Your customers determine what innovation means

Posted on 12 Mar 2018 by Jonny Williamson

UK electronic supplier RS Components is worldwide one of the biggest companies of its kind. Managing director Michael England explains why grasping the manufacturers’ needs is most crucial for an agile and viable business strategy.

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UK-based company, RS Components is a trading brand of Electrocomponents with operations in 32 countries offering around 500,000 products through the internet, catalogues and at trade counters.

The company delivers to more than 1 million customers, shipping over 44,000 parcels every day.

The products, sourced from 2,500 leading suppliers, include: semiconductors, interconnect, passives and electromechanical, automation and control, electrical, test and measurement, tools and consumables.

RS Components turnover approaches £1.86bn; the company is operating globally across the Americas, EMEA and APAC, and it supplies a broad range of products for engineers and manufacturers, spanning from electronics, through to automation, to mechanical to tools maintenance.

The understanding of innovative markets

RS Component’s mission is, according to managing director Michael England, to bring in the latest products of innovation to market for customers all over the world.

England said, for an 80-year old company like RS Components, innovation had always been at the core of the business, even when it started in 1937 as a supplier of radio parts to the then burgeoning radio market.

England told The Manufacturer: “We started to deliver and supply radio spares for customers and over the years the business has grown a product range of over 500.000 items with over 2,500 suppliers.

“When it comes to display a good grasp of what innovation is, we always depend on our clients. Their understanding of innovation is our benchmark since we look closely at what products they bring to the market and in which industry segment.”

Mechatronics drive product innovation

England underlined, that RS Components is equally looking for new product innovations, such as novel 3D printing, IoT and products as the result of the increasing power of mechatronics; the coming together of electronics and mechanics.

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Owing to the extensive prospects coming along with modern mechatronics, so England, many products and devices are becoming ever more productive, which affects all manufacturing sectors.

England made clear: “New technologies have not only enabled products to self-diagnose failures, but as well created a different working environment and the option for manufacturers to open up new energy resources.”

It is an open secret, when it comes to the pros and cons of 3D printing for manufacturers, that additive manufacturing techniques are still tinged with high costs. But England said, the current reality in the factories breaks this trend.

RS’ managing director explained: “An increasing number of customers are adapting 3D printing; most notably in designing offices and when it is about creating prototypes. More and more automotive and aerospace manufacturers are adopting 3D printing technologies large-scale.”

Companies not only create prototypes with 3D printers, they as well do the actual manufacturing of the parts with the help of additive manufacturing. Formerly, this second finishing step had mainly been outsourced, England said.

This severe industrial disruption entails ‘great opportunities’ for RS Components in terms of growing markets, England explained. “We provide many manufacturing sectors with 3D printing equipment, and we see the adoption of this technology rising.”

The customer determines what innovation is

England said: “Regarding the disruption of business models, the world is changing at pace. And the forces of the digital area we are living in are increasing that speed of change significantly.

“As an organisation, we must adapt to new innovations, be that regarding digital innovation, our interaction with customers, or the move to smart factories and smart buildings.

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“Our customers determine what innovation is. When we as a business don’t reorient to them, we automatically become irrelevant.

“As global business, we are in a unique position. We have got a competitor advantage with stock resources based in the US, in APAC and in Europe. And we always sight the speed of change at its source.

“When you go to China and spend some time looking at the adoption of technologies and robotics, you can get an idea of what the business will look like in the next five to 10 years’ time.

“Looking to Far East from a business point of view can reveal advanced business models of the future. And this gives us the opportunity to always rethink our strategy.

“In the past we used to have five-year business strategies, but this way of thinking is becoming less and less relevant. It is important to become agile to change all the time.”