Creating competitive advantages and cooperation

Creating competitive advantages and cooperation
Creating competitive advantages and cooperation

Ed Hill hears how the cutting and profiling specialist P.P. Group is bringing its different divisions together to offer a better service to customers.

Since 1976 the P.P. Group of companies has been supplying customers with expertise in sheet metal and tube profiling and processing. From its three sites in Manchester, Salford and St Helens it supplies materials to a wide range of industries.
The company employs more than 80 staff in its four divisions: P.P. Profiles, which processes carbon steels; P.P. Plasma, the stainless, aluminium and special metals division; P.P. Protube, 3D tubular products and box sections; and P.P. Processing which provides added manufacturing services to customers.

Peter McCabe group managing director comments: “One site specialises in the processing of stainless steel, nickel alloys, aluminium, brass copper and bronze. The other specialises in the processing of carbon steels, offshore grades, wear resistant steels and high yield grades of steel. Then we have our manufacturing site which handles all our added value work such as press braking, rolling, weld prepping, drilling and punching.”

Recently the company has undergone a promotion exercise to reach out to customers who may not be fully aware of all its capabilities.

“We felt that as a group we were not operating as efficiently as we could,” Mr McCabe continues. “There have been opportunities we have missed with our customers because the full scope of what we can provide was not apparent to them from the P.P. Group as a whole. The divisions were generally seen as smaller individual companies that acted independently of each other.”

Getting together

The latest marketing approach has meant launching a new website and rebranding but more importantly more cooperation across the group.

“We want to improve the cross selling that goes on within the organisation and make sure companies on our database are fully aware of all we have to offer. To ensure there are synergies across the group we are applying the same rules and rewards for our staff. The new ethos is that they have a responsibility to work for the group as a whole not just their individual divisions and customers are already beginning to pick up on the wider capabilities that we have available.”

Those capabilities include laser, plasma, flame, waterjet, bevel cutting, saw cutting, surface grinding, weld prepping, heat treatment, rolling, press braking and polishing. The group also offers CAD services to customers.

Mr McCabe explains: “Our CAD engineers are fully trained in both 2D and 3D software so we can give a customer a summary of parts to make fabrications. This includes taking 3D models from the customer that we can break down into the component parts for them. “Sheet metal cutting is rarely straightforward. There is often the requirement to provide added elements such as etching, stitch cutting, drilling, weld preparation or heat treatment. By adding these added value services we can remove hours of manufacturing for the UK fabricators we work with, helping them to be more competitive.”

Autonomated analysis

The group has worked for many years developing its own in-house autonomated software (sometimes described as ‘automation with a human touch') to manage its supply, manufacturing, accounts and admin operations into one.

“This software system is something we have complete control over and it has brought us big dividends. I believe it is our USP. There are a lot of things that could go wrong that we avoid because we have autonomated solutions in the software which we continually improve. It gives us autonomated information and reports and communicates with our CAD system and runs across the whole group.”

With so many different cutting and manufacturing processes available how does the P.P. Group work with its customers?
“Because we have the whole range of cutting services available across both carbon and stainless steels the focus is on doing what is right for the customer at any time,” Mr McCabe advises. “Our main ethos is to make sure we get maximum yield from materials regardless of what the material specification is. That may mean being able to get 12 cuts from a sheet when the customer thinks they can only get ten.

“We also have to focus on cost versus quality. For example with an aerospace part we might have to factor in what impact the Heat Affected Zone with laser cutting might have on a job. If it is critical then we may point the customer towards waterjet cutting, but if it's not critical then we may well recommend laser cutting because it is commercially a better option for them.

“Customers often have different requirements for different sectors. We will always answer consistently depending on what sector the material is meant for in terms of tolerances, heat affected zone, plate sizes and material gains. Everything is taken into consideration.”

The group holds quality certifications including: ISO 9001, ISO 14001, BS EN 1090, OHSAS 18001 and AS 9100 Rev C.

Making a show

It is also exhibiting at the SPE Offshore Europe exhibition in Aberdeen in September but this time with more emphasis on the group as a whole: “This is part of raising the awareness of the P.P. brand,” Mr McCabe says. “We have exhibited in the past mainly just as P.P. Plasma but this will be the first time focusing on what the whole group can offer. We also intend to do other shows in sectors such and rail and nuclear.” A company may be able to invest in automation to create more efficiency but ultimately Mr McCabe acknowledges that the group's most important asset is its staff.

“A company is its people. We have invested a lot in training over the years and some of our staff have been with us since leaving school. Employment continuity is an absolute key to our success. We have always been people focused but we have not had the group ethos before and that is going to be part of the P.P. culture going forward.”

Mr McCabe believes the group's success is based on its ability to supply a broad range of sectors but it cannot be complacent if it wants to compete globally.

“We managed to avoid serious damage to the company during the recession in 2008-9 because our approach has always been to keep ourselves spread across as many sectors as we can – but companies also have to be able to adapt and accept change. If we don't embrace the new technology that is available and become better at the more technical aspects of manufacturing we will suffer in the longer term because we can't compete with the likes of Eastern Europe and China commercially if we don't.

“Companies can easily get pigeonholed as specialists but customers don't just want a profiling or cutting service – they want more and we can offer that as a group,” he concludes.

“We can compete through the skills and technology we have to offer. As long as we maintain our culture of autonomation being at the heart of what we do it will stand us in good stead to move up the supply chain and be the preferred partner in all manufacturing sectors.”

P.P. Group

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