Renishaw: Investing in the future, and doing what’s right for innovation

Posted on 26 Jun 2019 by The Manufacturer

Renishaw received one of the greatest accolades at The Manufacturer MX Awards 2019 – the award for 'Manufacturing in Action'. Steven Barr talked with group manufacturing services director Gareth Hankins about doing the right thing, by investing in innovation via products, processes, people and premises.

UK-based Renishaw is an international leader in metrology – the high-precision measurement of components. Proud of its record of innovation, Renishaw invests 14-16% of its turnover in research and development (some six-times the industry average).

It has added new products and new markets to its range, including healthcare and metal additive manufacturing. The group continues to grow, with an exceptionally strong exports performance.

By any measure Renishaw is a UK success story that should inspire other companies, as Jonny Williamson reported from its Miskin operation in August 2018.

Additive Manufacturing assembly area at Miskin - image courtesy of Renishaw

I was welcomed recently along with other 40 members of the Service Community at the Wotton-under-Edge site, where we got a strong indication of how innovation drives the success of Renishaw worldwide.

The Manufacturer MX Award for ‘Manufacturing in Action’ award is judged, uniquely, by the editorial team of The Manufacturer. It’s awarded to a company demonstrating excellence in each of the categories it has entered catching the eye of the journalists who have seen some of the UK’s finest manufacturers in action over the course of the year.

So, how did Renishaw come out on top in what is perhaps the most discerning of categories?

Gareth Hankins is responsible for manufacturing services across the Renishaw Group worldwide and has been with the business for more than 30 years. Surely, he must know what makes it so impressive to visitors?

“I think we could be guilty of a little complacency,” he says of himself and other long-serving colleagues. “Our visitors give us a very positive feeling about what we do. However, we’re surprised that more companies don’t have our approach. We just do what’s right for Renishaw.”

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What’s right for Renishaw starts without the textbook. Renishaw is not big on buzzwords, such as ‘Industry 4.0’.

“Since long before the latest revolution we have been using digitally-enabled technologies and analysing data,” says Gareth, “and of course our products are made for customers to measure the data that they need to ensure accuracy.”

It does things its way, adapting good practice to make it optimal for itself. Two lean manufacturing heresies help to explain the Renishaw philosophy. The company is a low- to medium-volume manufacturer with a relatively high number of product lines and high stock levels, which lands them with higher costs of design and production and storage.

However, product diversity and availability means that Renishaw is more effective at solving the complex process-related problems of customers – perhaps its strongest differentiator.

Less concern about the operational textbook and more focus on its customers can’t be faulted in Renishaw’s financial results and coveted customer feedback.

We’ve already touched on Renishaw’s exceptional R&D spending. Where does the money to invest come from, and what does it do with it?

Its annual accounts show the group has a low ratio of borrowing to equity – it is well able to finance developments from profits and to manage its cashflow risks. What’s more interesting is how its investment in innovation can show itself in the business.

One example of this investment is in the vertical integration of the Group.

Renishaw uses outsourcing carefully, investing in building up its in-house capability where there is strategic advantage in doing so. The sophisticated electronics technologies it uses in its sensors and control systems are now part of the company’s advanced manufacturing portfolio.

Renishaw is one of the most welcoming of manufacturers. I recommend you take the opportunity to look around one of its operations and share insights with Gareth and his colleagues.

When Jonny visited Miskin he described the excellent quality of equipment in the machining and assembly halls, including use of “ruggedised” versions of Renishaw’s own probes.

When you visit you may also spot another strong area of investment in innovation – Renishaw’s people. They are building capability for the future by hiring apprentices and graduates in large numbers (when compared with the size of the company).

Renishaw works closely with local schools as well as investing heavily in apprenticeship programmes for the future – image courtesy of Renishaw.

Renishaw works closely with local schools as well as investing heavily in apprenticeship programmes for the future – image courtesy of Renishaw.

But, isn’t that a risk in these uncertain times for the UK’s exporters, and knowing that the people they train could go on to apply their skills in other companies?

Gareth says Renishaw has always taken a long-term view, such as its purchase of the oversized Miskin estate in 2012 and the current building programme at Wotton-under-Edge, situated in the west of England.

“We look for intelligent and enthusiastic people with the right attitude to working with us,” says Gareth. “Then we give them responsibilities that will stretch them and ultimately shape them into the innovation-minded people we need. We are not afraid to take risks and to learn from that together.”

Manufacturing in action, the Renishaw way, is about investing in innovation in the form of products, processes, people, and premises.

A simple mantra, but nobody is pretending it is a simple formula to get right. What tips does Gareth have for other manufacturers who would like to turn a vision for innovative manufacturing into highly profitable action:

First: invest in the future – not just in new products and the means of making them but also in people and the capacity to deal with the customer’s complex problems.

Second: be active in growing the skills needed for success – hiring apprentices, graduates and others with the potential to drive innovation.

Third: embrace risk and take control of it – empowering people to try new ways of doing things, and giving them the support they need to learn.

Gareth is too modest to suggest a fourth tip, which was obvious to me as a visitor: welcome other manufacturers to share knowledge and experience.

The Renishaw way may not be right for every business, but its attitudes and future-focus are an inspiration to all innovators.

Dr Steven Barr is a chartered engineer and expert in manufacturing business transformation through technologies, people and partners.

He is the managing director of EDGE Digital Manufacturing, The Manufacturer’s advisory services partner, helping SMEs to leverage digital technologies to maximise their competitive edge.

He also leads the not-for-profit community interest company with UK industry-wide support to maintain and improve the standards-setting Digital Readiness Level Tool.