Automation helps world-leading UK firm meet global demand

Posted on 8 Jun 2017 by Jonny Williamson

A proactive approach to automation and technology is helping plumbing systems company, John Guest, cope with rising international demand for its innovative products.

Data Collection - With output now measured in the millions, the company has turned to automation to help meet growing demand - image courtesy of John Guest.
With output now measured in the millions, it’s no surprise that the company has turned to automation to help meet demand – image courtesy of John Guest.

John Guest is growing, and growing fast. With annual output measured in millions, it’s unsurprising that the family-owned business has turned to automation to help meet growing demand.

From humble beginnings, almost 60 years ago, John Guest has grown to encompass five sites in the UK: the head office in West Drayton, where most of the fittings are designed, engineered and manufactured; a tube and pipe extrusion facility in Maidenhead; an overflow manufacturing site in Cornwall; its primary distribution centre in Bracknell, and a warehouse in Hayes.

Through an expanding network of fully owned sales subsidiaries, the company exports to countries across Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australasia; with exports now accounting for roughly half of total sales.

The Manufacturer recently sat down with John Guest’s director of manufacturing, Peter Short, who noted: “The more automation we can put in, the better we will stand in the future to ensure that we can continue to meet global requirements.

“Growing at the rate we are, it’s very difficult to react to and cope with demand without investing in automation, particularly for our high volume, standardised components. Additionally, our production staff are being upskilled so that they can contribute to further growth in the future.”

The challenge for Short and his team is that many of the automation ‘quick wins’ have already been realised.

He noted: “One of our challenges is that automation is ideal for high volume, standard products. Those investments can be anything up to £500,000; but spending that sort of money on a product we’re manufacturing 10,000 of a month, it becomes unjustifiable.”

To that end, the business is now exploring whether parts can be grouped together for partial automation with manual processes only undertaking the final stages of assembly, and what benefits collaborative robots (or cobots) might bring, allowing humans and robots to truly work as one.

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