At the cutting edge

Posted on 5 May 2010 by The Manufacturer

In 2011 Auto Windscreens will celebrate its 40th year in business. It has certainly come a long way since it was first established.

The company offers a complete automotive glazing repair and replacement service, its main markets being the motor industry, fleets and, in smaller proportion, private motorists. It recently secured a contract with Lex Autolease (with a fleet of 320,000 vehicles), and is the preferred supplier for many of the UK’s leading insurers, offering them a number of tailor-made solutions.

Auto Windscreens is a national company, with a comprehensive network of fitting centres, a fleet of over 700 mobile service units and a 24/7 contact service and employs 1,500 people. This efficient system makes assistance available to customers at any time, wherever they are (also thanks to a central distribution facility located in Birmingham).

But according to PR manager, Anna Melton, the real “jewel in the crown” of the business is its state-of-the-art factory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, which opened in 1982.

Thanks to the cutting edge technologies and manufacturing equipment it uses combined with a highly skilled team, the facility has the capacity to produce 250,000 windscreens a year (more than 1000 different lines in total). In 1983 production numbered 15,000 windscreens.

With the unique advantage of being the only UK replacement windscreen specialist with its own manufacturing facility, Auto Windscreens has become the country’s leading company within the automotive glazing industry.

John Hutson, head of supply chain and manufacturing, says: “A huge advantage for us is that some of the larger manufacturing companies of automotive glazing are not interested in producing parts until there is a significant volume, while we can manufacture from an OE (Original Equipment) screen, re-engineer it, make the tooling and produce a batch and have then available for sale within 10 working days.” At the end of 2008, Auto Windscreens was established as an independent brand. The company redesigned its logo, appointed a new senior management team and introduced strict cost management measures. In December 2009 majority shareholder Moguntia Invest GmbH which is controlled by Christian Daumann acquired Auto Windscreens.

“He saw the opportunity in our business. Now we are totally independent, and we also have total control of our supply chain,” Melton says.

When Moguntia Invest took over, the company completed its transition towards independence. This represents an important advantage to Auto Windscreens, giving the company the opportunity to make quick decisions. As an example, Hutson explains how the company needed to upgrade its furnace software from Siemens Step 5 to Siemens Step 7, at a total cost of over £85,000. “I had a conversation with Peter, convinced him with some facts that the upgrade would give us better quality and that we needed this investment. It was installed within two months,” he says.

John Hutson adds: “The current technology has enabled us to produce more complicated windscreen shapes with added value, more functionality – Rain, Light and Moisture sensors along with Heated, Solar, Heat Reflective and Heat Absorbative properties, and Encapsulation, Mouldings and Trims.”

Paul Lockwood is the factory development manager; he has been with the company through its entire life. His expertise and experience and a team of trained technicians allow Auto Windscreens to concentrate on very specific areas within the glazing market, setting itself further apart from the competition.

For example, the team recently designed, created and installed a front and a rear windscreen for a rare 1962 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, in about six weeks. Glazing for limos, replicas and vintage vehicles and screens that are specific to the police, represent a niche in the market the company has the ability to focus on and fill: Lockwood and his team also have the unique advantage of being capable of manufacturing one-off pieces from scratch in a very short time.

Auto Windscreens also has the skills necessary, through its in-house Innovation and Training department, to fit specialist screens once they have been manufactured. Many older cars use the rubber gasket system, which hasn’t been produced since the beginning of the 1980s. The in-house expertise of Auto Windscreens makes it possible to work on virtually any type of vehicle.

In particular, the company boasts a well-trained technical team, always kept informed on the most recent technologies and the latest innovations and methods in the world of glazing.

Auto Windscreens’ Innovation and Training department produce regular Technical Information Reports, which are guides to fitting procedures, and testing new materials and equipment (like a new lifting system that was recently introduced).

Last year, the factory closed a deal with Eagle Specialist Vehicles to build some of the windows for the new Vauxhall Insignia hearse. Melton says: “Auto Windscreens’ factory UK location and short lead times meant it was an ideal choice to manufacture the windows for the hearse range. Paul oversaw the design and production of the screens, which involved making the moulds from which jigs and silkscreens were then made.” Hutson comments on the elements that make the company so competitive: “The whole manufacturing process, from design to shipment, is within our hands, and you can only achieve that through having good integrated manufacturing systems.” Windscreens are made by the company using the same specifications the Original Equipment manufacturer follows, but the finished product can reach the customer in ten working days, faster than it would if it was delivered from other UK’s automotive components suppliers in Mainland Europe or Asia. “Nobody else does it in that sort of time,” Lockwood confirms.

According to Hutson, one of the company’s priorities is not to stop at just making windscreens but to offer the customer a wider range of produces and services.

“We are starting to use our manufacturing capability, our design capability and experience on the more addedvalue products and leave the less niche products to mass producers,” he says.

Auto Windscreens actively uses 5S in its plant in Chesterfield. Hutson, who’s been with the company for a year, says he was very impressed since the first moment he walked into the site. “I’ve been working in manufacturing and distribution my entire life, especially automotive. In my view, you can measure any manufacturing operation on the first sight of the housekeeping and layout. Clearly 5S is giving us a significant advantage in terms of quality and productivity,” he explains.

Lockwood adds, “We started by looking at what other companies had done and the benefits they got in return.

Our use of 5S is drawn from there.” The management keeps the plant on track using key performance indicators, the primary ones being productivity (the output produced per man) and measurement of scrap of a percentage of output.

As Hutson explains, “We measure performance not only as a factory in total, but also at individual stages of the windscreens production process, i.e. on the cutting line, when we apply the silk screen print on the windscreen, at the bending furnace, the laminate stage where we join two pieces of glass and, lastly, when we package and do a final quality and performance check.” Higher levels of productivity and a reduced level of scrap are achieved thanks to performance-based bonuses offered to workers. The monitoring of absenteeism and inventory levels is also in place.

The success of Auto Windscreens was confirmed last year when the business was awarded the Automotive Glass Manufacturer 2009 title by the Institute of Transport Management (ITM), for its contribution to the industry and its attention to customers’ satisfaction.

The company also has solid green credentials. It reduced waste by enforcing its “repair before replace” policy by urging its customers to frequently look for repairable chips on their windscreens. The recycling of 95% of the replaced windscreens and the use of energy-efficient processes within the factory also contributed to the creation of Auto Windscreens’ strong green approach by the entire business.

Auto Windscreens is preparing to celebrate the beginning of its fifth decade in the glazing business, focusing on the delivery of high-standard services and the manufacturing of niche products. The company’s facility in Chesterfield will keep playing a fundamental role in taking the business forward. “The factory is an intrinsic part of the future of the company,” Melton confirms.