It is not a well-kept secret that innovation now needs to be integrated into entire operations, from design to manufacture to end user, but executing this is only managed by very few. This is Coventry-based company Marchant Cain’s entire existence, its “bread and butter”.
Founded in 2006 by Rob Marchant and Pam Cain as a throwaway idea, the aim soon grew for the business to become a global leader in the supply of bespoke automotive parts.
Five years later, the company gained two major contracts, and now the business has doubled both their turnover and staff count in just the last two years.
If that wasn’t enough, Marchant Cain strategise, adapt and innovate their entire operation process. Refusing to be pigeon-holed or restricted in what they can create and innovate, the company think laterally and believe that they can apply their particular way of problem-solving to different areas of many industries.
The company’s expertise? This lies in the design, development and manufacture of door systems, including window regulators, electrochromic glass and active aerodynamic components, amongst a variety of other projects such as the design and delivery of highly-engineered bridges.
“We need to be thinking what is out there, what is happening?” Pam tells me. “How can we fit in what we do, augment it, adapt it, change it, develop it, to fit more markets and serve current ones?”
Innovation since day one
After developing a car which could be driven with the doors open – yes, open – in Vietnam, and designing and developing an active aerodynamic component for the Porsche 918 Spyder (below), both in 2011, the company was propelled.
“Innovation is driven by our response to our customers,” Rob says. “It is not just the product innovation, it is the innovation in the business routes we take, the manufacturing path, journey and the delivery.”
Many of the automotive companies Marchant Cain work with are producing supercars that are low volume, with usually only a few hundred in production. This means the company must tailor absolutely everything, as they always have, to individual customer requirements.
The company’s “bread and butter”
With a wealth of expertise in cable technologies, Marchant Cain is perhaps best known for their window regulators. This is the mechanism that enables glass to fit and move in niche, highly-specialised cars.
Glass is often curved in two dimensions, horizontally and vertically, and with automotive design complexities like scalloped doors and heavy and large glass pieces of varying sizes, the team must adapt and devise bespoke components to allow the glass to move and fit precisely into the space designed by the stylist.
To produce the part to make that movement happen, they must understand the exact path the glass will take.
“What you must remember is a piece of glass is not flat, it is curved, it doesn’t just drop, it has to likely move in a helix. How do you get that helix within the shape of that specific door that is already designed? That is what we do,” Pam says.
4IR tech is common practice
Virtual and augmented reality
Virtual reality is being picked up by an increasing number of manufacturers as part of their 4IR journey, but at Marchant Cain it is and has been an everyday tool for engineers for the past few years. This is to enable them to precisely design and understand the movements of their components at the most miniscule of scales.
With VR in full use, Marchant Cain want to utilise the capabilities of its cousin, AR. This is to be able to show their customers how components and mechanisms will work before they even purchase them.
Pam tells me, “We could design the component using augmented reality, explode it on to a screen so the customer can see all the component parts, they then could interrogate it and then put it back together.
“We could send that as part of our quotation, and to protect our IP, we could say to them you can open this file in this building on this day at this time, because this then prevents them from stealing the design and sending it to a competitor, which happens.”
This would mean the customer would not be able to take any details from the clever designs, but they could examine it and understand exactly how a component would work. This of course offering the user more insight to their potential product and strengthening the relationship between the business and their customers – a win-win all round.
“We are still working on how we can integrate that into our quotation process. But we know it is there, and we know it is possible,” Pam says.
With discussions surrounding autonomous vehicles increasing, Marchant Cain consider this to be a part of their market in the future.
“There will always be customers who want very fast, highly-engineered cars, bespoke to them and very expensive. There will then be the autonomous vehicles, which have entirely different business models,” Pam tells me.
“People won’t care what they look like, as long as they take them to where they need, they don’t want to own an AV and they don’t want to use them every day.”
If this is the future, then users might not even need window regulators as they could be using AVs like public transport. For example, a bus or train, where people don’t necessarily need the windows to open, they just want to be connected to their destination.
Pam adds on what Marchant Cain believe they could offer this market: “Users might want to swipe the window and be able to watch a film on it. Even so, the vehicle will still require parts to move, doors to open, and we can offer our service and expertise there.”
The company is also the first to introduce electrochromic glass into a production car, something the business believe will also become an everyday occurrence in the future.
Rob says: “We are working with electrochromic glass, it enables you to sit in the car press a button and the glass will go from clear to dark. We were the first people in the world to put it into a production car.”
Driven forward by lateral thinking
The business’s ability to think creatively and laterally has enabled them to grow and integrate themselves as a global leader of bespoke automotive parts. This became clear when speaking to the joint directors about their current projects and how they are aligning their business to future advancements like autonomous vehicles, while also utilising current Industry 4.0 technology like AR and VR.
Their expertise lies in the mechanism that allows windows to move, but how they address this challenge for various vehicles and customers is completely unique. Not to mention the other numerous projects and aerodynamic components they have designed and supplied.
Marchant Cain are problem-solvers. They are given challenges and they find the best solutions, that is just what they do. It’s hard to think the business won’t carry on expanding at the rate that it has, as they continue to take on more complex projects and diversify into new markets.
Innovation really is their ‘bread and butter’.
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Porsche 918 image courtesy of Depositphotos.