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Velden Engineering article w4
Velden Engineering article w4

Despite fully embracing Industry 4.0 technologies, doubling turnover within five years, investing more than £2 million in new equipment and recruiting 21 new employees in the past 12 months alone, chances are many people may not have even heard of Bolton-based Velden Engineering. Dave Tudor headed north to put the record straight.

Visually, driving up to Velden Engineering’s main gates and seeing the factory for the first time invokes a lasting impression of character, engineering heritage and pedigree. As a former 19th century cotton mill, the 127,457ft² site has seen its fair share of industrial activity over the years and Velden is continuing the tradition in style. This is a modern, dynamic and successful company in every respect.

Velden Engineering is a family owned business. Alex Kitchen started the company in 1973 against the somewhat challenging backdrop of Ted Heath’s industrial Britain with many companies on a three day week. Certainly not ideal conditions in which to start a business but Velden persevered, survived and ultimately thrived into the £8.3 million, 90 employee organisation it is today. Commendably, turnover has doubled in the past five years.

Whilst Alex Kitchen remains chairman of the company, his son Austin took over the day to day running of the business, future investments and overall strategy around eight years ago. Things are going well, very well: in terms of sales, 2018 was a record year for Velden. It also saw in excess of £2 million invested in new machines and equipment.

Under control

In those early days, sheet metal work and fabrication was the mainstay of the business; today Velden has expanded into one of the most comprehensive precision subcontract engineering companies in the marketplace. Its range of services spans CNC machining and turning (including large castings), laser and waterjet cutting, fabrication and welding, inspection and test, assembly and system build, grinding and surface finishing, powder coating and logistics.

The Busbar Cell at Velden

‘One stop shop’ must be one of the most overused clichés on the planet, but when used in the right context it can succinctly describe a company’s breadth of expertise, range of services offered and flexibility in just three short words. The term could have been invented to describe Velden Engineering because that’s exactly what it is.

Just about the only processes not currently managed in-house are heat treatment and plating. Clearly, Velden is a company that takes responsibility for its own destiny – preferring to keep as many processes in house for optimum control over product quality, traceability and lead-times.

Design for manufacture and reverse engineering are also particular skillsets – and if that wasn’t enough, the company has also taken its first steps into additive manufacturing through the purchase of a Markforged 3D printer. In time, Velden hopes to use additive manufacturing techniques to produce pump components that are currently cast (and consequently expensive on longer lead-times).

Setting the bar

One highly specialised area of expertise perfected by Velden is busbar manufacturing as operations manager Paul Duckworth explains: “Typically manufactured from copper or aluminium, busbars are conductive metallic sections or strips used predominantly in high current electric power distribution applications and generators, but also more and more with electric vehicles,” he says.

“Back as far as 2013, we were approached by a leading motorsport company to help develop a series of busbars for use within a new, innovative battery system for the world’s first fully electric racing cars competing in the first FIA Formula E Championship. Since then of course, the demand for electric cars has grown meteorically.

“Initially we purchased the busbar business from another company and it was pretty small scale in those days. Now, through repeat business and word of mouth, it has become a significant part of our portfolio,” he adds. “So much so in fact that recently we invested in a new automated Ehrt CNC punching, bending and parts marking cell for producing copper and aluminium busbars.

“It’s a similar story with pump systems, nozzles and ejector units. We’ve become experts in the manufacture and assembly of these items and business is booming – mainly through word of mouth and customer recommendation.”

The customer is king

Mr Duckworth believes that Velden’s unbridled flexibility and range of services offered has been instrumental in its success: “At the end of the day we’re a subcontract engineering company so our focus is going the extra mile for the customer,” he affirms.

“It’s important to be able to give the client exactly what he or she needs. Our biggest accounts may be in busbar and switchgear component manufacturing but our order book is diverse. One job could be undertaking full project work where we manage everything from start to finish, but others could just as easily be the supply of small turned parts, large machined castings, assembly or fabrication work. It’s a bit clichéd but in our book the customer really is king.”

He continues: “The bottom line is we have the necessary expertise and technology in-house to take on a wide variety of work in a number of disciplines – which is just as well because we literally don’t know what’s coming through the door next!”

Get connected

The dawning of Industry 4.0 strategies at Velden is evidenced not only by a €600,000 investment in the Ehrt punching and bending cell which is able to make automated, in-process dimensional adjustments automatically, but also by a highly visible bank of TV screens that adorn the wall at the entrance to the shopfloor area.

This ‘mission wall’ provides the entire workforce with a visible view of the company’s live KPIs including financial targets, customer quality, on-time delivery, machine OEE, energy usage and solar production.

As well as providing a live snapshot of the current energy being consumed by the entire factory at any given time, the screens also detail the status of all CNC machine tools on the shopfloor so downtime can be closely monitored and minimised. All the latest machine investments have been specified with extra sensors to provide extended data collection and condition-based monitoring.

Velden Engineering’s managing director Austin Kitchen (left) with Steve Totty, managing director of Star GB in front of the recently purchased ST38 sliding head machine

Velden was actually one of the first companies to use FactoryWiz Monitoring software for this purpose. Fundamentally, it’s an on-premise intranet solution for machine monitoring and data collection which provides software to drive large screen dashboards and automatically email reports with real-time status of manufacturing assets and processes. FactoryWiz can be viewed in the office or via mobile devices anywhere in the world.

In terms of connectivity, Velden is already providing key customer accounts with shared Cloud-based communication portals that provide real-time order status and KPIs provided by its advanced in-house developed ERP system.

A next step is already in progress – the company is one year into a three year ‘big data’ project in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme which has introduced a graduate software engineer to Velden’s team.

The goal is to fully connect all data collection activities to provide AI powered intelligence to the company, its customers and supply base.

Record breaker

By anyone’s standards, 2018 was an absolutely monumental year for Velden Engineering. Not only did it mark a doubling of turnover over a five year period; it also represented a year of investment in terms of new employees – 21 new members of staff were recruited – along with a raft of new machinery. A brand new reception area is the icing on the cake; total investments in 2018 exceeded a whopping £2 million.

From a machinery perspective, four UK companies have benefitted from Velden’s investment activities: DMG Mori, Engineering Technology Group, Star GB, and NCMT. For Velden itself, the new technology positions the company well for even greater efficiencies and productivity.

Austin Kitchen and the ‘Mission Wall’ at Velden

In more detail: three machines have been purchased from DMG Mori – two 10 pallet DMU 50 5-axis universal machining centres for Velden’s Kanban work and a CMX 800V vertical machining centre as part of an ongoing programme of replacing older machines. .

From the Engineering Technology Group, the investment was in two Nakamura machines: an AS200L milling and turning centre and a WT150 multi-tasking machine due for imminent delivery.

On the sliding head machine front, an ST38 from Star GB with bar feed can accommodate work up to 42mm diameter. Mr Duckworth believes this machine will be invaluable for producing switchgear components in a single set-up.

Last, but by no means least, is the Okuma Multus U3000 mill/turn centre purchased from UK agent NCMT which will be used mainly on oil and gas components.

Velden Engineering is certainly not a company to rest on its laurels: “Austin has plans to drive turnover to up £15 million over the next four years,” Paul Duckworth concludes.

“Based on our current enquiry levels and plans for investment, there’s absolutely no reason why that won’t become a reality, and with a sound infrastructure already in place, we’re well-placed to meet those ambitious objectives.”

Velden Engineering

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