Out and about: TM on the road again

TM’s editorial team is out and about at a wide variety of industry conferences, debates and
factory tours month in, month out. Let’s get a snapshot of the most interesting trips last month.

Guardians of the wellbore

Will Stirling at Guardian Global Technologies

Four miles under the earth’s surface, in a 30cm diameter steel tube, crude oil flows over sensors to measure pressure, temperature and flow.

This data helps geologists make conclusions about the reservoir. The environment is brutal – temperatures over 300°C and pressures up to 20,000psi. But this is Guardian Global Technology’s comfort zone.

The de facto world leader in ballistic delivery systems, Guardian sells to all four major oil and gas service companies. For certain specific solutions there is no-one else to go to according to managing director Iain Maxted (p50).

The company’s factory in the unassuming town of Pyle outside Bridgend, designs and manufactures two main products; sensors for measuring flow, pressure and temperature and ballistic delivery systems – a term Guardian coined itself. These critical products fire explosives into oil wells.

The process is stealthy. As a well is drilled, a steel casing is cemented in place to support the wellbore and provide hydraulic isolation between fluid-bearing zones. Once the well is completed, explosive charges are detonated from the surface to make perforations in the steel casing, enabling reservoir fluids to flow into the wellbore.

Mr Maxted modestly refutes that Guardian ‘invented’ the ballistic delivery technology but does say “we designed the systems for this specific purpose from ground-up, so yes, this is proprietary to Guardian.”

An ex-Imperial College engineer who started the company with his wife in 2003 Maxted is confident of Guardian’s competitive position in its sector, despite some larger rivals in the downhole logging equipment space. “This industry requires a huge amount of testing and we have challenges getting our products to work. Competitors are often better off perfecting a specific application because the amount of work in perfecting these systems is a barrier to entry. But there is plenty of work in oil and gas for everyone.”

Producing niche components for the oil and gas industry is Guardian Global Technology's forte
Producing niche components for the oil and gas industry is Guardian Global Technology's forte

Guardian is a growing concern. The company is about to invest in a £100,000 mine/millturn machine to compliment a machine shop already boasting an array of milling, turning and wire erosion machines producing batches of 20 -40 across a wide range of products. Finding qualified people to help deliver for growing demand is hard says Maxted. But the company’s total headcount of 85 includes five apprentices, three in the workshop and two in electronics, a presence which Maxted hopes will help plug future skills and capability gaps.

Go to www.themanufacturer.com to read more about Guardian Global Technologies.

Making biscuits is no piece of cake

There’s science behind the way the cookie crumbles finds Jane Gray.

Burton’s Biscuit Company is the only volume food manufacturer to exclusively manufacturer biscuits in the UK. “The focussed product range really lets us explore the technology of making biscuits,” says Neil Grocock, the company’s chief supply chain officer as he talks me through the latest tranche of a £25m investment plan in production capability, new product development and capacity expansion.

For those readers who might doubt that there’s much technology behind baking the humble tea accompaniment, a trip to one of Burton’s three UK plants, will swiftly set you right. The company makes Maryland Cookies, Wagon Wheels and Dodgers, not to mention Cadbury’s entire range of Chocolate biscuits for which Burton’s holds the global licence.

This year Burton’s committed £13.5m to the introduction of high tech equipment which will help it perfect manufacturing and reduce waste. Burton’s Llantarnam factory in South Wales is the proving ground for many investments. The most recent is an £800,000 control room which links to new automated monitoring systems on the shop floor. The system uses cameras, heat sensors and infra red to track the size, colour, moisture content and temperature of biscuits in production in real time. Mr Grocock says he believes the application is the first of its type in the biscuit making industry.

Measurements are snapped every eight rows of biscuit produced – which when you are producing 1.85 tonnes of Wagon Wheels an hour, and similar quantities across a multitude of concurrently running lines for branded and own label biscuits – equates to a huge quantity of data.

The control room is manned by eight operatives who have been moved from the shop floor and trained – with an additional expense of around £100,000 – to use the equipment with confidence (p66). Meanwhile managers can also log into the control room data remotely at any time, supporting real time responsiveness to, for instance, a malfunction in one of the oven burners or the need to re-calibrate heat sensors.

Going forward, the data captured in the control room will feed into wider IT infrastructure including maintenance scheduling systems, helping to remove ‘gut feel’ from complex business decisions which effect profitability.

Survive then thrive

James Pozzi hears about Hymid’s lean journey and gets hands on with applying the methodology.

Rain clouds were on hand to greet me as I arrived Torquay, the heart of the English Riviera. But a mere five minutes’ walk from the station, the forecast is overwhelmingly sunny for a genuine West Country success story.

Hymid, a specialist in single and two-shot plastic injection moulding, had an excellent year in 2012. The company increased turnover to £2.2m and won a succession of quality awards, culminating in the Business Development and Change Management Award at the IMechE Manufacturing Excellence Awards last December.

Hymid moved to its site on the outskirts of Torquay from the company’s original factory in nearby Brixham last September and now employs a workforce of 30 – including three apprentices. It manufactures an array of products, predominantly for the medical supplies and trade industries.

Success hasn’t come easily. The company faced uncertain times in 2008 due to what it describes as “damagingly inefficient and labour intensive” manufacturing processes, which hampered productivity and, subsequently, profit.

Now working closely with Chinese toolmakers based in Shenzhen, the company focus lies in adding value and working under lean principles. Myself and fellow delegates on a special press day to show off the new Hymid facility, were challenged to put these into action is small simulation.

Tasked with improving productivity for a mock production line assembling torches, the workshop illustrated the “efficiency at all costs” approach that has been integral to Hymid’s success. Our efforts were guided and judged by representatives from the regional arm of the Manufacturing Advisory Service, SWMAS, which has worked with Hymid to help identify waste and reconfigure processes.

Commercial Manager Nick Cleevely, showed us around the factory, proudly highlighting the site’s impressive collection of new automation systems, mostly for two shot moulding. Hymid has invested heavily to ensure its technology is competitive.

Company chairman Colin Spencer Halsey says Hymid plans to increase turnover to £3.5m by 2016 and become a world class British manufacturer. “We focused on what we’re best at for adding value – two shot and our three prime sectors,” he said. “As an SME, we have great opportunities to work with others and in clusters. We’ve proved that there are always different and innovative ways of doing business.”