciding factor. The site is located next to a major trunk road and is near Newcastle International Airport and The Port of Blyth, an international port, which is beneficial for transporting goods across the UK and internationally.
The business park is also located with easy reach of accessible local facilities and a welcoming surrounding community. And there is also one of the UK’s largest college groups located approximately one mile from the site, Education Partnership North East, which gives access to skills and training and development opportunities. The group is also closely linked to Newcastle University, providing higher education opportunities.
However, what confirmed the choice of location was the fact that the new site is located around two miles away from Woodhorn Museum, whose archives house the work of the Ashington Group (also known as the Pitmen Painters), who inspired the cultural principles and ways of working on the site.
The story goes: ‘One evening, a member of the AkzoNobel leadership team was enlightened by a documentary on the Ashington Group Pitmen Painters, a group of miners deprived of an education who still held a relentless desire to learn new skills. History has since proven the group to have prodigious artistic talent which gave them global fame. The Leadership Team were so inspired by the Pitmen Painters, they came up with five cultural principles that centred around a fundamental desire to deliver on commitments whilst challenging ourselves to always seek greater understanding, and to learn and grow as a team and a community; mirroring the culture shown by the group.’
In recent years the baseline aspirations of manufacturing facilities have gone up a level as companies have a huge amount of information about the processes that are available. They are therefore able to automate the decisions of what is made and when via a plant control system.
The AkzoNobel site has been built with algorithms to manufacture paint on instruction but unsupervised. The only operator intervention required, once the recipes are requested, is for maintenance purposes or for initial pump-up of raw materials and deliveries of tins / lids / labels to the lines. This enables a safer working environment and better working conditions, as well as more consistency and quality within the products.
The facility at Ashwood Business Park covers an area of 100,000 m2 – roughly the size of 14 football pitches – and is an important part of AkzoNobel’s global growth strategy and it exemplifies the future vision for AkzoNobel, focusing on achieving sustainable growth and profitability.
AkzoNobel Ashington employs 165 people directly, and the site has created more than 100 additional jobs within the local supply chain. Capacity to grow and expand has already been designed into the site.