Specsavers Case Study


Airways Optical Limited, part of the Specsavers Group, produce spectacle lenses for the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and Spanish stores. Based in Southampton the 50,000 sq ft site is home to some of the world’s most advanced lens manufacturing equipment. From its early routes supplying local opticians from a single unit in 1986 the business grew through its reputation for quality, leading to the Specsavers Group becoming involved in 1994 when the name changed to New Forest Vision. As the Specsavers brand grew over the following years so did New Forest Vision – which led to its latest move to its large site in Southampton and a name change to Airways Optical.

Airways Optical produce ophthalmic lenses specifically for Specsavers as a privately-owned venture. Whilst impressive in size and volume Airways Southampton makes up
a proportionately small part of the overall Specsavers global supply chain which employs 2,000 staff of which 250 are based at Southampton. The company continues to invest heavily in the latest technology, IT systems, state of the art machinery and manpower and this ensures the organisation can best meet the challenges ahead.

In order to compete globally it was agreed that a World-class, Continuous Improvement skills-set was required as part of the organisations 20/20 vision. Track Training, a niche provider of Lean Business Improvement training and Apprenticeships, were contacted so that Optical Airways could benefit from their industry expertise, guidance and support in implementing Continuous Improvement disciplines across the factory in a structured, incremental way, whilst also providing the opportunity to benefit from funding options to support growth.  



Site General Manager, Lee Timbrell, said “I had prior experience of successfully working with Track Training at two previous employers where we wished to introduce a Continuous Improvement culture and so I knew, first hand, the benefits that could be achieved in staff moral and skills through working with Track Training. They also clearly understood our needs to maintain production levels and work around our organisation’s schedules in a timely manner”



Track Training were introduced to Airways Optical and as a result of initial scoping, 30 staff were nominated to benefit from the Improving Operational Performance Manufacturing Apprenticeship and be developed in cross-functional teams. This placed a huge amount of momentum into promoting a Continuous Improvement culture, driving staff ownership of processes, improving staff confidence in their abilities and brought a new energy that would inspire others to come on the next programme (as willing volunteers to be trained in Lean).



A good understanding of Lean principles was achieved for candidates and the ability to work through business projects getting to the root of issues and importantly delivering solutions that are financially advantageous to the organisation. The Senior Management Team discovered hidden talent within their staff and are now utilising this to continue with the new Continuous Improvement ethos. Phase two commenced in 2018 with a new team of 35 enrolled onto the next programme that also utilises the company’s Apprenticeship Levy by reinvesting in staff that wish to be developed and be part of an exciting future at Airways Optical.

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"The cost to Airways of releasing their staff for all the training was recovered in less than the duration of the training (12 months)” said Airways Manager, Richard Perry. “In addition, our teams also made hugely significant project cost savings for the business”.