A Midlands automotive supply company has experienced a 15 per cent increase in turnover, and thanks to a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with Aston Business School this growth has been achieved without an increase in the operation cost base of the business.
Metal Assemblies, which supplies stamping assembly parts for car giants such as Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover, entered into the KTP two years ago.
The project resulted in efficiencies that meant the business growth has been achieved without the need to employ any extra staff or invest in new machinery.
The researcher placed with the company has now been taken on as a full-time employee, and it is estimated the project could soon result in a further 15 per cent growth.
Iain Collis, managing director of West Bromwich-based Metal Assemblies, talked about the KTP in the latest episode of the ‘Aston means business’ podcast, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.
Mr Collis said:
“The project that we envisaged when we started all this is not the project we’ve worked through over the last two years. Where we started from was wanting to enable our machines to talk to us and tell us what they were doing, and we have done that on the machines where we had bottlenecks and capacity issues.
“But, beyond that, we worked out that what we really wanted to do was to allow everybody, the machines and employees, to communicate with each other better.”
Mr Collis explained they had developed a digital twin with digital dashboards (using Kapture and other technologies), which enables everyone to talk to each other in “real time” on issues such as whether jobs are running correctly or whether they need maintenance support.
All employees were allocated tablets with access to the business’s new digital systems with a set of menus that helps them to decide what to do, from operating a machine to reporting a scrap problem.
“So, when someone is running a process, it continually asks them to confirm that they’re carrying it out in the correct way and, if they’re not, why aren’t they.”
And if the process isn’t being carried out correctly, Mr Collis said: “We can act immediately rather than wait until we find the problem three weeks later at the customer.”
He said the £200,000 project, part-funded by Innovate UK, had produced “some fantastic benefits”, including saving them huge amounts of paper.
“We have seen about a 15 per cent growth over the last five months, and what we aren’t having to do is put in indirect labour in the manufacturing areas because we have created space for the team leaders to do their jobs more efficiently.
“And we’re not having to add new capacity in terms of machines because we have generated additional capacity on the machines that we’ve got. That’s a really significant advantage, not having to borrow money to invest in new machinery, especially with interest rates going up.”
Professor Ben Clegg, a professor of operations management and systems thinking at Aston Business School, was also interviewed on the podcast. He said the KTP at Metal Assemblies was an example of the industry 4.0 hi-tech programme that was beginning to “revolutionise” things such as live data collection.
He said: “What the project has done is opened people’s eyes to new technology and the capability of new technologies. It’s just about being smarter. A lot of the time, companies just don’t operate with good data, it’s not live, it’s incomplete, it’s inaccurate, and it takes a lot of people-time, which costs money.”
Professor Clegg added that the future could be even brighter for Metal Assemblies: “We have only been able to tackle part of the industry 4.0 roll-out on about 15 machines, but there are other machines in the company. So, if you were to say we’ve only automated about half of the machinery in the company, then there’s potentially another 15 per cent efficiency improvement.”
He explained that Aston Business School had developed its own systems thinking action research methodology called PrOH modelling which can investigate systems and human interaction in areas including technology, process, data, analytics and strategic information.
He encouraged anyone interested in KTPs to contact the Research and Knowledge Exchange office at Aston University for more information.
Episode two in series six of the ‘Aston means business’ podcast can be found here.