Spinning a yarn over 40 years on the mill floor

11 July 2018

Glynn Middleton, production manager at Lawton Yarns, shares what’s involved in managing a world-class spinning facility, the importance of upskilling the workforce and how things have changed over his 40 years of working in the textile industry.

How did you start your career in textiles?

I began as an engineer at Raven’s Ing Mills overseeing the carding machines, which draw the wool between saw-tooth wires repeatedly to clean, mix and parallelise the fibres into a long, uniform web so they can be spun into yarn. My job was to supervise the production of the machinery and ensure that the output met our high quality standards.

From there, I became a blending, carding and spinning manager; still overseeing production and quality but on a wider range of processes that are integral to the creation of our yarn. Following on from that I became a mill manager, which naturally transitioned into my current role as production manager.

What are the responsibilities of a production manager?

My key responsibilities are making sure that everything is running smoothly and efficiently with minimal wastage and that our yarns meet stringent quality standards. Lawton Yarns is renowned for its reliability, speed, capacity and the quality of its yarns, so it’s my job to make sure that our production and delivery continues to meet the expectations of our customers.

I also work closely with the team and oversee training programmes to upskill our workforce so that everyone is up to date on the latest machinery and best practice processes. Another part of my role is to act as a health and safety advisor, so I will often hold training sessions for the team to embed the culture of safety in the way we work.

What does a typical day look like?

As soon as I arrive, I have a quick run round of each department to catch up on the status of production. We’re a 24/7 operation, so it’s important that the handover from night to day shift is seamless to we can continue to operate at maximum capacity. We encourage the team to tell us about any production or quality problems as they arise through our see it, sort it, report it policy. This means that we are made aware of any problems ahead of time and can keep production running smoothly and reliably. After that, I meet with the day shift team to debrief on the night shift handover.

Once the team has caught up, the bulk of the day’s activity begins. I collect production figures from our key departments and plan for our upcoming production requirements as well as carrying out any scheduled maintenance. I make sure that all our processes are fully staffed and meeting our target outputs.

During the day I will do regular walk rounds of the factory to ensure all the machines are running well, that our people are working safely and that operations remain compliant with regulation. I am also part of our regular quality meetings, which ensure that the yarn we produce is always of the highest standard. I work closely with the quality manager and regularly hold quality briefings with our staff members.

What do you view as the most important part of your role?

The textiles industry is facing a skills shortage, and the sector as a whole needs to attract the younger generation to continue our craft, so my passion is making sure that the skills and expertise are passed on.

As a company we believe that continual improvement is the secret to our longevity. Investing in the workforce is investing in the quality of our yarns, and making sure that everyone has the training to perform their roles to the best their ability across machines keeps production moving smoothly and safely. Upskilling staff also makes people feel like a valued part of the team. On a personal level, holding training sessions gives me the opportunity to get to know our staff members, which means that people feel like they can come to me with any problems or suggestions that can improve the way we work.

How have you seen the textiles industry change?

Things have changed quite a bit! Most strikingly, the scale of production has increased massively as a result of new innovations in machinery and automation. There is much less manual handling and wastage involved than there used to be, which makes the whole process much more efficient. When I started as a carding engineer, the factory was producing around 60,000 kilograms running five days a week. Now, thanks to a nearly £8 million investment in state-of-the-art machinery and product development the factory operates 24/7 and produces over 400 tonnes of the best quality woollen yarn a week.

The changes delivered through innovation haven’t stopped at technology. Innovations in education have changed the way we look at ensuring our operations are safe and sustainable. Being environmentally aware in the way we operate, even accounting for small things like turning the lights off and ensuring that the motors powering the engines are running efficiently, is quite a shift in mindset from when I started working in textiles.

Lawton Yarns has been producing woollen yarns for over 115 years, and one thing that hasn’t changed is that wool remains the top choice for high quality carpets. I’m very proud to be part of that heritage, and with so many new innovations in our industry, I’m excited to see what the future holds.