The world’s cities are forever growing, which means more vehicles clogging our roads daily. Traffic management doesn’t just aim to make mobility safer and less complex, but environmentally cleaner with digital progress and connected data systems at its core. The Manufacturer’s Tom St John was given the green light to investigate Yunex Traffic.
Yunex Traffic marked the third and final stop of our ‘A Fine Pool(e) of Manufacturers’ tour. Lush, Pavalux and Yunex Traffic make Poole the jewel of the South when it comes to manufacturing excellence. We could see the Yunex Traffic factory from the roof of the new, soon to be completed, Parvalux facility. “We won’t get lost then,” I said to my colleague Lanna as we gauged which way to approach the facility before leaving Parvalux. Yet somehow, we did get a bit lost – as we attempted to access the wrong entrance. We drove a short distance to where we were supposed to be and were met by Simon Martin, Head of Global Manufacturing.
Welcome to Yunex Traffic
We were taken into a boardroom where the Yunex Traffic team had certainly pulled out all the stops (traffic pun intended). There were between 10 and 15 members of the team, all selected to give us interviews. I informed Simon that we can’t possibly interview everyone. “These are the whittled down selections,” he said, and followed this up by explaining, “We’ve got so many products.” Yunex Traffic has over 56 years’ experience in the field of intelligent traffic management and control, making it the UK’s leading manufacturer and service provider of traffic control equipment and systems. Over 920 people work for Yunex Traffic across the UK, with around 200 workers at the Poole facility.
Simon wasn’t lying when he said the company has a lot of products and solutions; this wide portfolio extends from electric vehicle charging infrastructure to criminal enforcement products. “It’s basically everything that’s related to traffic management infrastructure,” said Martin. “We make the standard products that you all know, traffic lights and the controllers, all the way through to some of the latest technology around integrated vehicles i.e., how vehicles communicate with infrastructure.
“We’re also very closely linked to a lot of the initiatives around clean air zones, we produce enforcement cameras for low emission zones, average speed zones and bus lane management. There’s a mixture of the traditional products and services that you’d expect to see, but we’re also involved heavily in new technology.” I should point out, in the last few months, I’ve been spotted driving in a bus lane and was caught exceeding the limit in a variable speed zone. On both occasions, it was almost certainly a Yunex Traffic enforcement camera that got me. So, they do work.
At the heart of traffic management, I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to hear, is smart technology. The site in Poole is the sole production facility for Yunex Traffic globally, where manufacturing technology expertise are centralised, ensuring full lifecycle management from production of new products through to aftermarket operations. Enter Casey Russell, Digitalisation Manager within the manufacturing sphere at Yunex Traffic. We met him on a packed factory floor, with rows upon rows of machinery. “It’s a really exciting time for us, because we’re going through a big level of expansion in terms of the technology that we’re harnessing here,” he explained.
“This is everything from your day-to-day traffic management all the way through to some cool AI technology. What that means for us as manufacturers is we’ve got to make these products for the team, and we can only do this through huge amounts of innovation to keep ourselves on the cutting edge.” Solutions grounded in digital technologies produced by Yunex Traffic include intersection controllers, cloud-based urban traffic control solutions, real-time optimisation, adaptive control, motorway and tunnelling solutions and connected mobility.
“Our digital success falls into two categories,” explained Casey. “Firstly, we have the agile elements which ensure that what we’re doing day-to-day allows us to deliver for tomorrow – we’re constantly adapting and improving. Secondly, we’ve got the innovation element, which means we’re always thinking about what technology we can deploy to ensure we’re the best at manufacturing these products. “Ultimately, we’ve seen huge success in simply having a plan,” he continued. “Of course, you’ve got to be agile and able to add or take away elements of that plan, but really understanding what your vision is as a company, and also as a manufacturing sphere, allows you to take the steps you need to achieve this.”
“Has there been some difficulties in recent years around getting that adoption right?” I asked Casey.
“I think all manufacturers have been hit hard by some of the same issues over the last couple of years,” he replied. “We’ve been trying to implement solutions while going through a transition period and have found that tricky when we haven’t had everyone in the factory or in offices at the same time. We’ve got component and software shortages in the factory, which means that we find it hard to implement at the pace we want to.” The future of technology within traffic management promises to be wonderfully exciting. Using innovative concepts, cities will soon be able to actively manage traffic. Intelligent infrastructure systems will continue to help make optimal use of the available resources through centralised control and management. Within the factory, Casey predicts a similarly exciting future, but is wary of the challenges that it could bring to digital manufacturing operations.
He said: “In the next ten or 20 years, we’re going to see huge amounts of automation coming into the factory. We’re looking at real life robotics at the moment alongside our software robotics. “But that brings a lot of technology along with it; it throws up challenges around understanding the data and what we’re producing. It’s going to be even more important to ensure our quality is up to scratch and the products are meeting the demands of the customer. “A great example of that is some low-cost Automatic Optical Inspection (AOI) that we’re looking at. Normally, AOI is hugely expensive and currently, we put every single product through that process. We’re looking at really innovative solutions where we can take that board and inspect it in other ways. One of my projects at the moment is looking at the effects on boards in real-time as a robot is building it. This takes away that really expensive piece of machinery to let it work on other things.”
We’ve probably sounded like a broken record at times over the last year, but we’re here to report on the problems that are giving manufacturers sleepless nights – supply chains are at the top of the list of nightmares. Yunex Limited has worked hard on this front and is still exporting successfully to over 60 countries. This includes anything to do with traffic equipment, i.e., traffic lights and controllers. But the trials of the last couple of years have still taken their toll. “We’ve got a global supply chain problem,” said Sharon Byrne, Head of the Tactical Sourcing Operational Procurement Team. The seven buyers that work under her purchase the materials that make up every product in the Poole facility.
“The supply problem doesn’t just exist in electronics,” she continued, “Although that’s the biggest issue, the challenge extends more broadly to other raw materials. Most of that is born from the COVID pandemic. The demand is a lot higher than the global supply for most industries. This means we’ve had to really adapt our procurement practices. “Traditionally, we had lots of Kanban items, we had call ins, buffer stocks and safety stocks at suppliers – we can’t do that anymore. An awful lot of effort had to go into planning; we had to order in advance, sometimes years, looking as far ahead as 2024. We’re not seeing any changes in that supply at the moment, but we’ve had different allocations before in previous years. So hopefully, we’re starting to see a little bit of improvement out there – stuff is becoming more available, unfortunately no one can tell us when.” As mentioned, global trade remains strong for Yunex Traffic; the Brexit hump has been overcome because of the preparatory work that was done to mitigate the impact.
“We had some difficulties at first,” said Sharon. “Deliveries were getting stuck in customs and suppliers weren’t quite understanding the details around the new paperwork and the incoterms. Now, we’re at a point where we’re just two days late, or rather there’s two days difference to where we were prior to that, which is a huge achievement.”
Clearing the air
An area not yet touched on, and deliberately left until last, is the company’s commitment to sustainability. Traffic congestion and air pollution are often complained about aspects of cities around the world and staggeringly, 99% of the global population breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits – an uncomfortable statistic. To address the issue of air quality, an increasing number of authorities are deploying targeted clean air and low emission zones. Take the recently expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London, a world first.
Yunex Traffic infrastructure and technology is behind this, as well as Clean Air Zones in Birmingham and Portsmouth. Yunex Limited is also working on the delivery of schemes with transport authorities in Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. “Our sustainability goals are very much aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Sasha Sequeira, Environment and Sustainability Advisor at Yunex Traffic. She continued, “We’re focusing on being net zero for our operations by 2030, targeting energy and the fleet to achieve that. We’re also aiming for 2050 to be net zero across the supply chain. So, we’re looking at our supply chain as well as the end of life for our products, and how we impact our customers. Two areas of focus for our products centre around improving air quality, for instance, we’re incentivising active travel through low level cycle signals as well as clean air zones.”
Outside of the factory, the impact that Yunex Traffic is having on the Low Emission and Clean Air Zones in Britain’s two largest of cities, London and Birmingham, has been almost immediate – remarkable achievements have been realised when it comes to air quality. Using camera-based enforcement solutions, the schemes have resulted in far fewer polluting cars. After the first ten months of operation, research carried out by the Mayor of London’s office showed that ULEZ had contributed to a 44% reduction in roadside nitrogen dioxide within the central zone and 44,100 fewer polluting vehicles were being driven every day. To put that into perspective, that’s a saving of around 12,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions – enough to fill the Gherkin in London 22 times over.
At the end of December 2020, compliance with the central London ULEZ stood at 85% for all vehicles, with over 90% of cars (excluding black cabs) compliant. “Road traffic is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the UK and air quality is a massive health risk,” said Sequeira. “While driving remains very much a necessity, we can help with solutions like clean air zones or reduced congestion. We’re directly combatting these environmental problems through our products and solutions – that makes me feel very fulfilled. I’m helping with not only our own operations as a company, and how we’re being more sustainable, but also helping our customers to improve these aspects.
“Right now, I don’t think it’s always very convenient to be sustainable,” she continued. “We need more encouragement and accessibility – we’re trying to do this by working with a lot of local authorities who engage directly with people living in those communities. Reducing emissions and improving air quality are two of our big focus areas within our products.”
We also discovered that there are significant financial and carbon savings to be had in LED signal lamp retrofit programmes. In Greater Manchester, 52,000 traditional traffic signal bulbs were replaced with Helios LED. This transition gives lifetime savings of £5m in electricity charges, £1.5m of maintenance charges and a hefty 37,000 tonnes of CO2. Add to that an annual saving of £600,000 in maintenance costs and you’re well in the green, in more ways than one.
In safe hands
We bid farewell to the Yunex Limited team, and subsequently to Poole. I couldn’t tell you much about the town itself, we didn’t get a chance to look around. Its manufacturers are nice though. With Yunex Traffic, I was struck by its commitment and passion, not just for the management of its factory operations, but for the transformational power of its innovative products, and the clear environmental and technological progress that they’re enabling. Cities are often a pain to drive around or navigate, and you may feel, even after reading this, that they’re getting even more complex. Having witnessed first-hand the work and innovation that goes in to managing traffic, I’m assured that our roads are in safe hands. Watch out for the Yunex Traffic enforcement cameras though – because they do work.
- Increased use of technology and automation presents further challenges in data capture
- Yunex Traffic is another example of a sustainable approach being right for the environment and for cost
- Yunex Traffic has reported clear signs of manufacturing agility – be it through production or supply chain
- The central London ULEZ has seen immediate and dramatic reductions in carbon emissions. Other global cities must follow
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