The companies who Make it in Great Britain

Posted on 25 Jul 2012

The Make it in Great Britain exhibition, brainchild of business minister Mark Prisk, was launched at the Science Museum on Tuesday. TM speaks to some of the exhibitors to find what they make and why they got involved.

On your radar – Raytheon UK

Raytheon UK is the division of a large US company that makes air traffic control products, including the classic spinning radar turret, and other things based on radar technology.

“In the UK we build the secondary surveillance radar, a specific part of that system. We’ve exported 500 systems worldwide,” says Richard Daniel, managing director of Raytheon UK.

“The products take us to the next generation in radar detection,” he adds. “We’ve concentrated on providing a very reliable and long range capability. Recent trials show that we can see aircraft over 300 miles away.”

Raytheon UK, with 1,200 employees in Britain, has sister facilities in Canada (primary radar) and the US (automation systems). Its history in UK goes back to A.C. Cossor, a company involved in the chain Home Air Defence system in World War II.

“We produce the receivers and really set the [global] standard for monopulse secondary surveillance radars, most of which are produced here in UK,” says Mr Daniel. “We are possibly the last of the air traffic control radar producers in the UK.”

Richard Daniel, managing director of Raytheon UK
Raytheon UK makes surveillance radar equipment in three UK sites. Managing director Richard Daniel (L)

There are three manufacturing sites in the UK: Glenrothes, which does research in silicon carbide and manufacturing mainly for export; Harlow, which makes GPS anti-jam products, and ATC radars for IFF – Identification of Friend or Foe; and Broughton that make special mission aircraft like the RAF’s Sentinel.


Yamazaki Mazak – machines to make things

Some visitors will be surprised to find out the UK not only sells Japanese machine tools like CNC turning machines, but that we make them here too.

Marcus Burton, managing director of Yamazaki Mazak in Worcester says “we were very pleased to be selected as one of the 40 companies for this exhibition.”

Mazak is displaying a CNC (computer numeric control) turning machine on show. “It will show people who are not familiar with this how to make products,” says Mr Burton. “Cutting machines are at the heart of all manufacturing, whether making a mould for plastic tooling, or machining any part – this will open people’s awareness of machine tools.”

Is the exhibition good value for money? “There is a cost in transport and our time, but the machine is not here to promote us necessarily, its all about the British economy and manufacturing,” he adds. “If we all get behind these efforts perhaps we’ll get more of a real renaissance of manufacturing that the minister [Vince Cable] talked about.”

Marcus Burton, managing director of Yamazaki Mazak
Yamazaki Mazak UK, at the Make it in Gt Britain exhibition, wants to show the public how metal parts are made

Mazak has been manufacturing machines in the UK for more than 25-years. “We make a lot of effort to get our message across, yet even today people think we just import and sell machines. We are manufacturing – 50% of all machines installed in Europe are made in the UK. We do our own R&D, our own machine designs for the European market and have a very modern assembly shop.”

The European market is 30% of Mazak’s global business. How is business given the eurozone’s woes? “Business has held up well – we had a remarkable recovery last year after the recession driven by our German customers shipping product out to Asia,” says Burton. “It has slowed a little bit this year but has held up well.

“Everyone is nervous about the eurozone situation, and as we go into the holiday period, September will be a key indicator.”

Jaguar Land Rover shows off its computer power

Jaguar Land Rover’s story has been well documented in recent months. At the exhibition, the entire exhibition – comprising an array, canopy, virtual demonstrator and screen – were custom made for Make it in Gt Britain (MiiGB).

The stand has an interactive, touch screen system that shows how a car is made, from the ‘Big Idea’ to the finished car. “It shows within minutes that this process takes four years, showing all the stages in between including the virtual design phase,” says Jeegar Kakkad, UK government affairs manager for Jaguar Land Rover. “We spend 1.5 million hours virtually designing a car before it makes any particular product.”

Jo Lopes, head of technical excellence at JLR, says the exhibit, made by Elelment Systems in the US, is designed to explain a complex process to different age groups. “We’ve put the whole process in to layman’s terms. It shows there is 2,500 years of computer time in the 24-month period before building any components.”

Mr Lopes explains there is little difference in design and simulation time between a new model and a variant of an existing model. “If a car has a similar undercarriage but new body work, all the crash calculations have to be redone again.”

What does JLR expect to get from the exhibition?

“We’ve invested not only financially but a lot of time, scoping and creating the exhibit from scratch,” says Lopes. “I hope it will engage with visitors of all ages – the hope is they go away with a better understanding that an automotive business goes through these stages.”

People generally buy a car from a dealership and drive away with little thought about the process behind it.
“This exhibit is saying the machine you’re driving away was visualised and planned four years ago. This, and exhibits like it, should stimulate a deeper understanding of the complexity of engineering within the auto industry. Like other advanced manufacturing industries, there is a huge number of people employed in many different areas. Its money well spent.”

Evac + Chair – small company with a global name

Birmingham-based Evac + Chair makes what appears to be a cleverly-designed but low tech product. The evacuation chair works on a friction-based system, controlling the descent down stairs when moving injured or old people from hazardous areas. It is a market-leader selling in 35 countries. The company has three UK sites employing about 75 people.

“About 80% of product is exported, from the UK across the northern hemisphere,” says Evac+Chair’s Paul Colder. The company makes the products through a South African company to market to the southern hemisphere.

“We are the largest supplier in the world and distribute to about 35 countries. It’s quite a success story for a small company in Birmingham,” Mr Colder adds.

Evac+Chair is unusually highly integrated for an small business. “Everything you see we control, we own,” he says. “We’re the ‘metal bashers’ making the frame, we own the powder coating company, the [seat and back cover] fabric is made by our textiles company in Telford. The beauty of this is we can control quality of the product every time.”

“We reversed the trend about 17-years ago from outsourcing to insourcing” says the company’s Mark Wallace. “We feel we’re in control of our destiny and we still believe we can manufacture cheaper than China.”

The chair is simple but clever, a seat with a rotating leg configuration which brings the next wheeled leg into line as the chair descends a staircase. Is the IP protected? “Some designs are registered, but the main patent expired in 2002,” says Mr Wallace. “Because of the length of time we’ve been making it there are a lot of nuances in the manufacture,” says Mr Colder. “Everybody can copy a drawing from someone else, but while it may look the same it doesn’t operate exactly the same. Unless you have exactly those components in the product, imitations won’t work in every evacuation scenario in the same way that ours does – and I’ve tested some.”

Evac+Chair is a good example of a ‘manuservices’ company. A training division (for operating the chair) has spawned from the product, as well as a product service division to provide life-cycle care to customers. “When you buy the product we look after the customer for life, as a part of a package,” says Colder.

Beam me up – Axon Automotive

Dr Stephen Cousins runs Axon Automotive, a UK company perfecting a new approach to car manufacture. The small vehicle can use a range of powertrains, internal combustion and electric, but the different is in the shell which is made from carbon fibre beams, reducing weight radically.

Axon’s technology is in making these beams. “We look at a car as a set of beams with big holes in between for windscreens, doors and the engine bay. This technology is ideal for making cars, then you clad it with panels.” Mass scale carmakers stamp sheets of aluminium and other carbon fibre cars are normally made from woven sheets too, so Axon’s is a specific technology designed to make car structures stronger and lighter. A polyeurethane material, chosen for noise, vibration and manufacturing properties, fills the beams.

On MiiGB, “we thought it was a great thing to be involved with and we’re pleased with the way they’ve staged one of our vehicle structures,” says Dr Cousins. The car structure is suspended vertically from the ceiling.

On value for money he says: “It has been fairly expensive for us to make it but we need a really good demonstration vehicle structure, and we can use it after the exhibition.”

“We have no real idea who is going to see this exhibit,” he laughs. “We’re trusting that putting our bread on the water some people – both the general public and the Government – will see it and see how real it is.” Axon Automotive is applying for funding from the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative and Cousins hopes its presence at MiiGB will help.