Engineering superheroes: helping an aerospace company spread its wings

Posted on 23 Jun 2023 by Joe Bush

Yorkshire-based engineering company Produmax, global experts in flight control components and assemblies, won The Manufacturer MX (TMMX) Leadership & Strategy award in November 2022. The company’s collaborative journey with IfM Engage has been crucial in helping it succeed in a volatile global market and build resilience for the future.

IfM Engage, the knowledge-transfer arm of the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), began working with Otley-based engineering company Produmax in 2014 as part of the Sharing in Growth (SiG) programme, which supports UK manufacturing and engineering companies to increase cost competitiveness, grow capability and sustainability. With a £5m turnover, Produmax was one of the smallest SiG beneficiaries at that time.

However, with plans to move the whole organisation to a new state-of-the-art factory in nearby Shipley, the company had high ambitions to grow, develop its capabilities and nurture its workforce. In 2014, IfM Engage began working collaboratively with SiG to develop Produmax’s strategy for doubling turnover to £10m by 2020.

Tools and approaches included:

  • The Prioritisation Diagnostic tool to understand strategic business priorities, identify a manageable number of objectives and get buy-in from the management team to address objectives.
  • Strategy Development workshops to investigate and understand the internal and external environment for the company, explore a range of potential strategic options and then decide upon a future action plan. Following these workshops, Produmax’s senior leadership team was inspired to become ‘Engineering Superheroes’ who would commit to engaging and inspiring their wider team so they could further develop their skills and contribute to growing the business.
  • Strategy Refresh workshops in 2017 to further develop the strategic landscape for the company. These workshops involved identifying and prioritising external drivers, market-facing opportunities and developing an objective and transparent framework (Mapping Opportunity v Feasibility) to evaluate and build topic roadmaps for a portfolio of the company’s prioritised options. The Opportunity v Feasibility framework and topic roadmapping were then drawn upon again in 2018 and 2019 to further evaluate and build Produmax’s portfolio.

“Each individual engagement with IfM Engage was relatively short, with minimum disruption of the management’s day-to-day operations,” said Duncan Hurlstone, an Industrial Associate with IfM Engage who has worked closely with Produmax since the beginning.

“This is one of the key benefits of using our highly developed, collaborative approaches with companies. Time commitments are minimal, but the impact is long-lasting.” By the end of 2019, the company was well on its way to achieving the targets it had set back in 2014. “Then, of course, COVID came along,” added Duncan.

“Although this kind of disaster scenario was considered as part of its resilience planning, Produmax, as with most of us, hadn’t actually expected it to happen in real life.”

Navigating a new engineering landscape

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating for the aviation and aerospace industry, with demand for new aircraft (including Boeing, a major Produmax client) almost coming to a complete standstill.

The impact on Produmax was both immediate and profound. “COVID was very difficult. We were exposed across all platforms; effectively victims of our earlier success. As a result, our turnover quickly fell, dropping back by over 60%,” said Mandy Ridyard, Produmax’s Financial Director.

“The challenge became inverted (from building our capability to deliver our growing order book) to fully utilising our newly grown capability and capacity. At the same time, we were determined to play our part in helping the UK through COVID and maintain staff morale as much as possible.”

Mandy credits the knowledge transfer, expert input plus the strategic tools and guidance provided by IfM Engage as being critical in helping the company to get back on its feet. “Our team revisited the strategy development and refresh work we had done together with Duncan and IfM Engage and used it to actively consider the new external context and critical drivers/challenges.

“We proactively targeted space, energy, civil aerospace and defence sectors. This diversification allowed us to rebuild revenues and mitigate risk across a wider portfolio of products and customers.

IfM Engage
The company has won multiple awards for its work such as SiG Award 2017, MAKE UK SME of the Year 2020 and Manufacturer of the Year 2022 and The Manufacturer MX (TMMX) Leadership & Strategy award 2022

“This refined strategy to build Produmax resilience has increased our customer base three-fold. We have also spread our market exposure to a balanced mix of platforms and sectors that align nicely with the evolving strategic criteria that we first developed and adopted in our work with IfM in our first strategy refresh workshop back in 2017.” Duncan added that developing the strategic landscape with IfM Engage helped Produmax to understand the big picture as well as the real and present implications for the business.

He said: “The ‘Opportunity-Feasibility-Evaluation’ approach helped prioritise key opportunities and challenges that still aligned with their overall strategic ambition. ‘Topic Roadmapping’ helped to plan and implement what they decided to do to pursue this ambition. “There are many people who talk about the need for organisations to be able to ‘pivot’ when required – well Produmax did that brilliantly. It actively deployed and built upon its developed core capabilities to help the company navigate these new challenges and adjust its direction through targeted diversification and to grow again.”

Tools have become part of our engineering DNA

By the end of 2022, Produmax’s revenue had been rebuilt by nearly 90%, with a further 40% growth for this coming year projected. Today, the company exports 70% of its production to the US, Canada, Japan, Morocco, the Philippines and Italy. The company has won multiple awards for its work such as SiG Award 2017, MAKE UK SME of the Year 2020 and Manufacturer of the Year 2022.

Most recently, in recognition of the company’s breadth and depth of leadership and management skills, as well as a clear, well-communicated business strategy, the company was awarded The Manufacturer MX Leadership & Strategy award last November.

“The results speak for themselves; turnover is up by almost 70% and we have had an increase in people of almost 80%. In this time, we have opened a second factory and built a satellite facility focussed on additive manufacturing at the Digital Manufacturing Centre at Silverstone,” added Mandy.

“The tools and approaches we worked on with the IfM Engage and the SiG team have become part of our Produmax DNA,” Mandy continued. “This has enabled us to adapt our strategy to address critical challenges as they present themselves.

“We will continue to build upon what we have learned to equip ourselves for the new challenges and opportunities that undoubtedly lie ahead.” Reflecting on the company’s engagement with the IfM, Duncan added: “Ever since day one, the team at Produmax has actively engaged with the approaches we have worked on together.

Their insatiable thirst for proactively applying what has been learned but also building upon this further is truly inspiring. It also demonstrates how IfM Engage’s highly collaborative tools and approaches have a lasting positive impact, without the delivery sapping too much valuable time from the management team along the way.”

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