‘Innovation must be in the DNA of a niche manufacturer’

Posted on 3 Apr 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Niche manufacturers face special challenges; Pamela Cain, marketing director at car supplier MarchantCain, explains how the company manages to adopt to daily changing customer needs.

A CG rendering of MarchantCain’s prototype for new lightweight window regulator system – image courtesy of MarchantCain.
MarchantCain manufactures lightweight window regulator systems – image courtesy of MarchantCain.

Coventry-based manufacturer MarchantCain was formed in 2006 as an engineering design consultancy assisting automotive suppliers to design new mechatronic products.

With winning commercially profitable contracts, design and development soon became a major part of the company’s workload.

Pamela Cain, MarchantCain’s marketing director, said: “We design mechatronic components and our core competence are door systems.

“These are mainly window regulators and glass lifting technologies for the niche automotive industry. But we also design and manufacture active aerodynamic components.”

Cain described MarchantCain’s manufacturing process as follows: “Firstly, we develop these bespoke automotive components, then we manufacture prototypes.

“When the client is finally happy, we make all the parts aligning with the design specification. Then we assemble, test and apply the parts as a Tier One.

“Because we work mainly for niche manufacturers, it is very important for us to be innovative. Therefore, I would say, innovation is in our DNA.”

Clients’ ever changing needs 

There are certain particularities niche manufacturers have to deal with, Cain explained: “Every time a customer comes to us, we have to innovate new ideas and sometimes new technologies for every single product because the clients’ requirements change constantly.”

She said that even if a client doesn’t want a new product, he might want a different packaging. A client could for instance ask for a window regulator –  which is part of the company’s core competence – but the way it must sit and work within their car door packaging can be different every time.

Cain said: “That situation demands from us that we constantly have to come up with new ways of doing things. Sometimes a new client might choose a component that is part of our product line. But that happens extremely rarely.

“Because our clients make very special high-volume vehicles for very few clients we must come up with new ways of doing something all the time. “

Flexibility requires stability 

Cain stated that one way of dealing with these ever-changing customer needs is to collaborate with reliable partners and suppliers who guarantee stability.

“Our biggest opportunity is to draw a network of like-minded, open-minded, capable, clever SMEs or suppliers around us who are agile enough and willing to supply in very small quantities, that these OEMs need.”

Cain said that MarchantCain is currently exploring how to pull such a supply network together.

The biggest challenges on the other hand, Cain said, which the company must face, are lack of space and financial issues. “Since we are taking on more and more production manufacturing jobs, we need more space.

“It is very difficult to find the right facilities. You don’t want to invite someone from Lamborghini or JLR to the backyard of some unpleasant industrial state.

“So, we need the space to do the manufacturing and we have to make sure, we have the ‘curb appeal’ to reassure that we are on the same level with the customer.”

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