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.
James Pozzi discovers materials and testing machine manufacturer Zwick Roell’s German headquarters in Ulm.
The Germany city of Ulm was the location for materials and testing machine manufacturer Zwick Roell’s TestXpo2013.
The exhibition drew hordes of customers from all around the globe to the historic city, famous for being home to Albert Einstein. With such a rich scientific heritage, it’s no surprise Ulm continues to provide technology innovation to a range of manufacturing sectors, making the city a high-tech industrial hub.
Zwick Roell, founded in Ulm 150 years ago, is Europe’s biggest testing machine manufacturer and second only to America’s Instron. Zwick-Roell last year turned over £189m and is growing.
The range and flexibility of equipment on display at TestXpo2013 was impressive. Zwick’s vast product portfolio includes metrology equipment, fatigue testing machines and robotics. Such product flexibility means Zwick can perform assessment and testing processes on materials as diverse as steel to the sausage meat used at Germany’s Oktoberfest.
The steel industry was where Zwick cut its teeth, but more recently it has gained experience supplying medical customers and academia, supporting scientific and industrial research.
The Ulm site, built on the site of the Zwick family’s farmhouse, is a shining palace of industry with an atmosphere redolent of a buzzing university campus – lots of excited young minds. As a whole, the facility is a manifestation of all that is best in the German industrial and economic machine.
Manufacturing processes are highly automated and most of the products made on site are destined for export.
There’s a dedicated innovation centre which opened last year, representing a significant investment in long term R&D, and the company takes in 75 trainees a year – there’s no shortage of supply in the local talent pool and retention rates are high.
While the political, education and finance infrastructure in Germany have undoubtedly supported the creation of this manufacturing hive, there’s a lot that many British firms could learn in Ulm about commitment to manufacturing strategy formation and execution.
And, even if only on a small scale, Zwick is methodically transferring this knowhow to the UK with the Ulm facility acting as a best prective template for the company’s new manufacturing site in Brierley Hill, West Midlands.
Infor: The big start-up
Infor brought the UK leg of its On The Road tour to Aston Villa’s Villa Park Stadium in Birmingham in October. James Pozzi kicked about with the software vendor’s president.
Perhaps it was the athletic environment, but this ERP technology showcase, with workshops and one-to-one briefings, had more energy than most.
Based in New York City since 2002 and now serving more than 70,000 customers worldwide, the company has achieved great success in its relatively short lifespan. It growth trajectory is based on retaining its start-up mentality according to Infor president Stephan Scholl who attended the Birmingham event.
It also sets Infor apart from drier competitors he says. Infor attracted 3,000 new customers in the last year, 10% of which were UK manufacturers.
Mr Scholl observes “a big realisation from British manufacturers that they have to take the Ferrari route –maintain the mass production business model for driving profitability, but accept the increasing need to do more complexity. The appetite for British manufacturers to use technology to solve that is growing pretty quickly.”
Moving forward, Infor says it is placing greater emphasis on 3D technology, the internet of things and Dynamic Enterprise Performance Management.
“Hidden talent is no talent”
Jane Gray looked on as UK manufacturers stole the show at the Growing Business Awards 2013.
Hosted by Real Business magazine in association with the CBI and sponsored by Lloyd Banking group, the prestigious Growing Business Awards are now in their fifteenth year.
I past years, the awards talent spotted entrepreneurial spirit in firms that have gone on to have ubiquitous, sometime even notorious success. Former champions include Lastminute.com, Wonga and LOVEFILM.
Manufacturers including Innocent and Tyrells have also been past winners, but this year was the year for UK manufacturers to really shine.
From the word go, the resurgence of UK manufacturing set the tone for the evening. Lord Karan Billimaria the Indian-born founder of Cobra beer, which is now manufactured in the UK in partnership with Molson Coors, gave the opening keynote and celebrated the fact that British manufacturers had bounced back despite successive years in which “governments have neglected this economy”.
Across award categories, manufacturers shone, beating the best growing web, ap and service firms in the export and innovation categories and taking spots in the shortlists for Entrepreneur of the Year, and mid sized Company of the Year.
There was also a hotly contested Made in Britain category which pitted food and drink manufactures against, oil & gas and advanced engineering firms. In the end, judges could not make a clear cut and Chase Distillery, the vodka-maker that won an award for creating the best vodka in the world just two years after it started production, stood alongside Tyneside-based ONG an off-shore construction and engineering firm, as victors. It was a striking display of the strength and diversity of British manufacturing.
I had the pleasure to share a table with the jubilant team from Oliver Valves which scooped the Export Champion of the Year award.
Founded in 1979 by Mike Oliver, now chairman, the company has experienced accelerated growth in recent years thanks to its international expansion.
Today it employs around 350 people and turns over £80m. About 80% of turnover is derived from exports with Brazil and North America being key markets. Business in the Middle East and Asia, particularly South Korea, is also thriving.
Accepting the award on behalf of the company, Bob Wright, Oliver Valves’ fiancé director said the company’s success was all down to the creativity and hard work of the employees.”
His comment picked up on the underlying objective of this event to recognise and expose the talent and sheer effort that is goes into driving productivity and economic growth.
And we should not underestimate the importance of doing this.
Oliver Valves shared its export award with Sun Mark, a distributor of European products in emerging economies which is the only company in Britain to have won five consecutive Queen’s Awards for International Trade. It’s founder Rami Ranger, who came to the UK as an orphaned, penniless Indian immigrant, summed up the imperative of recognising capability. “Hidden talent is no talent,” he said. “If you have talent, go out and tell the world what you have to offer.”