Federico Ercoli went to Wakefield to meet Alastair Johnstone, Managing Director for Bosch Rexroth in UK. The company opened a new state-of-the-art facility in Normanton and it will provide customer service and support to Bosch Rexroth customers as well as training for installers
Can you tell us a bit more about this new training facility?
“It’s our manufacturing plant for hydraulics power unit, we provide service from there and there’s also some training. We provide training in other locations as well, but in the actual facility, 80% is Bosch Rexroth and the remaining 20% is thermo technology, Worcester. You probably know them for Worcester boilers, but there’s industrial boilers, heat source, heat pumps, solar, photovoltaic, all sorts of things.
“The 20% is a training centre for the Worcester products. Then, Bosch Rexroth has its own small training facility. There’s a little bit of customisation, here we have more on industrial hydraulics. We also deliver training to our own people because we want to upscale and broaden the base so that we provide more of our services to our customers. To be fair, this is an investment of over a million pounds, it’s set up so that we service local customers, and to also give us opportunity for growth.”
Let’s talk figures. What about jobs?
“There are additional jobs, but the focus was really about bringing together different locations, smaller facilities and sectors. There was a separation between our sales and engineering and we saw this as a kind of investment for the future of the business and we want to optimise our services by putting everything in one location where we can bring in our customers and build confidence. We are trying to change our horizons. We have a profile on where we want to get by the end of this decade and you don’t get there by accident. You have got to make some plans.
What about apprentices?
“We have a fairly positive and growing apprenticeship schemes in the whole of the UK: there are three main facilities in England, of which Wakefield is the third biggest, and we have one facility and manufacturing plant in Scotland. So, in the whole of the UK we’re about 800 people. At the moment we’ve got 27 or 28 apprentices at different stages, and that’s everything from machine operators through to people working in design, marketing, there are also financial apprenticeships. It’s not just a conveyor system for the short floor, we actually see in a broader context, namely, we have an active apprenticeship scheme which would actually grow in.
We are increasing our engagement even with schools and colleges, as well as the academies, the UTCs [University Technical Colleges], but we’re also quite active in terms of intern programs and graduate engineers. So we’re actually all the way up that chain and we’re increasing our involvement. We’ve got some partnership things next year from which we can benefit, i.e. big companies such as Rover and Bosch, in addition we’re engaging with some universities across the UK. We see that level of engagement is important, it’s life blood, and it’s vital in the wider context to involve young people, even pre-engineers. We want people to come into manufacturing and engineering since we actually see it as a good place to be and we can give them interest, challenge and jobs. The advantage we have is working at Bosch, even on international level. We’ve offered placements in Brazil, USA, Germany.
In terms of supply chain, what’s the relationship between Bosch and the supply chain in the UK? What’s the situation?
In my opinion, the supply change has evolved and improved, and I see it actually got stronger in the UK. Some of that has come backwards off recessionary pressures, and that’s from 5 years ago. We’ve seen an evolution and we’ve seen a better and stronger reaction through the recent recession in the UK. A supply base that’s more capable of coping, flexing, breathing with us and the customers. And we have that same challenge with our customers. There’s more flexibility and agility. The supply base is stronger in the UK in general.
There’s great talking in the manufacturing industry, especially in the UK, of the re-shoring manufacturing supply chain. Where does Bosch stand in that?
I couldn’t speak on behalf of the entire Bosch but what I can confidently say is we’ve seen examples of both: we’ve gone out and we have a supply base that is more international in nature, and we’ve seen some real successes there. But we’ve also actively brought business back and we’ve improved our profile with the UK-based suppliers, as well. Clearly, Bosch is an international organisation, also Rexroth, and even within the UK on the whole of the business there’s about 30% that goes to export. All in all, we’re very active all over the world. We have international competitors, together with an international supply base and international customers, which brings other challenges. I’d generally say, certainly a profile in terms of place and business is as strong as it’s ever been.
What’s the dynamics between the UK and the EU, especially in the manufacturing sector, and in terms of regulations? Is the EU giving any benefits to Bosch Rexroth?
I don’t think anything especially for Bosch Rexroth. What’s important for an industry is to actually engage with standards. There’s an opportunity in that because if we can help establish the correct standards, that actually may help. Then, there’s a level plain field and there’s no reason we can’t be successful. That’s where the balance comes from in Rexroth, Bosch and on a wider level of business. The biggest part of Bosch’s business is based in Europe. So, we’re not frightened of Europe. I think what’s more important is our standards and our expectations which is what we’re striving towards.
It’s vital to satisfy all of those. Frankly, we like challenging customers. A lot of our business is with hugely successful companies and they typically are very demanding, e.g. Jaguar Land Rover and JCB. Some of those people are really challenging, they are competing on world stages. That’s their level of competition and they want to get the best possible product out there, and we need to line with that. We also see opportunity in that.
What’s the general feeling about the UK manufacturing at this point? Do you have any long-term projects?
We’re optimistic of the future UK plc We see growth, opportunities and hotspots. At the moment the GDP’s going to end up somewhere around 1.4% this year. If you look at the UK growth relative to the projections for the rest of Europe, actually the UK is a stronger player than Europe and not such a bad player on the global field. But even within that, our growth as a business is faster than the UK plc’s growth. That’s because, by design, we’re in a number of areas where there’s a real growth, consequently, for our factory automation business we’re incredibly active, successful and automotive.
Regarding this facility in general, we’re successful in the mobile machinery and market, the oil and gas off-shore, we’re making progress in renewables. There’s real hotspots within the UK economy and that’s where we see a lot of our growth. It’s growth and further engagement in partnership with key customers. And it’s there we’re offering them wider products, system solutions: not just products, not just commodity, we’re trying to provide the whole package. And this is where we’re successful. We’re also trying to put some known and some new technology into new markets. For us, there are some real hotspots within the UK where the industry is in the forefront, not only in Europe but on a worldwide basis. We seek opportunities and we want to be properly lined with that. Although we have fairly ambitious internal growth, we don’t think it’s unrealistic, it’s challenging. But last few years, the turn-over of the company has far exceeded the industry as the UK PLC has performed. We think we can maintain that.
You mention other markets, what about Asia or the US: which are the challenges, the differences between these markets in comparison to the European one?
The main focus of the business here in the UK is actually servicing UK customers and the main product going from those customers in the UK into those markets. The one part of business that’s different from that is the facility in Scotland. The situation there is almost the reverse: there there’s only 3 or 4% of the products’ manufacturing that gets sold in the UK and 96-97% of it is for export. Fortunately, in a couple of instances we’ve won the Queen’s award for export over that facility. Therefore, we are exposed to the Americas and generally to Asia. There are different challenges within each of those markets, there’s different trains running. Everybody wants performance, energy, efficiency but some areas are more important than another areas.
The company needs to customise but that’s no different and that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful based in the UK and service into the world, and equally it doesn’t mean we can’t bring product across the whole range of offerings that Rexroth have. It isn’t just Rexroth that’s exciting for us, there’s more and more of our products that incorporate technologies that Bosch has developed, i.e. there are systems that have Bosch’s software right in the centre of it.
We’re bringing more expertise from the global organisation, not only the Rexroth organisation. Our goal is to provide a better a better offering to the UK customers. And that’s why we’re being successful. We’re not offering just Rexroth but the entire Bosch family.
Which sectors are you now aiming at mostly?
The ones that are very strong at the moment are things like oil and gas off-shore. We certainly see growth opportunities within renewables. We’re taking a long-term view on that and we believe we will be pretty successful in terms of wave technology, tidal technology and we’re also testing some products. We are working on our automation side, packaging and connecting with the previously mentioned companies e.g. Jaguar Land Rover in order to be aligned to them.
We’re very active in the aerospace, and the technology that helps supports that. But again, the clever part for us is… I was seeing a customer here in Yorkshire just a couple of weeks ago, historically they were a factory automation customer and now we’re talking to them about hydraulic power units solutions that we could bring. There’s a lot of cross-selling which is about partnership, connecting, relationships and we’re being successful. And we think we can be even more successful.