First built in the 1960s and bought by L’Oréal in 2008, the Lassigny plant is now spearheading the Group’s move to Industry 4.0. As the facility celebrates its fiftieth birthday, Jean Lardé, VP Technical Director, looks at how Lassigny has been transformed to satisfy the demands of the constantly-shifting luxury market.
Serving the luxury market with a tailor-made approach
Specialising in anhydrous* makeup and fragrances for the luxury sector, the Lassigny plant forms part of L’Oréal’s Centre of Excellence. What gives the plant an edge is its “tailor-made” approach, which allows it to handle long production runs just as easily as short, exclusive runs. “Ever since we took over the site in 2008 as part of the Yves Saint Laurent Beauté acquisition, our priority has been to build an ultra-modern and flexible facility that can cater to the needs of today’s consumers”, begins Jean.
Two major challenges had to be tackled for this to happen. First, the plant had to be able to cope with an everexpanding product range. “We need to be able to manufacture for different types of consumers all over the world. Take the example of a foundation: we have to manufacture over 50 different shades, including clear versions for Asian skin types, darker ones for African-American skin types and beiges for Caucasian skins”, says Jean. The second challenge was to respond earlier to demand on an increasingly volatile luxury market. “Demand changes fast. Trends are constantly shifting, and social media amply these movements. So we have to adapt nimbly, which means being able to produce the ‘in’ colour today even if we were making a totally different one yesterday. That takes serious predictive capabilities.”
Smart sensors, touch tablets and cobots: welcome to the factory of the future
To achieve this agility, the plant’s processes had to be redesigned. Jean and his people made extensive changes to Lassigny’s production equipment and machinery. “We decided to start with carte blanche rather than ask our engineers to adapt the existing systems”, explains Jean.
Over several months, Jean’s teams devised and designed a new “agile” production line capable of adapting to accommodate all types of requests. “We wanted to be able to switch quickly from a 300-unit run for an exclusive collection to a larger 3,000-unit run”, he says. With this in mind, cutting-edge technology was introduced to simplify work as much as possible. The plant now boasts smart sensors, connected magnetic conveyers, touch tablets and even “cobots”, a new generation of collaborative robots that help operating staff and technicians throughout the manufacturing process. “These innovations play a critical role by improving the circulation of information, relieving workers of manual tasks and saving valuable time”, says Jean. To illustrate his point, he cites the example of the touch tablets that have been added to the plant’s workstations: “The tablets supply workers with instructions on the current production run as well as required changes when switching to a new run. By clicking or swiping the tablets, workers can tell the cobots to fetch flasks and equipment, which can be filled, labelled and brought to the workstations, leaving personnel free to focus on controlling quality and improving their know-how. With our agile production line, we can switch runs in under 20 minutes!”
A new employee experience
Transformation on the production side has been accompanied by a full-scale cultural change at the Lassigny plant. “About 450 people work here. We wanted to make them players of the digital transformation, providing tailored training packages to enable them to combine the right tech solutions with their manufacturing expertise”, says Jean.
For around a year, operating staff and technicians were actively involved in designing the new production system. “We didn’t want to impose change without consultation. From the get-go, we brought together all the teams and asked for their input on what would help to save time and what improvements were needed. To make sure that staff had a good handle on every aspect of the transformation, we organised regular workshops, holding 20 or so gatherings in the space of ten months”, Jean tells us. Support and training also got top billing. “We put together a system featuring videos, tutorials and learning examples. We tried to ensure that everything was easy to assimilate and directly accessible on the tablets to help people upskill quickly”, explains Jean. “A ten-minute training course is all that is needed to teach any member of staff how to configure and program our cobots!”
More than a tech transformation – a human adventure
Lassigny is a source of pride for the L’Oréal group internationally. The fragrances and makeup products manufactured by the facility for the Yves Saint-Laurent, Lancôme, Armani and Viktor & Rolf brands are exported worldwide. “The plant’s success reflects its impeccable blend of craftsmanship and industrial excellence”, says Jean.
It is also a source of personal pride for Jean himself, who offers these concluding words: “Beyond the technological innovation, Lassigny has also been a very human adventure and a collective success story. Seeing so many employees from different backgrounds bringing their energy to bear and taking on this transformation has been massively rewarding. It gives us great motivation to continue working together to build the factory of the future”.
*waterfree (lipstick, gloss, polish, powder)