The 600 Group: Getting strategic about digitalisation

600 Group is a world-leading engineering group in the manufacture and distribution of machine tools, precision engineered components, and industrial laser systems. Maddy White Reports.

Terry Allison (R) and Paul Dupee (executive chairman) cutting the ribbon at the opening of the new factory.
Terry Allison (R) and Paul Dupee (executive chairman) cutting the ribbon at the opening of the new factory.

We spoke to Terry Allison, COO at 600 Group, to find out the secret behind the firm’s enviable reputation, and how its new factory, which opened last month in West Yorkshire, is a showcase for digital transformation.

Taking its name from its early head office address at 600 Commercial Road in East London, 600 Group has grown to become one of the UK’s leading metal recovery and engineering firms.

It has a rich history – the group formed its first machine tool company in 1932 and became Britain’s leading lathe manufacturer via the acquisition of Colchester Lathes in 1954 and TS Harrison in 1971, both of which now form part of Colchester Machine Tool Solutions.

600 Group gained a strong market presence in North America via the purchase of Clausing Industrial, and the acquisition of several more firms in Europe allowed it to earn powerful footholds in EU markets, enabling the group to secure international dominance.

Three drivers of success

“Our success has been focused in three areas. First, it’s our strong brand portfolio: the products we make are high quality and that’s why we have been a leader for decades,” says Terry Allison, COO at 600 Group.

“Second, our customer base is very broad. We supply everything from Formula 1 and the defence industry, to smaller engineering companies with under 20 employees. And lastly, the global network that we’ve built means the group exports to over 100 countries,” adds Terry.

The firm has been supplying world-leading machine tools for over a century. The opening of its new factory in West Yorkshire offers the prospects of a whole new era of growth, as it embraces the latest in digital manufacturing technology.

“The site is the outcome of a strategic decision to accelerate our distribution and routes to market. We have rebranded ourselves and launched a new product range. It will define us for years to come,” Allison says.

Strategic digitalisation

The European Technology Centre, to give the new site its proper name, is based on the Lowfields Business Park in Elland, West Yorkshire, and is founded on technologies such as automation and data capture systems to keep pace with the opportunities, challenges and rapidly changing demands of industry.

The group plans to offer its customers access to AR/VR systems - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The group plans to offer its customers access to AR/VR systems – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

“The site is the group’s future vision and it demonstrates brilliant and innovative new ways of working. Any customer that visits the facility should have an experience. It is not just about the machine tools, it is our design and our capabilities,” says Allison.

As well as making the best in metal machines, the firm is developing a servitized model (developing the capability to provide services that supplement product offerings) to improve valueadds for its users, to strengthen existing relationships, and allow new revenue streams to be accessed and extended.

“We can retrofit older machines and they can be monitored from anywhere, using a smartphone, giving our customers the opportunity to maximise their efficiency and data,” says Allison.

On top of that, the group plans to offer its customers access to augmented and virtual reality systems that will enable operators anywhere in the world to service their machines, so engineers will not have to be deployed to remote regions.

A future-proof operation

To have a competitive and world-class business in today’s margin-driven market, firms need to optimise their resources where possible and be more productive than ever before.

To do this, leaders must introduce strong and reliable platforms to underpin their operations.

“We wanted to look at using a single ERP system. We needed something off the shelf that could be integrated quickly to support the group dynamic. This is what Sage has enabled us to do,” Allison explains.

Integrating the Sage system has allowed the firm to embrace its next digitalisation step: bringing together disparate data sources, allowing the firm to access, analyse and act upon key information easily.

“Our financial reporting has been streamlined, presenting us with better visibility. It will save us time and money, but also it gives us the opportunity to access more real-time data that will enable us to exploit synergy that we have,” says Allison.

“We must have systems like these that are future-proof. If we look at how technology is evolving, with IoT, data, and AI, connectivity in our operations is crucial. Our new factory is a showcase for this.”