Moving on up

Posted on 10 Mar 2009 by The Manufacturer

Maintaining operational capability and reliability has allowed Brantham Engineering to grow year-on-year. Louise Hoffman speaks to Richard Hancock

Brantham Engineering – the larger of the two firms that make up Brantham Limited – began life in 1973 as a consultant to British Telecom. Now, with 35 years of solid growth under its belt, it has evolved into a contract manufacturer working with several major blue chip clients in the UK and Europe.

“We look at higher volumes than our sister company Nortec does,” began business development manager Richard Hancock. “Our customer portfolio is very broad, an requirements range from small volumes of intricate work through to higher volume work that is less intricate – less complex.”

The firm conducts its business with a simple yet invaluable mantra, as Hancock explained: “We believe that our customers are looking for stable companies to partner with, especially those with a good track record including a strong balance sheet, excellent trading methods – the way we operate, the way we run our accounts etc. And they’re looking for capacity, which is why we have made investments over the last year or so.”

The most recent investment is a new 4,500 square foot warehouse adjacent to its main factory in Witham, Essex. “The new building is for raw material storage and that gives us a bit of free space in the part of the factory where our stores were,” said Hancock. “We need to have that so that when we bring new customers in there is space to accommodate increased production… whether that’s actual square footage or machine capacity.”

Indeed, significant investments have also been made in improving the efficiency of production processes within the factory to enable the firm to meet, and even exceed, the growing and very varied customer demand. This has included the installation of new equipment – in such areas as electronic assembly, automatic optical inspection and ball grid array inspection – and the adoption of cellular manufacturing, with each of the cells allocated its own leader, buyer and account manager.

“We’re probably running with upwards of 20 customers per month, and some of those customers could have up to 20 products, so in one month there are a lot of different products flowing through the shopfloor. The amount of changes from job to job is quite high and the machinery has to be very flexible, with downtime kept to a minimum,” Hancock explained.

An average of three or four customers’ products are dealt with in a single cell, with the warehouse arranged into corresponding cells, “so instead of having a storage area where people have go from rack to rack, they only go to the racks that are applicable to that manufacturing cell, which makes the process much more efficient.”

In addition to the expansion of its Witham capacity, Brantham has also signed up to a partnership with a company in Bulgaria, which will allow it to deal with higher volume and save on labour costs in the process. “We would still handle all the materials from the UK, ship them to Bulgaria where they manufacture and test the product, and then send it back to us here,” Hancock clarified.

The next step for Brantham is to get involved in the early stages of product life. “We’re trying to do more and more with the design houses,” said Hancock. “Working with R&D and consultancy companies especially around the Cambridge area, Oxford area and M4 corridor on early prototype builds and then taking that through to the full product build.

“We want to help the customers with product development before they get into production so it becomes a product that can be manufactured rather than a concept that could be. Turning ideas into reality,” he concluded.