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Automotive collaboration puts suppliers on road to success

Working with nearby companies would have been unheard of 20 years ago, but a partnership of West Midlands suppliers have decided that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ after landing an £8 million contract.

The Midlands Assembly Network (MAN), which comprises nine car component manufacturers from across the region, has used support and funding from the Birmingham Chamber and European Regional Development Fund-backed Accelerate initiative to successfully develop a proactive ‘super group’ capable of winning major orders from home and abroad.

By offering a complete package – from tooling and design through to castings and injection mouldings – MAN has been able to compete with international rivals on cost – something that would have impossible on an individual basis.

Graham Robinson, chairman and also managing director of Barkley Plastics in Birmingham, said: “The initial idea was to create a network that could work collaboratively to win an assembly project from a major OEM, with the idea being that each member would bring a different skill set to the table.

“This was the foundation for the start of the group, but we since have diversified our approach to aggressively look at securing projects from both car makers and global tier one suppliers.”

He continued: “This has worked extremely well and we have already completed £8 million of orders last year, creating 50 collective new jobs in the process. Orders worth £3.5 million will also be completed within six months.”

The nine companies are: Barkley Plastics (injection mouldings/assembly/tool making), FW Cables (cable harnesses), Brandauer (precision pressings), Westley Engineering (pressings/tooling/machining), Alucast (aluminium castings and machining), Advanced Chemical Etching (chemical etching/formed prototypes),Wrekin Circuits (printed circuit Boards), PP Electrical Systems (electrical/electronic assemblies and systems) and Barton Cold-Form (cold forgings), make up the Midlands Assembly Network.

Each company has made a direct commitment to the project and brings a different manufacturing capability to the mix, together with an enhanced contacts network.

Together the group has shared best practice, worked on diversification projects and adopted a more aggressive approach to sales and marketing, in order to win new business.

Pete West, project manager at Accelerate, said: “Historically, SMEs in the West Midlands have neglected marketing activity mainly due to a reliance on the existing customer base and lack of expertise, cash, time and resources. This is no longer an option if you want to compete internationally, especially when you consider the unfair playing field many of our firms have to contend with.

“The companies that formed MAN took an ambitious and calculated risk and it has paid off for them. They recognised at an early stage that they needed to find a new competitive edge and working together was one way of achieving this.”

He added that what was really pleasing about the project was the passion each group brought to the partnership. A MAN delegation has just returned from a successful trip to the Stuttgart Components EXPO event.

Mr Robinson said that whilst delighted at the progress to date, there was still work to be done.

“You have to keep evolving and we are no different. I think there are areas we could strengthen and we would be interested in hearing from companies involved in rubber extrusions, metal finishing, miniature turned parts and electronic assembly. A high quality testing house wouldn’t go amiss either I suppose,” he said.

Now in its twelfth year of operation, Accelerate assisted more than 1,500 companies last year in implementing lean manufacturing, boosting sales, launching new products and improving quality, cost and performance. It also gave component manufacturers from across the West Midlands access to the latest technologies, including alternative fuels and telematics.

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