Editor’s comment for November 2018

Dave Tudor
Dave Tudor

Our cover story this month is all about Heller Machine Tools – and more specifically its manufacturing plant in Redditch.

It always warms the cockles of my heart when a global manufacturing company put its faith in the UK and sets up shop here. Sadly it’s as rare as hen’s teeth these days – a far cry from a bygone age when we made machine tools in our sleep.

Mazak and Heller however have proven that with a little faith from their respective parent companies in Japan and Germany, manufacturing can thrive in the UK. Mazak’s facility in Worcester is the company’s European headquarters and it’s a similar story at Heller. The Redditch site was set up in 1995 and has evolved into a ‘Centre of Excellence for Serial Assembly’.

Since I last visited Heller around three years ago, a new flowline has been installed at Redditch – part of a £2 million investment programme. Seeing it up close and personal made me really appreciate just how finally balanced flowline manufacturing is. To make it work you need the entire supply chain and workforce to buy into the concept. There are 13 individual stations on the line which potentially could have 13 machines – at various stages of build – on each. The whole thing relies on uninterrupted flow – the machine on station 1 can’t move to station 2 until the machine there moves to station 3. You get the picture.

We’ve all seen these high-speed flowlines at car manufacturers where vehicles are whizzing off the line at a rate of knots. Well in principle, it’s a similar concept at Heller. A late delivery of a part from a supplier or a defective component that has slipped under the radar and made it onto the line can have catastrophic effects. I have tried very hard not to mention Brexit in this comment but I’ve failed – as an importer and exporter of parts and finished machines, border and customs delays are an unthinkable prospect for Heller. We won’t go there.

It’s commendable that these challenging manufacturing strategies have been embraced by all at Heller and things are working well. By anyone’s standards this is a pretty big culture change and requires input from the whole company and suppliers alike. Communication is key – regular daily production meetings are held at 9am every morning on the shopfloor to iron out any potential issues and education programmes have taken place with key suppliers.

Heller Redditch is a shining example of what can be achieved in the UK through belief, investment and innovative thinking. Check out the article on page 24 of November’s issue.

Dave Tudor Editorial Director


PES Media

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