Innovation at its core

Posted on 7 Apr 2009 by The Manufacturer

TM catches up with fuse manufacturer Cooper Bussmann, a company with its operations rooted firmly in innovation and operational efficiency

Cooper Bussmann is a wholly owned division of Missouri, US-based
Cooper Industries and manufactures fuses for the electrical, electronics and transportation industries. Its UK manufacturing operations is based in the small village of Burton-on-the-Wolds in Leicestershire and is therefore ideally placed for access from the rest of the country.

As a whole, Cooper Bussmann serves four major markets – electrical, electronics, transportation and consumer/aftermarket – and as such is truly a global company. Its other 12 manufacturing sites are spread across a diverse range of sites in Denmark, the USA, Brazil, China, India and Korea.

It can not only be called global in geographical sense, but also in terms of where its products are employed. Some of the more famous locations where you can find Cooper Bussmann fuses include the Sears Tower in Chicago, the AOL/Time Warner building in New York City, the world’s largest hydroelectric plant in South America and the NASA space shuttle and Mars lander. The breadth and variety of locations reliant on its products is testament to the company’s reputation for, and commitment to, creating quality and innovative products.

Cooper Bussmann started life as Bussmann, which was founded in 1914 in Missouri, USA, later becoming McGraw Edison following acquisition. This then became Cooper Bussmann after acquisition by Cooper Industries, and the company as it is known today was born. It then continued to grow and expand its operations all around the globe.

As with many manufacturers, innovation is clearly Cooper Bussmann’s lifeblood. The company has been in operation for over 90 years and in this time it has received an impressive 3000-plus utility and design patents. Over 150 of these are currently active – proving that creativity and design is a major factor in Cooper Bussmann’s continuing success. Back in 2000 for example, the company’s finger-safe CUBEFuse device received five patents.

UK excellence
The products manufactured by the UK site, which employs around 150 staff, include fuses and fuse gear, specialist contact products and specialist overhead line products.

Not to be outdone by its American counterparts, Cooper Bussmann in the UK works with some major customers – key OEMs such as Arriva, ABB and Siemens. “We work very closely with our customers, both commercially and technically, to provide them with the products and services that best suits their needs,” confirms engineering director for Europe Bill Butters. “We also work very closely with the major utility companies.”

The company has always been forward-thinking in terms of efficiency and continuous improvement. Way back in 2004, it introduced six sigma to improve the design function within the company. Eighteen months after that, Butters confirmed to TM: “All of our operations are encompassed in the drive towards benchmarking standards of good practice. Once we have it right here, the next step will be to roll it out worldwide across the rest of the company.” His comments are illustrative of just how highly regarded the changes and improvements at the UK site were within the company as a whole.

Ongoing success
The six sigma project was clearly a success, as three years ago, the company went further and began to implement lean across the factory, not only in the manufacturing process but also in the design and processing functions, in order to further improve efficiency and streamline operations. It was introduced by way of what Butters calls a “Cooper-style” rollout, starting with the basic operational application and then growing to include the design and processing functions as well.

The company also places environmental concerns high on its list of priorities. As such, it is ISO 14001-approved, which involves a continuous drive to consciously minimise energy usage and water usage. In addition, where chemicals are required on site, Cooper Bussmann undertakes to minimise their usage and to very carefully manage the application of those which are necessary within the production process.

Like any other business, Cooper Bussmann is not immune to the current effects of the economic situation; and as such, it is flexing its costs according to sales. In some areas of the business, such as where products are more specialised, for example, sales have actually increased despite the downturn – proving that the company’s product offering is diverse enough to cope with the current market conditions.

With innovation at its core and embedded in its history – the company is approaching its centenary – Cooper Bussmann is undoubtedly well-placed to tackle whatever challenges the downturn may bring.