As the leader of a team working on efficiencies in product inspection and metal detection, Ruth Francis of Mettler-Toledo Safeline reflects on her professional journey and the “sliding doors” moment that shaped her career to date.
Ruth Francis, 44 years old, is Team Leader for Systems Customer Engineering at UK-based Mettler-Toledo Safeline in Salford.
The company manufactures state-of-the-art industrial metal detection systems that are designed to inspect and reject metal-contaminated food, non-food and pharmaceutical products during production.
Her team works on engineering customer-specific systems to transport packs and products through the aperture of the metal detector.
It is a role that calls not just for technical expertise, but also project management and relationship-building skills, both within the team and the wider Mettler-Toledo organisation, all under the pressure of critical lead time expectations.
“On a daily basis, I liaise with our Order Design Coordinator and the sales team to ensure that customer orders are being planned-in as efficiently as possible,” says Ruth. “I then look at the bigger projects I am involved with; in particular, looking at ways we can improve our end-to-end lead time. This involves working with other departments, collaborating, influencing change, building on communication, and empowering others to push the company forward in the right direction.”
Ruth has been at Mettler-Toledo Safeline for 4.5 years now, after first interviewing with the company back in her early 20’s, when she reflects that she did not have the necessary experience. Her career path took her through several different industries. In one particular firm she stayed for a decade, working hard and gaining experience. This seems to have been a formative experience for her.
“I spent a long time in the same role with one company, hoping that someone would give me the opportunity to climb the ladder. I knew what I was capable of and after ten years, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and find somewhere that would recognise my abilities. Here I am at Safeline, and they have given me that chance to shine.”
It’s said that everything happens for a reason, and Ruth appears to be suitably philosophical about her journey and the point to which it has brought her here, reflecting that, with hindsight, she is glad that she was not immediately employed by Mettler-Toledo Safeline, as she had so much still to learn.
“I don’t think I would have achieved what I have now,” she says. “I’m in a much better position now to build on the opportunities that I see, and to help support the business in the direction it wants to go.”
Although Ruth is clearly proud to work as an engineer and feels that “problem solving is in my DNA”, Ruth actually started out as a product designer, and was planning on studying industrial design. At that point, a “sliding doors moment” occurred. Her lecturer told her about a new MSc course with a greater focus on engineering, that he felt her skills were better suited to. She enrolled and her path was laid out before her. Few people can say that they truly knew the direction their working lives would take from an early age. The key is to recognise the moment when it comes and make the best of it. With Ruth, it seems, the aptitude for engineering was inside, just waiting to be unlocked. She says: “I’ve always liked fixing things; trying to find a solution to something blocking my path. It’s not attributable to any one person or point in time, it has just always been there. I never really knew it was engineering until my lecturer pointed me in that direction.”
There is a determination about her now, a feeling of creating a personal legacy in her engineering work, as well as helping to drive advances in product inspection efficiency for Mettler-Toledo Safeline. Ruth leads a team of 10 people that have widely different cultural and professional backgrounds. The team includes people from Nigeria and India, as well as those from the UK, and boasts skills in electronics, product design, mechanical engineering and, perhaps surprisingly, biochemistry. This diversity of life and work experiences is richly beneficial, she believes.
Under her direction, the team is responding to bespoke customer needs requiring the design of systems to transport products through Mettler-Toledo Safeline metal detectors. Very often, these systems are based on the company’s new generation of modular conveyor systems – the GC, or Global Conveyor.
“Our wider team are continuously looking at ways to improve our GC Systems, in particular they are looking at ways to use injection moulding to reduce the cost of components.”
“We always look for opportunities to improve, with process efficiency exercises and cost reduction projects,” says Ruth. “Half of the order intake that we currently handle are non-conveyors, so we recently launched a project to look at moving these types of orders onto our standard database (known as the Variable Configurator). This would mean that they would be processed in a standardised manner and wouldn’t come through our team thereby freeing up time and resource for us to handle more conveyors. I’m also working on a collaborative project where a team of key stakeholders have reached out to our global colleagues, to see how they process new parts in our Material Data Governance system. The aim is to knowledge share and adapt new techniques to become more efficient. Our success will be seen in the reduction of cost and lead times.”
Looking further ahead, Ruth expects technology to bring customers and engineers closer together and reduce lead times, such as using augmented reality to enable the customer to see representations of their requested design in place at the point of order. In the immediate future, Ruth and the wider team are already looking at ways to speed up the process at the front end, by reducing the gap from order to design.
“Development of our computer model templates (iLogic) and Offline Configurator, which is the tool used to specify the order, will enable us to take a customer specification and generate a standard 3D model with minimal manual intervention. One of many projects that we, as an Engineering department are chipping away at, is all working towards our ultimate goal of being able to concentrate more on the bespoke/special orders that come our way.”
For now, Ruth is settling into the team leader role that she only recently stepped into and working to make its processes as efficient as possible. Nevertheless, she is ambitious to make a real impact. Her journey to this point has been long and at times difficult, but she kept faith that there was a deeper purpose to it, even if the specifics of that purpose are still to be revealed.
“I want to leave a legacy within the company and feel like I have made significant changes that will last,” she says. “It could be that I inspire someone, or I change a process that makes a real difference. There are lots of avenues to explore.”
If you are interested in learning more about life at Mettler-Toledo click here or visit mt.com/careers-pr