Out and about: TM on the road again

Posted on 11 Jun 2013 by The Manufacturer

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.

Retro Eco

Jane Gray at Shell’s low carbon technology Springboard final.

For eight years now, oil & gas giant Shell has run the Shell Springboard competition in the UK, giving start up and SME innovators in low carbon markets the chance to win £40,000 to help fund growth.

The competition takes place over a series of regional heats with the national winner announced at a ceremony at the Royal Academy of Engineering. This year judges included a past winner, the Carbon Trust and academics from Aston University, Imperial College and the London School of Economics.

The criteria by which the winner is picked is loose, but this year judges unanimously opted for two retrofit technologies. The logic was that these products and the business partnerships the fledgling companies already had in place, have the potential to make a significant and immediate difference to communities and the environment – not just in the UK, but internationally.

The two winners were:

Runner up: Ventive, a company making ventilation systems for domestic housing which improve air quality, reduce heat loss and lower CO2 emissions.

Winner: Vantage Power, a London-based start up producing retrofit diesel-hybrid systems for busses.

Retrofit solutions are less glamorous than more disruptive or blue skies technologies. They might also be challenged as appropriate winners on the basis that retrofit business models are essentially finite – one day we will simply make low carbonbuses first time round surely? Responding to this challenge, Toby Schulz, director of Vantage Power commented: “It’s a fair point. But looking just at the UK we think there is a pipeline of around ten years work retrofitting existing and new buses on British roads – many of which are still not produced with lowering carbon emissions in mind. In addition, there are massive markets for retrofit in countries like India which are heavy users of bus transport and are massively polluted.”

It’s enough to keep Vantage very busy for the foreseeable future. But it won’t be sitting on its hands assures Schultz. “The ten year pipeline gives us a buffer in which to innovate and be ready with a new offering when retrofitting peters out.”

Mr Schultz’s confidence in the strength of Vantage’s markets and the resilience of its technology offering was firm – but so was that of every finalist in this year’s competition. Presenting products from wave energy generators to biomass coal, they were feisty entrepreneurs and all of them were UK manufacturers with strong UK supply chains in place.

And the finalists were just a select bunch of a growing, dynamic community of low carbon technology manufacturers emerging in the UK according to Shell, which also used the ceremony at the Royal Academy to launch its new report Low Carbon Entrepreneurs: The New Engines of Growth.

Read the report here – http://bit.ly/ShellReport

Tuned in for success

Driving through the winding roads of the Hampshire countryside, James Pozzi was hard pressed to believe it is the location of a prospering British manufacturing business.

But, touring the headquarters and processing plant of Wood & Douglas, it is hard not to be impressed by its inventiveness and productivity. Founded by chairman Alan Wood 30 years ago, Wood & Douglas’expansion has been gradual but increased in recent years following a £1m investment in its service facility in 2011. The investment was a calculated risk which has paid dividends and culminated in Wood & Douglas receiving the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the international trade category in April.

For Mr Wood, the award was a validation of work that encompasses the design, development and delivery of wireless radio solutions for international markets. Currently export is particularly strong in China (medical), Sweden (automotive) and South Africa, where Wood & Douglas radio systems are used in the minerals market in mines for diamonds and precious metals.

Wood believes international success has a lot to do with being UK-bred and UK-based as well as the firm’s proven flexibility in catering for all orders. “Our advantage is we manufacture in the UK, so we’re not bringing something in to finish it off and send it back out again, “he said. “We’re very attractive to export clients. They can come to us knowing that from their basic idea of what they want to do, we can give them a solution.” Innovation at Wood & Douglas is not just about its products and associated services however. Methods for running the company have been challenged and shaken up. Wood says his firm was “taken apart” by a Philips quality engineer who tried to cut and paste lean methodologies back in the 80s. But now there is a strong, selfcrafted business philosophy which targets quality at all costs.

On the shop floor quality is supported by strong communication between employees and across functions. A process-based system makes sure every employee across the company can interact with one another and stay informed of a product’s shop floor cycle. The system presents information in a graphical format, and has been tailored to “the way people think at Wood & Douglas”. It encompasses all processes and decision points from the beginning of the order process to sales and shipping.

Looking forward, Wood says the company’s key challenge is the constant push to reduce the size of its products. “The R&D team are constantly challenged to make it smaller, make it consume lower power. So that’ll always be the technological challenge.”

Boxing Clever with ERP for the Mid-Market

James Pozzi gets on board Oracle’s innovation truck.

Oracle presented Boxing Clever with ERP for the Mid- Market in Solihull in late April at the town’s Blythe Valley Business Park, giving delegates the opportunity to discuss the latest in ERP systems.

The day was run alongside Oracle’s mobile innovation tour, which started in Edinburgh in early April and concluded in London in May. Presentations were given by Chris Walsh, senior principal product manager at Oracle subsidiary JD Edwards, internationally recognised ERP expert Sean Jackson, managing director of BSM Consulting and Christian Fronteras, managing director of Redfaire who mooted the future of ERP delivery. Ritchie Edwards of Oracle wrapped things up by announcing the Apps in a Box initiative, a system delivering a one vendor solution stack from hardware to the user. The opportunity to ask questions followed, with the effectiveness and affordability of ERP for mid-sized companies coming under scrutiny.

At the conclusion, delegates were invited for a networking lunch aboard Oracle’s innovation truck, an exhibition vehicle showcasing the company’s latest technology. With four different interactive zones addressing the challenges and opportunities facing businesses, the truck offered an unusually engaging way for business leaders to explore what benefits they might be missing out on in the latest ERP technology.

Will Trotman, Oracle hardware systems marketing director for the UK, Ireland and Israel, said: “We themed the tour around innovation because that’s something we believe Oracle delivers to its customers.” Mr Trotman added that the day represented a good opportunity for customers to come and learn more about the product and network with experts. “The tour appeals to existing and new customers who perhaps know of Oracle but don’t fully understand our capabilities.”