Like many businesses, 2020 has proven to be a tough year for Kirkstall Precision Engineering. But an approach centred on three ‘Cs’ – consideration, confidence and customer service – is helping create the infrastructure required for a positive future, whatever it may bring.
For more than 30 years, Kirkstall Precision Engineering has been at the forefront of solving tomorrow’s challenges today.
A highly skilled workforce equipped with the latest technology has proven to be a winning combination, with the Leeds-based business a leading supplier for global household names in medical, veterinary, aerospace, motorsport, food, energy and textiles.
With a pedigree of design for manufacture and producing medical instruments, this is a business that seeks out complex jobs that require innovation, quality and reliability.
The dual appointment of Adam Thornton as new Managing Director and Iqbal Bahia as Operations Director in 2018 represented the next step on Kirkstall Precision’s journey from a small family-run set-up to corporate, global player.
A five-year strategy was subsequently put in place to expedite that transition, a plan which was progressing better than expected.
“We had an excellent 2018, achieving near 30% growth, almost all of which came from the medical sector,” explains Iqbal. “We targeted a more conservative 10% growth in 2019, which we achieved, and the same for 2020. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck.”
The impact of COVID-19 was severe with Kirkstall Precision’s order book dropping by 50% almost overnight. The majority of its manufactured products were related to elective surgical procedures, operations that were – and continue to be – postponed in the UK and worldwide.
Confident that these procedures would return at some stage, Iqbal and the executive team made a revised 12-month plan based on no medical work coming in from March 2020 to March 2021.
Instead, the business focused on supporting the government’s call for assistance by producing components to manufacture ventilators, it secured work in other sectors (such as general engineering and food and beverage), and it helped sustain the R&D efforts of several blue-chip customers.
Other areas of focus included improving its business management systems and ensuring its development was sustainable.
“We were targeting double-digit growth in 2020, but our primary goal was to create the infrastructure, the systems, the processes, the people and the technology to ensure our growth would continue long into the future,” explains Iqbal.
In that respect, the downturn turned out to be something of an unexpected opportunity to take stock, address any issues and lay the footings on which to build future success.
“You can sit there and see your glass as half empty, or you can take a more positive view and embrace the opportunity to focus 100% of your efforts on improvement, rather than the 30% to 40% you’re typically able to give when the operation is at peak volume,” Iqbal continues.
“There will be an exit point and the winners will be those who prepare and lay the foundations today for the opportunities of tomorrow.”
A key part of Kirkstall Precision’s “foundation for future success” has been its adoption of Access FactoryMaster, a versatile material requirement planning (MRP) system from award-winning software provider Access Group.
Driving business growth
The decision to invest in a new MRP system almost two years ago led to an intense period of due diligence. Iqbal’s team narrowed their decision down to one of three packages available, two of which were determined to be too large, too unwieldly and too expensive for an SME such as Kirkstall Precision.
Access FactoryMaster, however, 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 Kirkstall Precision was looking to enhance.
Having been impressed by FactoryMaster, Iqbal conducted several visits to other users’ plants to better understand how it was being deployed.
“FactoryMaster is perfectly suited to the type of work we want to win, i.e. complex, highly regulated, in hard to penetrate markets that require a high degree of traceability,” Iqbal explains. “Furthermore, the system can scale in tandem with our operation as we continue to grow.”
Iqbal has seen first-hand the tendency for organisations to prematurely hit the ‘go live’ button, rushing through learning what their systems truly offer and failing to train users appropriately to get the most out of them.
“Too often, businesses only scratch the surface of what these systems can do; we want to be different. We are determined to get the most out of FactoryMaster and then some,” Iqbal notes.
“You’ll never find another business that is pushing this system as hard as we are. Indeed, we’ve paid for additional features to be added and we’ve a long list of ideas for future development and functionality.”
“We’ve already integrated our barcode scanners with the system so that any material that is booked in or out is scanned and tracked, ensuring all the information being logged and presented is accurate and up to date.”
The combination of the two technologies, the physical barcode scanner and the digital system, is just one way Kirkstall Precision is increasingly becoming a paperless organisation. The team has also integrated many of its business information systems into FactoryMaster, ensuring they all talk to each other and collectively present one version of the truth.
Iqbal and his team also made the business decision to use the whole of 2019 and part of 2020 to stress test the system prior to it going live towards the end of 2020.
Confidence and optimism
Including several standalone paper processes, Iqbal anticipates FactoryMaster replacing up to eight separate systems, including some historically email-based tasks. Such a consolidation will greatly increase Kirkstall Precision’s visibility, traceability, efficiency and customer service, crucial in an increasingly competitive global landscape.
“The secret to winning new business is providing a potential customer with confidence. They already know you can manufacture the product, what they want to know is whether your processes and systems can deliver it on time, to the required level of quality, with no issues and with full traceability. That confidence is ultimately what FactoryMaster enables us to sell.”
“It is also giving our employees confidence,” Iqbal continues. “Several local businesses have had to close their doors, hopefully temporarily; others have been forced into making redundancies. This is a time of worry and uncertainty for everybody, so it’s fantastic to be able to offer our workers a reason to be optimistic for the future.
Iqbal is already planning ahead for the next phase of Kirkstall Precision’s digital transformation, with an eye on two further technologies from Access Group – its production planning and scheduling software Orchestrate and its sophisticated Report Writer.
“The journey we’re on means that whatever the future may bring, be that opportunity or disruption, we’ll be in a stronger position to address it,” he concludes.
By using software alongside Lean principles, even more manufacturing potential can be unlocked.
That is why The Access Group have created the Lean manufacturing resource hub, full of guides, checklists and videos to help manufacturers get the most out of their operations. Visit our hub today.
The Access Group are proud to have Kirkstall Precision as customers. Founded in 1988, Kirkstall Precision Engineering has always been at the very forefront of global precision engineering.
With a portfolio ranging from motorsport to medical, Kirkstall continuously invests in innovation to make sure they provide ideal end-to-end solutions for their global client base.
You can find Kirkstall Precision Engineering here.
*Header image courtesy of Depositphotos; all images courtesy of Kirkstall Precision Engineering