Q&A with our Head of Operations - Meet Matthew Hickman



“We’ve achieved a record service level this year as well as improvements to our H&S and sustainability ratings.” Meet our Head of Operations Matt Hickman who explains more about his role and exactly what the team has been working on to achieve these enhancements.

How did you come to be Head of Operations?

I joined the team 11 years ago at the Tewkesbury site. Starting out in production planning, moving on to oversee the planning team and then gradually taking on other responsibilities such as the warehouse and the manufacturing.

Before Hydro, I had roles within supply chain in manufacturing, retail and IT solutions, working for companies including Nestlé and Tesco.

How would you describe your role as Head of Operations?

For me it’s about delivering excellent customer service and driving operational efficiencies, balanced with maximising profitability and business growth.

I oversee the operational side of things, which involves managing a team of 60, the site operates 24-hours-a-day on a three-shift rotation.

Our focus is to ensure we deliver the right products to our customers at the right cost, the right quality and the right time. Also driving the sustainability agenda from an operational perspective.

Can you talk through a few examples of the sustainable changes you’ve made?

We’re always looking at ways we can improve sustainability on site, from the way we package and transport our products to energy management.

For example, LED lighting has been implemented across the whole of the site over the last couple of years including the offices, which has resulted in a significant energy saving. Everything is being switched off in the evenings and weekends, where it’s not necessary, even down to powering machinery down during breaks.

From a packaging angle, we’ve worked with in-bound product suppliers to remove plastic as much as possible, using paper as an alternative where necessary. Where we do use plastic we minimise film thickness. This is continually being reviewed with new packaging developments sourced where we can.

And in terms of machinery, our forklift trucks are all electric and we now use a third party transport company to ship products, so return journeys aren’t being wasted, which for customers also reduces transport miles in terms of their carbon accounting.

What CO2 reductions have been achieved as a result of this sustainability activity?

We have implemented the metric of ‘CO2 per ton of aluminium sold’ to measure operational progress. I’m pleased to say a 15% reduction was made from 2020 to 2021 with a further 8% reduction from 2021 to 2022. And we’re always looking at new ways to improve on this.

From a product perspective we’ve made leaps and bounds in terms of enabling our customers to choose more sustainable materials. Most of our systems from Tewkesbury are being produced with Hydro CIRCAL® 75R, an alloy made with a minimum of 75% recycled end-of-life aluminium (post-consumer scrap). This allows tons of scrap that would otherwise become solid waste to be reintroduced into the system creating a circular economy. The remaining systems are produced in REDUXA our brand of low-carbon aluminium, which is produced using renewable energy from water, wind and solar. A sustainability mindset is embedded in to our culture.

What is the focus from a quality perspective?

Understanding customer demand and making stock available is our priority, ensuring we deliver on time and in full. Post Brexit, like many, we’ve had supply chain challenges to overcome but currently, we’re running at our highest on time delivery level.

The emphasis is on delivering with accuracy and quality, ensuring customers receive the goods-in, as they would like. One recent quality project, involved spending time with several customers looking at the labelling and packing information on products to improve their checking-in processes, helping them to save time.

What other service improvements are being introduced?

In the last year, we’ve taken a platform approach to product design and manufacturing with the launch of our new TENTAL curtain walling and SOLEAL window range. The SOLEAL window range has been created with a circular economy in mid and is made with 75% recycled materials and is 95% recyclable at the end of its lifecycle.

How do you tackle health and safety?

I’m very proud of our H&S record. In fact, it’s the best across the Hydro Building Systems businesses. It’s currently over 1,500 days since our last lost time incident and we’re now working towards a new target of 2,000. Our focus is to ensure the team has a clean and safe environment to work in.

Everyone involved contributes ideas. Recently, we ran a hand safety campaign, which is proving successful to address the ‘pinch points’ on machinery by placing a sticker with an arrow pointing, as a way to avoid fingers getting trapped.

How are you finding resourcing right now?

Finding good people with the right skills is difficult. Brexit has been a challenge. Apart from all the additional administration, many of our Polish colleagues left the UK to return home.

As a business though we offer good opportunities, working hard to develop career pathways and bring more diversity including more women into the site.

The Hydro Extrusions Business System (EBS) concept is based on lean manufacturing continuous improvement tools and techniques to improve efficiencies. As a result, we have shift supervisors on management courses, others on the EBS training and several people taking part in communication training. We’ve also given operational staff opportunities to move around the business and upskill in different areas.

Last year we took on two apprentices in the customer services team, one having developed into a finance role now. We also took on a wonderful Ukrainian lady in our import / export team, helping her to escape the horrific war situation, supporting her through her move to the UK.

This year, we’ve taken on another two apprentices. Both 16 year olds who are now working and learning in the warehouse. They have also spent time in offices and are doing a great job.

Where is the future of operations at Hydro heading?

We’re currently looking at technology across the supply chain and how it could potentially benefit the business as well as automation to improve efficiency, where appropriate.

What are you most proud of at work?

It has to be our service level improvement – a combination of efficiency enhancements and a future thinking mindset have enabled us to achieve a record service level this year. It’s all down to the improved team development and culture. The whole team and departments are working together better and it’s showing in the performance results.

What do you like doing out of work?

Outside of work, I coach a local junior football team and like to be active. Running is my thing. I’ve completed a few marathons, including the London Marathon this year.