Innovative interiors

Posted on 8 Oct 2009 by The Manufacturer

Contechs is a specialist company providing a complete niche product design, engineering & manufacturing solution to bluechip OEM’s. Tim Brown talks to Managing Director Peter Jarvis and Operations Director Stuart Wakefield about their innovative manufacturing philosophy and the minimal impact of the recession on their market.

Contechs consists of three sites in Basildon, Poole and Warwick and primarily focuses on the manufacture of exclusive interior products for the automotive and marine industries. “We’re very much targeted in terms of the business strategy of the company,” says Wakefield. “We concentrate on niche, low volume products but that are very high-end. Think Bentley, Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicles or Sunseeker.

The low volume niche clients are the people we are really focusing on.” One might have thought that the luxury market would have been one of the hardest hit markets as result of the recession with only essential industries such as food publicised as being relatively protected. Despite this, Jarvis says that Contechs has been relatively secure throughout the year, despite the recession, and despite a less than positive outlook at the beginning of the year.

“Early on we were quite conscious about our budget and became very reserved about the market sectors we operate in.

The first half of the year we saw a drop off in sales, but in quarter three has to date seen a steady slow increase.

“I would say that Sales revenues have dropped by about 10% overall,” says Jarvis, “which is pretty good considering other markets and other areas of the automotive sector. We’ve generally seen since 1997, year on year growth. Within the marine side of our business, we have seen a slow-down in some products but with our intermediate to large products, we’ve seen growth. For the moment, I’m bold enough to say that we are on target to achieve our budget for 2009 which is a pretty big thing for us because we didn’t necessarily believe that it would be possible at the beginning of the year.”

While the design and manufacture of luxury interiors for the domestic automotive and marine markets are the company’s mainstay offering, the company knows that its market is not infallible. As a result, Contechs plans to extend its reach further afield to both instigate growth and safeguard against future market declines. Part of the company’s strategy now is to focus on growing the export side of the business to get a more balanced portfolio. Much of this, the company hopes to make possible by incorporating improved manufacturing efficiency and thereby allow exporting to be more economically viable.

This will be achieved particularly through the use modular design concepts where the exterior cosmetics of product are individual but the seat undertone or, “DNA of the seat” as Wakefield refers to it, will be universal.

“The trimming side of the business in the marine sector has been going for about four years, says Jarvis, “whereas the design consultancy side of the business was established in 1997. We’ve grown fairly rapidly in the marine side and now we just need to start looking at balancing the portfolio; both in terms of products and also in our customer base. We are now fairly broad in terms of our service offering, we really need to make sure that we start to promote our services to a wider audience and embed the robust systems that enable us to deliver repeatable consistent quality.”

Contechs’ holistic approach to manufacturing is what they believe differentiates them within the market. “We’ll get asked to design a seat or complete cockpit, we’ll then do the concept, we’ll make prototypes, we’ll do all feasibility, tooling and product designs, do all the testing, and then fully release the seat or system. We are a true full service supplier in a niche market sector. When you look at our competition, there aren’t many, if any, that can offer the range of services we are able offer under one roof. We are now a full service supplier from cradle to grave for niche low volume products.”

Contechs continuing excellent reputation and a passion for achieving the highest levels of excellent was a key differentiator on being awarded a special assignment to complete the King of Jordan’s 94ft Yacht. This project is scheduled to be completed by November 2009.

Having recently partnered with the DTI and Coventry University to undertake a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), Contechs will, over the next two years, commission two fulltime associates to assist them with their manufacturing processes. The ultimate objective, according to Jarvis, is to generate an academic report based around the subject matter of low volume, high variety. “That topic has not been published in detail before,” says Jarvis. “We’ve got lean manufacturing processes now in place that are being continually improved, that enable us to be a lot more efficient in the way we do our day to day business. In a way we mirror companies like Toyota and Bentley; we benchmark the volume production systems and then tailor / improving them specifically for low volume, high variety production runs. This allows Contechs to generate repeatable quality at lower costs. This is a win-win for the niche low volume market we operate in. This is the reason why we have been able to diversify so successfully over the past four years.”

Implementing such an innovative manufacturing principle such as low volume, high variety has clearly been a success for Contechs. In 2007 Sunseeker, the luxury boat builder awarded Contechs best new supplier in 2007 and, in 2008 Contechs won best supplier out of a pool of 3,500 businesses. The implementation of a weekly meetings which analyse their key performance indicators such as rejects, quality and customer satisfaction rounds out the Contechs approach to continual improvement.

The implementation of further improvements following the findings from their KTP will undoubtedly assist Contechs to further improve their efficiency and productivity. This combined with their reputation for quality products secured through their exclusive client list and subsequent awarded recognition, Contechs’ desire for client expansion is a very realistic goal. The question is which exclusive client will be the next to receive the Contechs’ touch?