High-tech stamping ground

Paul Meeson, manufacturing engineering director at Stadco, talks to Jane Gray about the firm’s most recent investment spree.

Background

Stadco is the UK’s only body in white tier 1 manufacturer.

Having lost around 40% of headcount and turnover in the recession a turn of fortune and ambition has seen it rise to record strength. In 2010 its turnover was £92m. In 2012 it was over £200m.

Around 80% of Stadco’s business is with Jaguar Land Rover for whom it supplies a huge range of steel and aluminium stampings. For the Jaguar F-Type it supplies all the stampings, and undertakes some assembly work.

To meet increasing demand for its products, Stadco recently invested £30m in two new press lines with two more to follow. The first line undergoes commissioning test in June and the first two are both stacked to capacity with demand.

The new kit is all destined for Stadco’s Telford site, which it bought off competitor Ogihara in 2011. Other Stadco sites are located in Shrewsbury, Powys and Castle Bromwich.

Find out more about the company at www.stadco.co.uk

Read TM’s 2011 Stadco profile here.

Is the technology in the new lines significantly different to your existing technologies? If so, what added benefits do you hope it will bring?

Yes. We believe the configuration of the technologies we are installing is a first. It’s based on a new manufacturing concept.

I can’t talk too much about that configuration – it’s a secret recipe. But the benefit of it will be a much wider process window. We’ll be able to run a much wider range of parts on a single machine. So we can run small and large parts economically. This will make us much more competitive.

Did you use any simulation technology to conduct site and line planning for these investments?

In terms of the facilities layout, we used CAD design, but no simulation. Where we did use simulation was in planning the press line itself – designing the system. We worked on this with our suppliers, using their technology. We were also given simulation tools to help us plan the operation of the press tools within the line.

This means we can plan, predict and simulate the throughput of the line before the tools are manufactured.

Is this the first time you’ve used that kind of technology?

Yes. And I would say that it builds on the benefits we have experienced in the past of using 3D modelling.

It allows more people to have input into the design and refinement of a system. So you anticipate problems before they happen.

Like 3D modelling, simulation widens the audience that can understand technical plans. When I came out of university you had to be trained to interpret 2D drawings. That is no longer the case.

I’ve learned from experience that a wide collaborative input into project is a more powerful force for success than any one person’s view, so this is a good thing. We got people involved from production, supply chain, purchasing, maintenance and other departments to help develop the solution.

An glimpse into Stadco's future. 3D modelling has helped to plan the installation of its new press lines.
An glimpse into Stadco’s future. 3D modelling has helped to plan the installation of its new press lines.

There’s a lot of talk about the Internet of Things in industry at the moment. Is it hype? Or do your new investments have relevant remote monitoring and machine-to-machine technologies?

I’m not sure how far it goes towards an ‘Internet of Things’, but our suppliers will be able to remotely monitor the condition of our equipment and they will be able to help us immediately should any problems occur.

This isn’t new to everyone, but it is the first time we have bought equipment with this kind of capability.

It’s important that we are able to have live monitoring of our new lines because in order to achieve the flexibility and performance we are looking for with our new configuration the new press system has a large number of servo drives. These all have to work together as one machine. It’s complex, we need our suppliers to see what we can see immediately should a glitch occur. Then they can work alongside us to fix it as fast as possible.

This considerable investment in new kit must be something of a double edged sword when it comes to managing energy costs. Is this a concern and did it factor into your purchasing decisions?

More and more when we look at sourcing new equipment we try and look at its energy consumption. Energy costs are becoming an increasingly large part of our cost of production.

We want to make an informed choice and get the most efficient kit within our budget constraints.

Generally however we find that equipment suppliers are in the early days of understanding importance of being able to give accurate energy consumption information and advice to prospective customers.

It is getting better as people realise that energy is a serious factor in sourcing. But there is not as much data as you’d like to see to support comparison between different options. So firstly there needs to be more data and secondly, there needs to be some standardisation.

In the car industry you can make direct comparisons on the fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions. The same is not yet true of production equipment.