Achieving global manufacturing competitiveness in the UK
Based near Wotton-under-Edge in rural Gloucestershire, Renishaw employs more than 1,300 staff in the UK. The company is one of the UK?s leading exporters, with 93% of Group turnover secured overseas.
UK manufacturers face challenges from companies in developing nations, who have invested in new technology, and whose labour costs are significantly lower. Renishaw is meeting this challenge head-on in its state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in Gloucestershire, England, where it makes its range of world-leading dimensional measuring equipment. Furthermore, it is helping other UK manufacturers to boost their productivity to the levels needed to compete in global markets.
Throughout its 32-year history, Renishaw has pursued a simple and effective business strategy based on innovation. The company had the initial good fortune to pioneer a new market sector ? touch-trigger probing on coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) ? and its first products were unique. This allowed Renishaw to charge what they were worth to customers, not merely a small mark-up on what they cost to produce. These healthy margins got the company off to a good start, yielding the profits needed to expand sales, marketing and manufacturing facilities to meet growing demand and, importantly, to re-invest in R&D to deliver further innovations.
Indeed, the key to Renishaw?s commercial success has been a sustained investment in research and product development, which has provided a stream of innovations. Each successful product provides a flow of margins that funds the development of future products and processes.
Renishaw has applied innovation within its core markets ? probing on CMMs and machine tools ? to continually regenerate its products to meet the changing demands of its manufacturing customers. As each new generation of products replaces the last, providing higher performance and productivity, Renishaw benefits from existing and new customers seeking to further improve their manufacturing processes.
The most recent example of this approach is the introduction of a revolutionary 5-axis measurement technology for CMMs called Renscan5?, which enables manufacturers to measure parts more quickly and with greater accuracy than ever before. Firms in the automotive, aerospace and precision engineering sectors will see five to tenfold improvements in throughput compared with current inspection methods.
Renscan5? illustrates Renishaw?s long-term innovation strategy perfectly. Ten years ago, Renishaw realised that a radical approach was needed to break through the dynamic performance limits of measuring machines. The company launched a development programme combining innovative mechanical, optical, electronics and software engineering disciplines, involving up to 100 staff at three sites in the UK.
After 10 years of sustained investment ? Renishaw regularly invests 15-20% of its gross revenues on research, development and engineering ? a new range of patented products is now set to carry this part of the business forward in the coming years.
Profits from innovative products have also funded the company?s expansion into new markets, enabling a long-term perspective to be taken. A good example of this is Renishaw?s encoder product line, which took more than five years to develop into a profitable business, but which is now a major contributor to current turnover and profit growth.
Building a sustainable, profitable manufacturing business in the UK demands the use of innovative methods that maximise productivity, thus neutralising the low cost labour advantage of developing world competitors. This means investing in modern, automated production technology, getting the maximum output from these machines, minimising unskilled labour content, and minimising quality costs.
Renishaw is unusual in that it manufactures as many of the components of its products as possible in-house. Whilst many firms see manufacturing as a commodity process to be outsourced or moved off-shore, Renishaw sees manufacturing as a core competence and process innovation as a vital element of its business strategy. To achieve this, the company invests substantially in the skills of its engineering staff, training them to develop robust, automated and productive processes.
Renishaw?s UK-based machine shop, featuring high levels of
automation and productivity
This strategy requires regular investment in capital equipment and ongoing development of new machining processes, which ensures that costs are kept on a downward path and that Renishaw is in full control of its quality. Over the years, the company has developed a state-of-the-art machining facility, using its own products to control the production processes with a high degree of automation. Renishaw probing systems are fitted to each CNC machine tool to provide immediate, accurate feedback to produce precision parts to specification, without requiring the intervention of machine operators.
With one operator responsible for four CNC machines, the labour component of the total production costs is kept low. Meanwhile, the company reaps the many benefits of having product designers closely associated with the manufacturing processes that serve them.
A major element of Renishaw?s business involves assisting other UK manufacturers in raising their competitiveness through improved productivity. This requires that they get more output from their machines and their staff, keeping unit costs on the downward path that is required. Renishaw?s dimensional process control technology can help to minimise waste and variation in three main areas:
When these three factors are considered in combination, the full productive potential of many processes is often two or more times what is presently being achieved, often with a relatively modest investment required and a rapid payback. What?s more, lower process variation often yields savings in later assembly processes where parts are brought together.
The Nissan engine plant in Sunderland is demonstrating how it is possible to significantly reduce costs to compete against manufacturers based in emerging lower-cost economies. The introduction of Renishaw probes onto just four older CNC lathes has led to savings of £250,000, and allowed the extraordinary achievement of manufacturing almost two million camshafts without a single scrapped part. Reduced variation in this process has eliminated tolerance stack-up problems that Nissan used to face later in the engine assembly process. This remarkable return stemmed from an investment of just £20,000.
Renishaw has recently introduced a manufacturing process improvement service for UK companies, providing training and advice on how best to apply the company?s technology and techniques intelligently throughout their processes. Renishaw?s experts identify and address sources of waste and variation, and show how layers of process control can be built on top of one another to yield processes that are automated, efficient and ?right first time?.
These layers include:
Companies of all sizes are now using this service to provide the process innovation they need to succeed in manufacturing in the UK.