Bucking the recession – Investing to achieve sustainable growth

Posted on 8 Apr 2011 by The Manufacturer

It is not often that a manufacturing company makes a single innovation that will revolutionise its entire operation. However, as Tim Brown found out from the engineering team at Welsh ventilation equipment manufacturer Nuaire, the integration of a new set of IT software is set to blow the market away.

Nuaire at a glance

Location Caerphilly, Wales
Products Ventilation units
Site 250,000sqft
Markets Industrial, commercial, hotels, student accommodation, schools, healthcare, supermarkets, government
Employees 450
Key people Mark Hanson, Martin Lyons, Alun Thomas, Alun Jones
Turnover £60m

Established in the 1960s, Nuaire has developed a strong position within the ventilation and air handling market. Over the last two decades and partly due to new environmental regulations, the company has introduced a number of new technologies and products. This expansion has resulted in a strong period of growth which has seen Nuaire grow its turnover roughly 10 fold to reach a total £60m.

Although the company’s headquarters are based in Caerphilly, the company’s 450 staff are spread throughout the UK, Ireland, France and the Middle East.

As a key part of the Nuaire strategy, it has developed an extensive sales force which expands to every major metropolitan area throughout the UK.

The company produces powered ventilation and air handling equipment for both new and retrofit construction and caters to projects ranging from residential through to major construction and infrastructure. Its products, which include ventilation systems, air handling units as well as heat recovery systems, are fitted in schools, hospitals, social housing projects, car parks, tunnels, hotels and also in independent residential properties.

Nuaire has around 50,000 saleable product codes and is constantly looking to improve and increase its offering.

Although the company carries a number of standard products, which are available for next day delivery, made to order products that are tailored to the needs of the customer are becoming much more popular.

“This wasn’t always the case” says engineering manager Mark Hanson. “It used to be that 70% of our turnover was from standard products. Now the majority of our business is in the bespoke market. As a result, we are implementing provisions to accommodate that change and to drive the business forward.”

Environmentally driven
The environment is a key driving factor for Nuaire and the company not only produces ecologically friendly products but also aims to do so in an efficient environmentally friendly manner. “If we promote the fact that we manufacture ecologically friendly products as a part of our range then we feel that we have an obligation to be eco-friendly within our operation,” says Hanson. “As such we monitor our energy usage and wastage very closely and are very much committed to the environment management system ISO 14001 and Carbon Trust Standard.” The company ethos is to satisfy the required specifications needed by the customer whilst also ensuring that the product will operate in the most efficient manner possible.

“When constructing an air handling unit,” says Alun Thomas, “there are three considerations to take into account which are size, pressure drop through the unit and efficiency.

If you want something that is very efficient you need a low pressure drop.

In order to have a low pressure drop, you need a big capacity unit so that the air can get through it. Obviously that might not always be possible due to space constraints but we are able to fit particular components to maintain the required pressure.”

Investing in machinery capability is meeting the needs of a challenging market, says production manager Martin Lyons

New Prima laser machine technology was introduced by Nuaire last year to replace a punching machine used to cut profiles in thicker sheet steel materials used in the manufacture of fan panels, bodies and casings.

This new equipment has benefited the business in a number of ways. It has significantly enhanced productivity, doubling the speed of processing and reducing material consumption. The equipment also promises noiseless operation, removing the requirement to invest in noise abatement equipment and creating a healthier and more user friendly operating environment.

Process capability has also been enhanced, allowing curvilinear profiles to be accurately cut in a single pass instead of being ‘nibbled’ sequentially. Complex profiles can be achieved simply and efficiently, something which was previously only achievable through CNC machining centres.

The new Prima lasers also allow Nuaire to perform high quality profile cutting in mild steel up to 25mm thick, compared with the 8mm thick maximum cutting powers of nibbling machines. In addition, laser cutting allows for the production of high quality finished edges which require no further processing.

The production requirements of the business have changed considerably since the punching machines were installed. The volume of work through Nuaire’s factory has nearly doubled whilst simple punching requirements are progressively being replaced by more complex profiling needs. The thickness of material has increased considerably as Nuaire has developed ever larger air handling unit products and Axial Fans and the company is producing a far larger amount of stainless steel work than before.

The laser technology reduces the number of sharp edges, by providing a better cut finish on the component, reducing the risk of injury within the factory. In addition, investment in the lasers has allowed Nuaire to benefit from reduced programming, set up, handling time and downtime. With the punching technology, the sheet of material would move around the bed of the machines to the appropriate punch location and as more of the sheet was punched, it became weaker. The programmer had to take into account the sequencing of the punching to ensure the integrity of the sheet was maintained until the completion of the punching cycle. This requirement is no longer an issue with the laser, as the sheet remains in the same position on the machine bed and the laser head simply moves into the appropriate position.

Additionally, the Prima laser machine handles the removal of components without the need to do so manually and returns the components to the receipting area of the handling equipment.

Investing in such versatile machinery has meant there are fewer restrictions on component shape. This has allowed Nuaire to reduce punching time on a number of components and has given the business the flexibility to improve the design and aesthetics of its products.

The lasers also prevent the need to sub contract 6mm and 8mm thick components or stainless steel components because unlike the punching machine, it is able to produce these components.

New software
With the assistance of a bespoke software package the company has been able to implement a new IT selection software system. Part of the system incorporates the company’s own quoting scheme. It allows Nuaire to take any ventilation system that a customer wants, feed in the parameters required for the job and use the programme to then very quickly select the parts that will satisfy the customer’s requirements. Feeding in the specifics such as air capacity per second and external static pressure, the software will then illustrate a diagram including the frame size and allow the user to select the components that will create a unit meeting the required specifications.

New residential innovation

Sunwarm Air is an intelligent and unique approach to whole home ventilation and is an entirely new technology to be SAP Appendix Q recognised.

In addition the system, which maximises energy efficiency in the home by capturing solar energy via two roof collectors, has been proven to meet Code 4 for Sustainable Homes.

The small air handling (distribution) box has been designed using expanded polypropylene which provides excellent thermal insulation and incorporates an all year round low energy positive input ventilation unit. The system monitors a plurality of temperature sensors located within the ducting of each of the three inlet locations; the collectors, loft space and fresh air intake.

The flow of air through the system is then automatically controlled to optimise energy efficiency, whilst always providing adequate ventilation to the home; preventing condensation and moisture build up.

Sunwarm Air is a cost effective ventilation solution suitable for both new build and self build homes, specifically designed with the housebuilder in mind. These units are installed quickly and simply in to the home’s loft area negating the need for duct runs and minimising disturbance to the building fabric. Utilising the company’s expertise within the ventilation industry Nuaire offers a complete supply and design solution package to support this unique approach.

“All this used to be done manually,” says Alun Thomas, the person largely responsible for the implementation. “In the system we have also fed in all our suppliers’ details, including part numbers and product specifications which carry a 12 monthly agreement on prices. Now that we don’t have to wait for confirmation from our suppliers it means we can be first in for quoting on a project; this has also removed a lot of waste from the business.” The sketches that are provided to Nuaire customers for approval are then generated automatically as are the unit weight estimations. The weight is calculated and can be broken into sections for delivery. The software will then automatically divide the product and estimate the delivery cost.

“Other people use selection software but we are the first to combine it with a manufacturing scheme. When we complete the introduction into the manufacturing facility, a process which once took up to seven weeks to complete will now only take seven days.

Every step in the chain, which currently is completed manually, is just another process during which a mistake could occur. If we can do this, then we can automate the process and efficiently provide customers with allocated slots within the production schedule.

“Currently the logistics of selling a standard type product are far easier than selling a custom kit. For any custom unit, even if it is standard and simply requires a port hole to be added, that porthole will need handling throughout the company. This means new drawing and a new BOM. Using our new system with its traceability and flexibility will allow this all to be completed immediately.” “As a benchmark,” says Hanson. “if we were to run this system manually as opposed to the new system, the process would take weeks longer. Previously we might receive a job request and not return a quote to a customer for up to two weeks.” Now that the responsiveness of the company is increasing dramatically, new potential customers are starting to demonstrate a real interest. “We are seeing colossal interest in this system and the surge in quotes has been an exponential curve since we started in September,” says Thomas.

This all means that Nuaire has an integrated process from product design to quotation through to manufacture, using software that helps automate the whole process for each custom designed product.

This growing level of interest is already justifying the investment and implementation of the new IT system.

Considering even greater levels of improvement are still to come following the introduction of the system into the manufacturing department, Nuaire is expecting interest to continue to swell.

And, if the initial reaction from the market is anything to go by, the changes and innovations at the company, both in terms of operating mechanisms and product offerings, have definitely laid the groundwork for an impressive period of growth and development.

In addition, the company also has a number of innovative environmentally friendly products.

An example is the heat recovery system for residential and commercial properties. As opposed to a traditional ventilation system, which extracts the heat and energy from a room and releases it back into the atmosphere, the Nuaire heat recovery system can extract the hot air from a room, filter it and recover the heat at an efficiency rate of greater than 90%.

Manchester Schools case study

With issues such as air quality and energy efficiency becoming increasingly more important, delivering ventilation systems which create a fresh, healthy and comfortable environment is paramount, as well as providing an optimum energy saving ventilation solution.

In a project commissioned under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative, Manchester City Council tasked Nuaire with delivering high quality facilities and integrated technology into schools and providing energy efficient ventilation solutions which would upgrade and refresh existing systems in the city’s secondary school buildings.

Nuaire utilised its XBOXER 55 product which was developed from an existing ventilation system product and was specifically designed for schools to effectively meet the stringent requirements in place for new school buildings.

These requirements included the provision of high quality, fresh and healthy air. The XBOXER 55 was selected because it was quiet, compact, energy efficient and demonstrated overall improved performance ahead of competitors.

The project’s design meant that units would be completely exposed, rather than being hidden within ceiling voids.

Nuaire installed a gloss white finish to reflect light and to blend into classroom surroundings. The result of an intelligently designed and implemented project was to provide pupils with an optimum learning environment, with no interference from noise or unsightly units and to allow for the best quality ventilation all year around.

Nuaire is also the first UK ventilation company to achieve the Carbon Trust Standard. Meeting Manchester city council’s challenging criteria involved contributing a product that achieves commercially viable low carbon solutions.

Venting innovation
Nuaire was the first UK fan manufacturer to receive the quality standard BS5750, now ISO 9001:2008.

According to Hanson, quality underpins absolutely everything the company does and extends beyond the product to include its drive towards innovation, responsiveness and on-time delivery to customers. Continuous improvement is at the heart of the business operation with Change Agent and Business Improvement Teams driving change.

Nuaire has trained over 60 members and have completed vocationally-related qualifications, NVQ’s and business improvement techniques.

“Innovation is also key to us,” says Hanson. “We have bolstered up our team of design engineers so that we now have more than 20 design engineers creating new product designs as well as moving our current range forward. Over half of our current turnover is from new products that have been introduced in the last five years. It is therefore key that we remain at the forefront of the market while also adhering to the new legislation that is being introduced.” Nuaire has also recently teamed up with natural ventilation expert Breathing Buildings, in what they believe to be the first collaboration of its kind to offer customers a full range of both powered and natural ventilation systems.

Nuaire will now offer a wide range of e-stack natural ventilation solutions which work by using upward displacement in the summer and natural mixing ventilation in the winter.

Utilising their own onsite design and development laboratory, the company is able to ensure their products perform as desired through the use of onsite testing. In addition, Nuaire has developed a strong relationship with the Building and Research Establishment (BRE) and has incorporated a strong graduate programme while also approaching the academic organisations for specific R&D tasks.

One of the results of the R&D department has been the introduction of axial products, which are designed to meet strict fire regulation standards.

Such fan products are used in applications such as car parks, hotels or tunnels where, in an emergency situation, they must perform at temperatures of up to 400°C for one or two hours.

These products have proven particularly popular in the Middle-East market where they have been used in a number of prestigious construction projects.