A pitch towards profitability

Muffett has made substantial investments in its quality control in the last 18 months such as this Mitutoyo Crysta-Apex CMM
Muffett has made substantial investments in its quality control in the last 18 months such as this Mitutoyo Crysta-Apex CMM

As Muffett Engineering Solutions was just about to celebrate its centenary the COVID pandemic hit with a vengeance. Despite this the Tunbridge Wells-based company has navigated a profitable way forward and is investing for the future not only in plant, but just as important in people. Ed Hill reports.  

Like many engineering subcontractors, Muffett Engineering Solutions is has a lot on its plate at the moment. Supply chain issues, staffing problems due to COVID NHS track and trace apps, staff returning from furlough, delivery hold ups due to post Brexit complications, to name just a few. But although this has made an impact, the company it is still expecting to reach turnover close to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the financial year. And the company’s policy of continuous improvement means that it is still very much driven to invest not only in new equipment but also the staff that it needs to operate it.

Formerly Muffett Gears, the company has just purchased an EMAG Koepfer HLC 150 CNC fully automatic gear hobber due for delivery soon and is looking to expand its grinding capacity with a new machine featuring in-process gauging and a fully automated loading system to meet a recent increased demand in orders. 

“Last year we were forced to make changes to the business designed to make us leaner,” operations director Mark Jagelman begins. “The factory is now open eight hours a day, plus overtime, whereas previously we would work two shifts – however our output is on a par to what it was pre-COVID. Before the pandemic we turned over £6.4 million; that dropped by around a third, but this year we hope to reach £6 million and so far, we are right on target to achieve that. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that any future growth of the business will require further investment in automation so we can increase our productivity.”

A kit of parts supplied by Muffett ready for export to an Asian medical equipment customer
A kit of parts supplied by Muffett ready for export to an Asian medical equipment customer

The changes have not all been easy. There have been some redundancies and the introduction of a new ERP system has had its challenges, but Mr Jagelman believes it was the only way the company could survive and cope with the sudden downturn and now the steep increase in demand that is already evident as the world re-awakens from the pandemic.

“We are not perfect yet by any means; we do miss some of those staff and the introduction of the ERP system highlights where we still have some areas that need addressing, but you have to evolve to survive. We are in a very competitive global market and the competition is likely to be doing the same.”

The next generation

One aspect that Muffett continues to commit to is apprenticeships and the training of young engineers. The company currently has six apprentices on its books along with one trainee reflected in the fact that Mr Jagelman is a stanch advocate for workplace training. This year the company had more than 25 applicants for the two apprentice spaces available after its local colleges had matched it with the best candidates.

Mr Jagelman says: “They were the best we’ve ever had in terms of the standard of the young people applying. Many of them had studied engineering at school so they were familiar with a lathe and a mill and had experience using measuring equipment.

Apprentice Arthur Fudger in training on the shopfloor
Apprentice Arthur Fudger in training on the shopfloor

“Some had hobbies that involved an element of engineering. We had one applicant who had used a CAD system to design and build his own ride-on model steam trains, so these were candidates who already had some practical knowledge of metalworking, which of course are exactly the types of young people that we need. In fact, because of the standard of the apprentices this year we decided to take on three rather than our usual two.”

Muffett has a long history of developing and promoting its staff from training on the shopfloor to senior roles in management.

“A high proportion of the staff here at Muffett started off as apprentices, so we recognise that it gives you a good all-round foundation to start a career in engineering,” Mr Jagelman explains. That experience of the shopfloor in the office is very valuable. Our office staff who come from the shopfloor have a practical knowledge of process and process capability. However, we need youngsters of all abilities and ambitions.

“Some may eventually move on to management; others may become experts at setting up, programming and running machines; some may become designers or inspection specialists – they can all add tremendous value to our business.”

As well as its apprenticeship programme Muffett also regularly provides work experience during the summer for graduates to get experience on the shopfloor.

After 100 years in business the company has had a rebrand to reflect its present-day capabilities
After 100 years in business the company has had a rebrand to reflect its present-day capabilities

“We had one work placement who was just starting an MA in Engineering. He spent seven-weeks with us and for him it was invaluable. He picked up skills that he could only acquire by being on the shopfloor.”

What’s in a name?

So now that the third generation, family-owned company has reached the 100-year landmark, why was it felt the rebrand to Muffett Engineering Solutions was needed?

“The rebranding was really to show that although we may be 100 years-old we are still a modern and progressive business.” Mr Jagelman comments. “We are not just a gear manufacturer. The gears we produce often go into assemblies that we put together as well, or kits of parts ready for our customers to assemble. It’s is all about providing a one stop solution and adding value for our customers. That has become an increasingly important part of our business.”

So, like many businesses Muffett has had to steer its way through the turbulent times of the last 18 months but there are definite signs that there is a profitable way ahead and it is prepared for the investment both in technology and people to safeguard it.

“All things considered we are still doing well. Demand is up from some existing customers that are looking to localise the sourcing for their products so it is more resilient, and we are proving competitive enough to be considered for that business.”

The company has also invested heavily in its inspection and metrology capacity to meet the high demands of its customers in the UK, Europe and Asia, involved in sectors that include medical, aerospace, marine, automotive, oil and gas and increasingly green energy.

Gears manufactured at Muffett Engineering Solutions
Gears manufactured at Muffett Engineering Solutions

New turning machinery is also on the horizon, but as Mr Jagelman explains new plant, automation or inspection equipment can only be justified if the contract demands it.

“We have to be mindful of the market place the whole time and look for the solution for each contract. Automation is the way forward in some instances but with others it isn’t really beneficial. Where we have similar product lines, we do need to adopt it to increase throughput but investment in tooling and automation has to be cost-effective.”

With its rebrand and restructuring Muffett looks set for a bright future but like any long running business adaptation is crucial to survive.

Mr Jagelman concludes: “We want to be here in another hundred years, so you have constantly improve and keep up with modern processes and technology. But investment in skills and the wellbeing among our staff is just as important to the future of the business as the latest machinery.”

Muffet Engineering Solutions
www.muffettgears.co.uk

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