Thorn opens new plant

Thorn has opened a £28m factory and Academy of Light in Spennymore, County Durham, which represents the largest investment in lighting equipment manufacture and training in the UK since the 1940’s.

Thorn, which manufactures 7, 289 different types of low energy fluorescent fittings, has transferred production to the site, on the town’s Green Lane Industrial Estate, from its previous sprawling base in nearby Merrington Lane, which it had occupied since 1952.

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, who officially opened the complex, said: “Its fantastic news. This kind of investment shows that, even in the current economic climate, progressive and innovative companies like Thorn still have real confidence in the future of the local economy.

“I am also particularly pleased that the new site will include the Academy of Light training facility, which will help to maintain skills.”

Stewart Watkins, Managing Director of the County Durham Development Company (CDDC), endorsed Goodman’s comments: “Thorn Lighting is a beacon for manufacturing excellence in County Durham. Here we have an example of how a traditional manufacturing business has embraced the global challenges and met them head on. By investing in new production facilities, coupled with training and future development, it has ensured the long-term future of lighting production in this area.”

Speaking at the opening ceremony, also attended by representatives from Sedgefield Borough Council, Durham County Council, regional development agency One North East and Simon Smith, the British Ambassador to the Republic of Austria, the CEO of Thorn’s parent company Zumtobel Group, Andreas Ludwig, said: “The opening of the new facility at Spennymoor is one of the major strategic moves we are making to retain production as close to the customer as possible in order to respond fast and flexibly to customer wishes and meet the challenges of a competitive marketplace.” 

The 40,000m² building also hosts a manufacturing facility for Zumtobel Group’s Tridonic Atco luminaire components business. Overall the operation employs approximately 700 people, excluding indirect jobs at suppliers and local businesses.

To maximise efficiency, flexibility and responsiveness, the modern production operation incorporates Thorn’s Lean Six Sigma manufacturing methods, which rely on a synchronous flow of materials and parts.  This has already led to dramatic savings. For instance, the distance travelled by materials has been cut by 42%, saving time, worker fatigue and halving the number of fork lift trucks. Working conditions are bright, cheery, spacious and green with a biomass boiler ensuring that 10% of the energy consumption of the site is provided from renewable energy technologies and is a key factor in shrinking the carbon footprint by a quarter (7.7 million kg of CO2 a year against 10.2 million).

Fronting the building is a Thorn Academy of Light Competence Sharing Centre, designed to provide sales staff and customers from around Europe with application-specific training. Built at a cost of £1.3 million, this impressive structure extends over a floor space of 2,000m² on two levels. Here up to 100 people can experience light at work, view exhibitions and attend workshops and CPD seminars. The first training sessions feature ‘Sustainability in Lighting’, with half the fees raised being donated to the Lighting Education Trust. Established in 2006 the Academy has already benefited internal staff. All sales employees have been trained in a new dynamic design concept called PEC (Performance, Efficiency and Comfort) that embraces all criteria for vision, health and sustainability. PEC is used for lighting products and lighting scheme design.  

Thorn has also expanded and upgraded its laboratory, which is particularly well known for its ability to develop high performing energy saving products. It now features full automation of thermal test measurements, a fully anechoic EMC test chamber, expanded materials and life test facilities, and superb temperature control to all laboratory areas.

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