The benefit of efficiency

A £3.5 million investment in premises and new machinery, the acquisition of Padiham Glass, and a celebration of 40 years in business – the statistics emerging from Emplas are starting to add up. Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited the directors of both companies to learn more about what drives the businesses forward.

Emplas’s acquisition of Padiham Glass in May took many people by surprise, but the move is wholly consistent with the fabricator’s recent period or expansion and motivations for growth.

“Up to 90% of what we sell is glazed,” Emplas’s managing director Ryan Johnson said, “so glass is our biggest purchase after profile. Therefore, buying Padiham Glass was to secure the glass supply to benefit our customers.”

Ryan would not be drawn on the specific reasons for leaving Emplas’s previous IGU supplier, but he did say that by buying Padiham Glass, the company had reduced an element of risk and was effectively no longer playing the market whenever it bought glass units.

“By buying Padiham Glass we can produce a better quality glazed product than what we were receiving from our previous supplier,” Ryan said.

Furthermore, the benefits cut both ways; Emplas buys around 3,000 glass units a week from Padiham, which equates to about a third of what the company produces, thus offering an element of security.

“In practice, Emplas is a customer like all our other customers,” Wes Clarkson, Padiham Glass’s sales director, said. “And we haven’t lost any of our other fabricator customers since the acquisition.”

Part of this is down to the regional nature of both businesses – Padiham’s main presence is in the north of England, while Emplas’s reach tends to stop at Birmingham.

Arguably, what limits Emplas’s potentially rapid expansion is its ability to keep its eye squarely on the ball, which is its desire to consistently produce excellent products. And this mentality was behind the acquisition of Padiham.

There was nothing stopping Emplas from establishing its own glass shop on its Wellingborough site, but it was felt that the quality of the product remained the most important condition, and the company (wisely) felt that it could take too long to get up to speed. Therefore, acquisition was the best way forward.

When asked if the Padiham model could be replicated so that Emplas could expand other areas of the business, Ryan suggested that this could be the case.

“Future acquisitions would have to benefit our customers,” he said. “For example, it would have to give us greater capacity.”

Ryan explained that Emplas currently doesn’t offer aluminium trade windows, which is something that may need to be considered.

“We couldn’t run an aluminium line through [the Wellingborough site] because we haven’t got the space, so we would have to consider acquiring an aluminium trade window fabricator or set up a new fabrication unit,” he said.

Deputy managing director Kush Patel pointed out that PVCU fabricators could end up complicating their business models by running aluminium – turning their attention to a high value line rather than the high-volume lines that they are used to.

Interestingly, Ryan’s comments about not having the space don’t appear to tally with the recent £3.5 million investment in the factory.

However, the expansion was designed to offer manufacturing efficiencies rather than simply more space to make more things.

The new factory extension added around a third again to its manufacturing facility and houses new lines, loading bays and offices. Emplas also added a second Schirmer machining and cutting centre, multiple Rotox welders and saws, which brought its weekly capacity up to 2,500 frames on a single shift. It also invested in a Graf SLS Seamless Sill Welder.

“The investment we have made in the last year and into this year puts us in a very good place in that it’s allowed us to improve our product quality and service to our customers, while delivering additional capacity in production,” Ryan said.

Predominantly a Profile 22 fabricator, Emplas operates two fully automated window lines. Each starts with a Schirmer machining and cutting centre, which uses advanced profile scanning technology to introduce ultra-precision accuracy to positioning of cuts and routs to within 0.3mm.

In practice, Emplas can convert a 6m bar length into a fully prepped frame within seconds, massively increasing production capacity, reducing manufacturing times, and allowing it to deliver a more flexible service to its customers.

“A second Schirmer gives us capacity but most importantly allows us to continue to improve product quality,” Kush said. “It gives us incredible precision in routing and cutting, which improves welds and the accuracy of fixings and which ultimately allows us to deliver a better product to our customers.

“They even add the pip holes so that when hardware is added it’s a precision fit. It’s not left to interpretation or measurement by an operative. Everything is set out at the start of the manufacturing process with exacting accuracy.

“The other advantage is that the investment that we have made means that we have two lines that mirror each other. This means if we do need to carry out maintenance production doesn’t stop, we simply bring in additional shifts, which guarantees our ability to fulfil customer orders.”

Emplas also uses bar-codes to track windows through the factory; there are 75 scan points that allow managers to keep a close eye on progress and quality.

“Under-investment in their product and manufacturing capabilities hit a number of big fabricators last year, while there has also been consolidation and acquisition,” Ryan said.

“What has been important for us is that we continued to invest in our service and product offer throughout the downturn and that means two things: we have been able to introduce a number of manufacturing efficiencies, which have allowed us to keep our costs down, pass on those efficiencies to our customers and continually improve our product and service offer; and we have hit a point where we have critical scale, while remaining a family-owned business.

“That scale gives us purchasing power, allows us to manage our relationships with our suppliers effectively and we can pass those economies onto our customers.”