Kennametal
Kennametal

Turned parts subcontractor appoints new MD and gains uprated aerospace approval

DMG MORI
Turned parts subcontractor appoints new MD and gains uprated aerospace approval

Precision Products (Brighton) Ltd

Lantek Sheet Metal Solutions

Turned parts subcontractor appoints new MD and gains uprated aerospace approval

SALLY THORLEY, who has been employed by Precision Products  for nearly 30 years, has taken over the position of Managing Director from Brian Owen, who remains on the board of directors as Chairman. Located in Rustington, West Sussex, the company is one of the leading subcontract manufacturers of precision turned parts in the south of England. 

Further senior appointments are Ian Jenkins, who has moved across from production to become Commercial Manager; and Jason Bullen, who joined the company at the start of 2018 as Production Manager.

In other news, the firm is one of the first contract machinists in the UK to be accredited to AS9100 Rev D, the latest revision of the quality management system standard for the aviation, space, and defence industries. Precision Products is a long-established, second-tier supplier to the aerospace sector, which accounts for around 20 per cent of the subcontractor's turnover. 

On this success, Mr Owen commented, "The parts we make for aircraft tend to be relatively simple but are safety-critical and have to be of extremely high quality, so the aerospace supply chain right up to the primes want to know that we have the right quality procedures in place."

The end of 2017 marked 18 months since Precision Products consolidated its business into the Rustington factory and dispensed with a nearby satellite unit in Hollingbury. In so doing, the subcontractor went exclusively CNC, phasing out the use of cam-controlled multi-spindle turning machines and coil-fed lathes. 

Production is now carried out exclusively on 22 Citizen and Miyano CNC automatic lathes for sliding- and fixed-head turn-milling respectively, the latter having capacities up to 64 mm diameter. They are supported by a hermetically sealed, ultrasonic, solvent cleaning system, an aqueous cleaning station and high precision inspection equipment, as well as a tool vending solution supplied and managed by Turner Tools, which is based in the South East.

Flexible staffing arrangements

Mrs Thorley commented, “By concentrating production in Rustington, we have more staff in one place so are able to work more flexibly. Our setters have become multi-skilled, allowing them to move freely between machines on the shop floor, even from fixed- to sliding-head lathes, increasing production efficiency. 

"It has streamlined our operation, reduced overheads and helps us keep down the prices we charge, making us more competitive. As a result, we have been able to increase the number of long-term partner relationships we have with customers, leading to stable contracts that benefit both them and us.

"We now operate continuously from 5.00 am on Monday to noon on Friday. Without the previous gaps between day and night shifts, it increased our machining capacity by 15 per cent almost overnight. With 32 employees, nearly the same number as we had before our rationalisation programme, we increased turnover by 14 per cent in 2017 compared with the previous year."

She advised that the factory is manned continuously, as although lights-out running of bar-fed lathes is feasible for long runs of brass parts, it is not appropriate for producing smaller volumes of stainless steel components, which account for around half of the subcontractor’s output. Other materials regularly processed include aluminium, brass, steels, titanium and nickel alloys.

Recruitment and training

Precision Products recognises the importance of recruiting good people and retaining them. 70 per cent of employees have worked for the company for 10 years or more, while half can claim over 20 years' service. One current staff member, Gary Chatfield in the inspection department, has been with the company for 39 years.

Mrs Thorley pointed out that 2017 was a year for focusing investment on staff and related technology, such as face recognition and the People HR smart phone app, as well as on environmental issues. 

All staff members have been empowered to take responsibility for their working environment whilst continuously improving productivity and minimising waste, be it on the shop floor or in the office, and undergo continuous training at Level 2 in NVQ Business Improvement Techniques in partnership with training providers, Qualitrain.

Trainer / assessor Darren Burton commented, "I can honestly say I have never known quite such an enthusiastic team as we have here at Precision Products. The Business Improvement Techniques programme is designed to challenge the way we think, plan and work in order to improve quality, cost and delivery. It can be uncomfortable for people to change the way they approach their daily tasks, especially after many years, but this group has been remarkable for its willingness to engage with the training. They are a real pleasure to work with.”

Apprenticeships are another area of emphasis at Precision Products, with at least one being taken on every year. 50-year-old Mark Walker is approaching the end of the second year of his foundation course in Engineering on day-release to Northbrook College, Worthing. Meanwhile, 19-year-old student Bradley Gardner, who already holds academic qualifications, has started to gain practical experience on the shop floor at Rustington. 

Recent environmental initiatives include replacing conventional lighting with LEDs throughout the company, which will save nearly 4.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. A new, more efficient compressor, saving an additional 12.25 tonnes of CO2, has been installed from which heat is recycled to warm one end of the factory during the winter. Nearly everything is in place for ISO 14001 environmental management accreditation, which the firm hopes to achieve shortly.

UK competitiveness

Mr Owen commented, “It was undeniably quiet for the month leading up to the Brexit vote and immediately afterwards, but the level of business returned quickly and has remained high, partly through increased exports due to the relative weakness of the pound, although it has strengthened somewhat recently.

"The other side of the coin is that machine tools from Japan, Germany and elsewhere are more expensive to buy in the UK and the price of raw materials has risen, but the ability to win new contracts is far more important. Nobody will buy production equipment at all, whatever the price, if there is no work to put on it.”

New business won by Precision Products includes machining 5,000 sets of a family of 15 stainless steel components plus two plastic variants for a new design of hot water dispenser. Another new contract is turn-milling components from brass bar that go into high-end light switches used in listed buildings, such as stately homes and museums. The work was previously fulfilled in China using die castings, but the polished finish was not good enough. The parts are now produced for a similar price and to the required standard in Rustington, without the lead-time associated with supply from the Far East.

Ian Jenkins added, "British OEMs should look at the growing trend to reshore contract machining and ask UK subcontractors to quote when production volumes rise to levels that often trigger turning to low-wage countries. 

"They may well find domestic suppliers competitive on price, especially when taking into account additional handling and administration as well as the higher transportation fees, which appear on a different balance sheet in some companies."

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