Strength in numbers

Uploaded 10 Nov @ 10:20am

With three core business activities focused on CNC Precision Machining, Additive Manufacturing and Advanced Materials, the often over used description of a ‘one stop solution’ really can be applied to the Progressive Technology Group. We speak to Rob West, Managing Director of the advanced materials division, about recent challenges and find out how this forward-thinking engineering company has faced them.
The impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic has been, and currently remains, far reaching and devasting to the friends and families of those that have lost loved ones. Speaking at Progressive Technology’s extensive facilities in Newbury, Rob West recalls: “We took the decision back in March 2020 to align ourselves with the Government guidelines. It was helpful that we could take advantage of the furlough scheme that allowed us to support our staff. All of them understood that we needed to suspend business, as most of our customers had taken a similar decision, and the Government helped us through that period.
“We remained in this locked-down business state until we could see the ‘green shoots’ coming from our customers, and witnessed other companies opening back up. I remained throughout the whole period manufacturing parts we were contracted to make. In May 2020, we started seeing some automotive prototype work which put demands on us. As that work began to come in, I started to bring my employees back from furlough. As soon as we were able to, we brought more staff back into the workplace. Throughout the month we were getting busier, so each week someone else would be returning to the workplace.”
In June, the divisions main customer base, made up from Formula 1 and motorsports teams, started operating again and very quickly the work ramped up. With the teams allowed to race once more, the demands on the Advanced Materials division began to grow. Although by early July most of his staff were back, Rob West says the workload was different as it ebbed and flowed. While it was not the consistent demand that it had been prior to the lockdown, the requirements were still there.
With the delayed development of the race cars due to lockdown there may have been some catching up to do by the teams, and Rob West points to another factor he believes has built up this demand. “Because the F1 teams have been in Europe, they have had fewer ‘fly aways’ to the usual far off race circuits. This means that the teams can get parts to the cars more quickly, so they can keep development pushing right the way to the end of the year, when a few meetings at the long-haul tracks are planned. So, we believe, the extended European season has been good for us.
“And we were busier in August and September than we would have usually been because racing continued during these months. Usually you would have an F1 shutdown where no one is permitted to work on the cars, and that is often a quiet spell for us. We had the different challenge of having to plan with the staff when they were able to take their holidays, which historically they book to suit our workload, and still run the business through it.”
Although Rob West continued to work through the lockdown he had the usual business worries about the return of any business activity. He says: “I don’t think anyone knew what it was going to be like coming out of the lockdown; were customers going to come back, you hope they do, but no one knew what was really going to happen, or if the volume of work there was going to be as it was before. Would we be able to run the business at the same level as it was before? We just didn’t know. Fortunately, they did come back. We were waiting for when the Formula One racing calendar would start. As we support F1 teams in their activities; no racing means no activity. We were thankful when racing started and even more grateful that all of our customers came back to us. So far, we have seen work from every customer we had prior to the lockdown. And, we have even picked up new customers since returning
to full operation, so we are working with some new people. All things considered
we feel that we have come out of it in a good position.”
The Advanced Materials division is now back up to full strength in terms of experienced staff, however improvements have been made with a full skill set of people on the night shift to mirror the day shift activities.
Rob West explains: “We have levelled up the people across the shifts, and that gives the ability now to react quicker and be stronger throughout the whole 24 hour period. Production does not stop now, in any discipline, and that has been beneficial as we are able to turn parts around even quicker.
“Previously a part may have been machined on nights, but it may not be hand finished until the morning and may not have been painted until midday. It then needs to be Inspected after that, so the customer may not be able to pick it up until six o’clock at night. So, we have gained 12 hours on the process. If we apply that daily, we’re gaining a lot by being able to process parts through the night. Now, an order could arrive at 5pm and the customer could be collecting it at 8am the next day; finished and ready for use.”
The only skill set not duplicated on the night shift is programming. That is carried out during the day. “It’s the physical asset or part you need to move through the night, which is obviously the machine tools or anything that comes off the sub process afterwards. That’s where we gain an advantage, as long as the machines are moving. Our team may be programming this morning for something that is not going to be started until a few days later; so the jobs are waiting for the machine really. We always program upstream unless an urgent job comes in,” Rob West concludes for part one.

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