To celebrate International Women Day, we talk to one of the rising starts at CoolKit, Alicia Threlfall, taking us through a typical day for a Production Planning Manager in a rapidly growing business.
After joining the company five years ago straight from University, Alicia has risen through the ranks, earning her stripes here at CoolKit. She has served her time in admin, sales and marketing and now, holding the title of Production Planning Manager, she is one of the main cogs in the organisation. We find out more about what her role involves …
I’m from Wigan and joined CoolKit as a Sales and Marketing Trainee straight after gaining a Geography degree at Edge Hill University. I was interviewed by Rupert and I liked how passionate he was about the company. When I started there were only 30 people working here and now there’s more than double that.
I like organising. It frustrates me when people forget things and don’t write things down. My aim is to continue to improve the way we think and work so thing’s don’t get overlooked and customers get the best service possible.
Typically, I’ll come in at around 7.30am. The first job is to go through any emails and see if anything has changed overnight, and then take a look at the order of vehicles to go out.
We have a lot of jobs that are bespoke, so it’s my job to ensure the right people know the right information throughout the business. Basically, I make sure everything is planned, prepared and fitted on time.
There are obviously a lot of different stages to a fridge van conversion so if there’s a delay in one of these stages, it’s going to have a knock-on effect for the whole production line. For example, I have to ensure the drawings are done, that everyone knows what they are doing from a technical point of view, and that suppliers know the correct specification and that the items are delivered on time. We also send vehicles for sign writing, so I’ll take a look if any sub-contractors are required. There’s a lot of organising!
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging sometimes. At first, I didn’t think my voice would be heard, but everyone respects me because I do know what I’m talking about. I deal with everyone, from department heads to new starters. People know they can come to me and ask questions about a particular build and I’ll help them.
There was one particular job with lots of sub-contractors involved. It wasn’t just us doing the work, there were external contractors to coordinate too. They had to be organised in a particular sequence, and I had to manage and monitor the timing so the project didn’t slip. It was quite a challenge, but it went smoothly.
I have been working with a software developer who has been helping me to improve our systems. The main objective is to have more information on the shop floor, so all staff have a live status of all vehicles.
In the past, a lot of information has just been in someone’s head, but that’s no good if they’re busy or out of the office. This new system will prevent any unnecessary delays and stop people having to be pulled off other jobs.
The end goal is to make sure the customer gets their vehicle on time, everything they have requested has been included, and it’s of the highest quality. All of our customers’ vehicles are treated with care, from a single order to a large fleet.
Over the years we have been measuring how long each process takes so we have a realistic idea of how long each vehicle will take, depending on the configuration.
CoolKit don’t just build and deliver a vehicle – we also have to book all modified vehicles in to be tested at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, register the vehicle and sometimes deal with finance companies to ensure the refrigerated vehicle in stock is ready to deliver to the customer on time.
If something happens and a vehicle is going to be late, I ensure everyone at CoolKit is updated, and most important, the customer. A lot goes on behind the scenes.
Each vehicle has a kit made in the manufacturing department, then goes into lining, followed by fridging and then a pre-delivery inspection. It’s tricky making sure it’s all coordinated and completed on time.
We’ve recently expanded and added a plastic welding department and a box van manufacturing department. The biggest challenge is prioritising everyone’s workload. We need to ensure the right kit is ready for the right vehicle, at the right time. We also have to bear in mind that bespoke conversions take longer than the standard options. It’s a juggling act.
I’d like to continue to be involved on the improvement side. I’ve recently been on a 10-week course with the Manufacturing Institute called Accelerated Route to Leading Manufacturing. It’s given me the skills to improve aspects of the business, and I’m now putting them into practice.
I’m going to be doing a Fellowship in Manufacturing: it’s a 6-month process with a mentor from the Manufacturing Institute. You have to show them a specific tool you’ve taken from the course, how you’ve implemented it in the company and what benefit it’s had, so watch this space!