Transforming over time

Posted on 6 Jul 2010 by The Manufacturer

From pots and pans maker to supplier of heat transfer and fluid management systems, the rise of HS Marston Aerospace is not your average manufacturing story. But as Edward Machin discovers, it’s all been in a few hundred years work for Wolverhampton-based company.

Founded by the Perry family in 1740, the company started life as a metalwear japanning business. Now HS Marston “quite clearly specialise in exploiting new opportunities,” as David Danger, managing director, explains.

“Indeed, our culture is very much built around recognising that the sectors we supply seldom stand still; we therefore need to understand the technologies required and continuously develop products and capabilities to meet those challenges.”

From metalwear came Sunbeam bicycles and motorbikes which, in turn, led to supplying heat exchangers for aeroplanes in both World Wars.

Two name changes in the mid-1980s saw the company operating as IMI Marston, and in 1999 its aerospace business was acquired by the US-based Hamilton Sundstrand, an operating division of United Technologies Corporation (UTC), home to aerospace luminaries including Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky. The company has settled on HS Marston Aerospace for the present.

We have lift-off

The majority of HS Marston’s revenue stems from its work with a host of commercial and military aerospace giants. The company supplies two products for the world’s largest passenger aircraft, Airbus’ A380: heat exchangers on the (i) Engine Alliance GP 7000 and (ii) the galley cooler.

HS Marston is also heavily involved with the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan, ultra-efficient engine — scheduled to go into service on the Bombardier C Series in 2013.

Lastly, and having been a supporting partner since its inception, HS Marston provides two heat exchangers for the Boeing 787 as part of the air management system, as well as the aircraft’s ozone converter.

Operating from a 200,000 sq ft site in Wolverhampton, “These programmes are arguably our largest growth and profit drivers,” says Danger. “However, we are also involved in adjacent markets, for example, with heat exchangers for the motorsport industry — principally Formula 1 and IndyCar — representing a business within a business.”

Silver service

As a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, Fortune’s “most admired” aerospace & defence company in 2009 and with revenues of $52.9bn, HS Marston is heavily involved in the ACE programme — a proprietary operating system designed by UTC to ensure world-class quality in products and processes throughout the organisations under its umbrella.

A programme heavily inspired by Lean manufacturing principles through a rigorous, data-driven process assessed by internal assessors, employees and their organisations progress through bronze, silver and gold levels of ACE — the second of which HS Marston was awarded in 2009.

“Having gone to great lengths to demonstrate good practice in terms of continuous improvement and hitting our quality, delivery and financial goals, we were all delighted to receive recognition,” says Danger.

“The programme is not limited to internal performance, however,” confirms Dave Taylor, purchasing manager.

“The idea is to bring your suppliers along on the journey, integrating the tools and philosophy of Lean techniques into their day-to-day operations.”

With three suppliers at Gold level and 14 on the programme in total, approximately 75% of the company’s total product spend is now represented.

“Pleasingly, the majority of suppliers we approach have jumped at the chance to get on board, given that they can see the benefits it brings in terms of recognition and exposure to UTC’s spread of industry-leading companies,” says Taylor.

“Moreover, the supply chain in the UK has particularly benefited. Not only do we have easier access to help local companies through the programme’s initial stages but it ensures that they are well placed to win business from HS Marston and, by becoming more competitive, other companies as well.”

Having participated in the ACE scheme for the better part of a decade, HS Marston is targeting Gold status recognition for December of this year.

Central to achieving such performance milestones, both past and present, has been the degree to which employee engagement features in HS Marston’s worldview. In 2009, for example, the company collaborated with LEAD, who supported HSM in obtaining a government grant and provided training to every employee in the company for an NVQ Level 2 in continuous improvement techniques.

“The success of the programme was largely down to the fact that everyone took part – no one was allowed to be an exception,” says Danger. “I am in no doubt that this has established a culture whereby each and every employee comes to work believing that they can contribute to improving the business.”

The choice is yours…

“HS Marston places great emphasis on employee engagement in terms of health & safety,” says Danger. This is borne out by the company having gone eight years without a lost time accident.

“We place such procedures and systems in place, and a culture of full employee engagement, for one reason: we want the site to be a safe place for our staff to come to work.

“It is our duty to look after them when they are here; after all, it is the staff that makes this business what it is.”

The company recognises the impact individual’s decisions have on safety in the workforce. Danger accepts that a large degree of autonomy has to exist on the factory floor. To this end, HS Marston is embarking upon UTC’s personal choice programme later this year — a behavioural safety initiative representing the next step in the organisation’s drive to zero accidents.

It will involve everyone in the business recognising that the most critical aspect of health and safety relates to the fact that they are able to exercise their own personal choice, he says.

“Before they make a decision, therefore, staff across the board need to consider what the risks are and how they will act accordingly.”

“It is something we present to the employees as being in everybody’s interest; we ask them to think about the issues involved in their work so that they can make the right decisions when they are faced with any given situation. After all, isn’t that what HS Marston has been doing for close to three hundred years, and which has contributed to the success and longevity of the company.”