Identifying a gap in the market, bringing in new talent and continuing to invest are just some of the reasons why specialist automotive supplier Interflex is looking to the future with optimism and meeting its ambitious targets for growth.
For almost 20 years, Interflex has been supplying Tier 1 automotive manufacturers with high quality noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) materials, as well as sealing solutions and trim materials optimised for durability and performance.
In an industry driven by technology, Interflex continues to invest in the latest equipment and a highly skilled team. The appointment of a new managing director, Jim Griffin, came at a critical juncture for the Nottingham-based business.
Drawing on his 30 years’ experience in the automotive insulation industry, Jim was tasked with leading Interflex’s next phase of expansion through new product development and diversification into new markets.
Jim had already demonstrated his leadership capabilities by steering his previous company through a sustained period of rapid growth, including setting up premises in the UK, Germany and Sweden for manufacturing and R&D, as well as overseeing the company’s successful flotation on the stock market.
He joined Interflex in November 2019 and officially took over as MD in March 2020. Two weeks later, COVID-19 forced him to take the difficult decision of furloughing his workforce.
“January and February 2020 were great months for the business, and we were on our way to achieving a 25% increase on our performance in 2019,” explains Jim. “The stage was set for our biggest year ever and then everything came to a grinding halt.”
Having steered a business through the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, Jim was able to take the lessons learnt and apply them to what was happening at Interflex as a result of COVID-19.
Drawing on his past experience, Jim instigated a proactive response to the challenges created by the pandemic, not least the temporary shutdown of the automotive industry. One of his first actions was to help meet the soaring demand in the PPE market.
The manufacturing processes, equipment and skills used to manufacture automotive NVH is similar to what is required to produce PPE, though the change wasn’t without its challenges.
Despite having to navigate the red tape involved with getting workers off furlough and back into the factory, all staff had returned by June 2020, with PPE production supplementing the business’ ongoing automotive work.
Following significant investment in specialised new machinery, new packaging capabilities and a dedicated clean production area, the diversification has proven so successful that a new subsidiary operation, Pinnacle PPE, has been established.
“The willingness of the team to adapt and attain CE certification for our visor and mask range, for example, has been incredible and a genuine game changer for them,” explains Jim. “It has removed their belief that Interflex is purely an automotive-focused operation and opened their minds to other potential growth areas.”
Successfully identifying and leveraging new opportunities relies on an accurate assessment of current production capacity and future constraints. However, like many manufacturing operations, Interflex had been relying on spreadsheets for its production planning, forecasting and reporting.
Jim knew that migrating the business onto a platform more befitting the 21st century was of paramount importance. Once again, he drew on his past experience; “ Access FactoryMaster was a crucial factor in taking my previous business from £3m to nearly £30m. When I arrived at Interflex, I knew the business would benefit greatly from having that same versatile material requirement planning system.”
He continues; “We went live with the system only recently, but already it is providing the insights we need to better plan our capacity and labour requirements. My goal is that everyone in my team becomes a ‘FactoryMaster Guru’, using the system for a wide variety of different processes and interrogating the data in any number of ways.”
Owned and developed by award-winning software provider Access Group, Access FactoryMaster has been custom-made for small to medium-sized enterprises looking to develop and take their operation to the next level.
The system offers greater visibility, predictability and control by improving production, inventory management, stock control, quality assurance and traceability. In short, all the areas Interflex was looking to enhance.
Another aspect Jim values is how much of a strategic partner Access Group has become. “I’ve challenged and pushed Access numerous times over the year in terms of what their systems can do and they have always provided an open, direct channel in order to provide feedback,” Jim notes.
“They have always listened to the needs of my business, and the net result is a system that has been continuously refined and improved based on real world requirements.”
The team at Interflex are taking a phased approach to the introduction of FactoryMaster, using it first for purchasing and sales forecasting before integrating production planning. As the business continues to grow, Jim is keen to augment the MRP software with electronic data interchange (EDI) and an integrated finance system such as the on-premise desktop solution, Access Dimensions.
Such a decision will prove particularly important once Jim’s plans to further diversify and acquire complementary businesses are realised. Already the business has made several strategic investments to create a future-fit operation that can help drive, rather than limit, future growth.
These include new servers, a higher bandwidth internet connection, upgraded production equipment, a new commercial director and the previously mentioned PPE production line.
“Despite the challenges of 2020, we have emerged strongly into 2021, with new high performance products to launch and with lucrative new markets in our sights,” Jim says.
“We have a number of exciting new developments on the horizon, including onshoring our supply base to the UK, launching our NVH products and sealing solutions into complementary industries such as construction, rail and aerospace, and increasing our exports into Europe.”
Jim has ambitious growth plans for Interflex and at the current rate, by the end of 2022, the business should surpass where it would have been without the emergence of COVID-19.
“The events of 2020 gave us the opportunity to take stock of where the business was, where we’d like it to be and what needed to happen in-between. Thanks to the investments we continue to make in our products, process and people, Interflex will emerge from lockdown a more professional, profitable and sustainable business,” he concludes.
For more information about Access Group’s industry approved and leading manufacturing software, please visit their website.
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