Motivational time has united manufacturing industry
Edward James, managing director, Citizen Machinery UK Ltd
In the opinion of Citizen Machinery UK’s managing director Edward James, the Covid-19 pandemic has united the whole of the manufacturing sector to an extent never seen before in terms of the levels of selfless application by huge numbers of people to boost production of much-needed medical equipment. In this article he describes how the company he runs, a turning solution provider, is contributing in the battle to deliver more ventilators to the front line in hospitals:
Citizen became involved early on when it was contacted by the UK government’s consortium for ventilator production, which became known as Ventilator Challenge UK. The committee included representatives from the AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) and Renishaw, who identified Citizen as the largest supplier of bar automatics in the UK and Ireland. This type of machine tool, especially the sliding-head variety with turn-milling capability, is critical to the rapid, efficient manufacture of components in very high volumes for making the extra ventilators needed by the NHS, 30,000 being the current target.
Accordingly, Citizen was given critical supplier status for the medical as well as the aerospace and defence sectors, although priority is being given to medical applications and is the only one being serviced at the moment.
At the outset, the government was considering building a factory to make ventilators parts and assemble them. However, we and others advising them suggested that the best route would be to enlist the help of the existing pool of first-class manufacturers and their supply chains already using our lathes and production equipment from other leading machine tool suppliers.
I gave them a list of about 50 companies that use Citizen turning centres, choosing firms that operate sufficient numbers of machines, hold ISO accreditation and have the right level of expertise and metrology capability. We knew many of them already make ventilator parts as well as similar types of medical and non-medical parts out of both normal materials and special alloys.
We had told all of our customers via social media that Citizen Machinery UK was still open for business and continuing to operate under government guidelines to support customers and prioritise any request for help in producing medical components.
Nearly all of the recommended contacts were approached by multinational firms, including Rolls-Royce, GKN and BAe, appointed by Ventilator Challenge UK to oversee supply chain management from purchasing through to ventilator assembly. The manufacturers were asked to change over their production to machining medical components and they immediately agreed to do so. As many of the firms recognised that additional capacity would be needed, it triggered multiple orders for new Citizen bar automatics from several companies and from additional manufacturers that became involved in the initiative through word-of-mouth recommendation.
In just over three weeks to mid-April 2020, 17 machines were prepared and delivered from stock, all of which are devoted to the production of medical parts. Transport is provided by Citizen’s dedicated team, J Parrish & Son, and for the rest of April sliding-head lathe deliveries are running at one per day. Extraordinarily, each is commissioned and operating on a customer’s shop floor in approximately 36 hours from receipt of the order, such is the urgency. Overlaid on this already hectic workload is a significant amount of re-purposing of existing turn-mill centres in the field to manufacture medical equipment.
There are examples of Citizen lathes having been reconfigured for making metal parts that are normally produced from stampings, forgings and castings. By far the largest proportion of resetting, however, has involved writing programs and providing tooling packages for turn-milling large quantities of plastic components from bar that are normally injection moulded, such as tubing connectors for ventilators. Often they are supplied from overseas, including China, but deliveries may have either stopped or the numbers available are insufficient.
The six-week lead-time to produce a new injection mould tool is too long; the parts are needed much faster than that. Our multi-axis sliding-head bar autos are ideal for turning such components at both ends and milling and drilling them in the same cycle so they come off complete, without the need for special fixturing and with minimal material wastage.
It needs a lot of work to identify parts that can be re-engineered in this way and then re-purpose a lathe to make them. A significant amount of CAD effort is required, plus complex CAM programming and post-processing.
Our applications department has been doing a lot of this in-house and at our customers’ factories, outsourcing what it cannot handle. One of our applications engineers has been working pro bono at a customer’s site for three weeks to help out with re-engineering medical components due to staff shortage.”
There are several reasons for Citizen fortunately finding itself in a good position to ship such a large number of lathes at short notice. One was the opening last year of a new turning centre of excellence in Brierley Hill with a showroom containing many demonstration machines. These, together with those on show at the Bushey headquarters, are available on short delivery.
The company in any case has a policy of supplying its machines and accessories from UK stock and more were available than usual, as extra had been brought in due to the possibility of a hard Brexit. Additional machines were in the UK, including some of the very latest models, ready to be shown at the now-postponed MACH exhibition.
Moreover, a bull run of sales had led to a backorder book of about eight weeks, with turning centres that were nearly ready for delivery able to be re-purposed at short notice and diverted urgently to medical component manufacturers. The original machine packages are being replaced from stock.
Naturally, these activities are only possible with healthy Citizen staff to implement them. Seeing the speed with which Covid-19 was spreading, we had pre-empted government advice by putting on hold in February all overseas travel, isolating the Bushey and Brierley Hill centres to avoid movement between them, and instigating working from home where feasible. The result is that of the 56 members of staff, 20 are furloughed but the other 36 are able to work, including all of the applications engineers, half of the service staff and many back office support personnel.
I am told that most of the turned parts have already been manufactured for the 30,000 extra ventilators, which is testament to the effort put in by us, other lathe suppliers and an army of willing and capable manufacturers in Britain and Ireland.
I would like to offer a big thank you to all our staff and suppliers who are helping to make this happen. Everyone is volunteering to work tirelessly around the clock, at weekends and even through their holidays.”
When the country finally comes through the pandemic, Citizen Machinery UK will find itself in a stronger position than previously as he predicts that demand for new machines will grow. It will be due to companies that are acquiring modern sliding-head turn-mill centres now, where in normal circumstances they would not have done so for several years, recognising earlier the benefits of the tighter tolerances and better surface finishes achievable compared with using their older lathes.
Additionally, most of the new turning centres currently being supplied have Citizen’s proprietary LFV programmable chipbreaking software built into the control’s operating system. Manufacturers are seeing the productivity benefits of this technology when machining traditionally long-chipping materials such as plastics, stainless steel and titanium.
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Building for the future
Darren Wilkins, deputy managing director of Citizen Machinery UK welcomed the gathered international guests, local dignitaries and Citizen personnel from the UK, France, Italy, Portugal and Scandinavia, as well as representatives from the UK press to the official opening of Citizen’s new UK Turning Centre of Excellence in Brierley Hill
Citizen UK is a growing business, with an increasing number of turnkey solutions tailored to meet our customers’ exacting requirements. Nevertheless, a decision to invest £3 million in UK manufacturing industry in the current climate is one that was not taken lightly. However, the increase in capacity offered by the new centre means we are now better able to serve the needs of not just our UK customers but our wider European businesses, together with our network of dealerships in Western Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East and Africa. We have worked, and will continue to work, very closely with our sister group of companies within France, Italy and Germany.
While this building is one of the largest Citizen operations in Europe, our UK headquarters remain in Bushey, near London and this is where the majority of our administration staff is based. The Brierley Hill location was chosen due to its strategic location at the heart of the UK. It also places us closer to our UK customers, the majority of which are based in the Midlands, the traditional heart of UK manufacturing industry. Not that we are strangers to the area. We have a long history in this location. Indeed, our Midlands regional office has for many years been based within walking distance of this very building. It was the home of Miyano UK and before that, of Macro CNC, the UK Miyano dealership. We are keen to remain in this area in order to continue serving our strong customer base. Therefore, when this building came up for sale, we wanted to exploit its many advantages.
The building was originally constructed as the regional headquarters of the Express & Star newspaper. After the newspaper vacated the premises, it was occupied by a housing trust. Now that Citizen is custodian, we are ready to embark on a new era.
With the demands of Industry 4.0 taking on added significance for the manufacturing sector, the 1,660 m² building provides extra space for preparing high-value, automated turnkey installations complete with programs, tooling and accessories. This will help Citizen meet the demands of original equipment manufacturers, first-tier suppliers and subcontractors, both at home and overseas, who are increasingly asking for production solutions to be delivered in weeks rather than months in order to fulfil new business requirements.
The newly built, 680 m² showroom and technical centre extension has seen the installation of a 16-tonne internal crane. Partner companies such as those offering tooling, workholding equipment and CADCAM have set up permanent demonstration areas.
At this point I must say a big thank you to Dudley Council, which has been supportive of us throughout the project and of our decision to invest in the area. I am therefore pleased to welcome representatives of the council today, including borough Mayor, Councillor David Stanley and his Consort, Councillor Anne Millward.
The construction period we gave ourselves was just 26 weeks, and when you consider the number of challenges we faced, such as mine shafts which characterise the area, this might have been very ambitious. Nevertheless, the project was completed to schedule and we have several visitors here today from the team of contractors. On behalf of Citizen, I would like to thank them for their professionalism in helping us to fulfil our all-important deadline. A little of what they had to endure you can see on the screen behind me.
The opening of this facility has captured the imagination of the whole of UK manufacturing. Long before completion, we were receiving inquiries about the enhanced offer and I believe the decision by Citizen to invest in this facility has helped instil added confidence in our Midlands-based customers. This, together with our unique LFV technology, has been instrumental in Citizen Machinery UK becoming the established UK market leader in bar turning and further cementing Citizen as the European market leader in sliding-head technology.
If further proof were needed of the new centre’s impact on the industrial machining sector, while today marks our official opening, just last month we held an industry open event during which the centre attracted more than 300 visitors and business worth more than £2 million was completed.
Manufacturing industry may be experiencing headwinds, but the demand for precision components is growing and we stand ready to fulfil that requirement. Yet with continued economic uncertainty caused by Brexit, many companies have chosen to delay investment. It therefore takes a brave business to have the confidence to see beyond the short term and recognise the long-term advantages of building for the future.
Keiichi Nakajima, president of Citizen Machinery Japan, expressed his delight at being present at such a historic moment for the company
I should like to begin by telling you a little about the Citizen company. Many of you may be familiar with the Citizen brand. Indeed, you may be wearing one of our products on your wrist. But what you might not be aware of is that the Citizen Group has been launching diverse businesses around the globe for more than a century, all the while making use of expertise in precision and power-efficient technologies developed in our watch division.
The watch business remains the core element of the Citizen Group, having been founded in 1918 with the goal of producing high quality yet affordable watches for every citizen in Japan, hence the name Citizen and our corporate philosophy of ‘Contributing to, and striving to be respected by, the citizens of the world.’
Citizen has diversified over many decades and we are now a truly global business. We have well-established machine tool, electronic device and printer businesses worldwide.
Citizen Machinery owes a great deal to the group’s heritage, having started out manufacturing machines specifically to make small precision parts for watches. These machines were, in turn, supplied to our watch division and we have been selling the machines to customers since 1961. Indeed, it may interest you to know that all the components for our watches are still manufactured using our own machines.
This brings me to NC Engineering. Founded in 1974, it was the former company name of Citizen Machinery UK. NC Engineering has always been an important part of the Citizen Group and over the last 45 years has played a key role in selling Citizen machines into the UK market.
In 2006, NC Engineering became a wholly owned subsidiary of Citizen Group. What followed over the next few years I’m sure we are all familiar with. However, I am pleased to say that despite the impact of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent recession, Citizen Machinery UK has continued to play a critical role as our distribution hub in Europe, helping to grow markets and increase market share.
As a result, sales of Citizen machines in Europe have increased year-on-year. In 2018, Citizen Machinery achieved sales of more than €600 million Euro, its highest ever. To put this into perspective, it meant the European region achieved the group’s highest sales, even beating Japan, where our head office is located. Citizen is now UK market leader for sales of all bar turning autos including sliding-head, greatly contributing to the growth of our business in Europe. As a result of this performance, we achieved our target of 1,200 units sold in Europe last year, which is a new record high.
Underpinning this success has been a significant programme of investment in plant and equipment, both within Japan and beyond, including production capacity expansion at our factories in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. We have also expanded our sales and service provision, notably with a new technical solution centre in Japan and China, and a sales office expansion in India.
However, the investment made in this new UK centre of excellence exceeds all of these and is a demonstration of Citizen Machinery’s confidence in the UK. Whereas other machine tool builders focus more on investing in emerging markets such as China and India, Citizen has always had faith in the quality of the UK engineering industry. Therefore, it was a simple decision on my part to commit to investing in this new facility.
Standing here today, in what is the heart of UK manufacturing industry, and seeing all of our local staff brimming with confidence, I am convinced that my decision was the right one and that this investment will bring significant benefits to Citizen, including growing its market share.
The core strength of Citizen Machinery remains its use of cutting-edge technology such as the LFV (Low Frequency Vibration) function featured in many of our machines. This impressive new facility will help with the continued development of this technology, assisted by our loyal customers, the majority of whom are clustered around this area.
Whilst this new centre represents a very significant expansion of Citizen Machinery’s UK operation, the facility in Watford will remain our UK headquarters and many key staff in the UK will continue to be based there to ensure its continued success. But this new centre gives us the additional capacity we have needed for some time in order to satisfy our expanding business and meet a growing need for customised solutions.
I should now like to explain the origin of ‘The UK Centre of Excellence’. The term was chosen to reflect the very high skill base we have in the UK and the desire to grow our business here, whilst transferring the benefits of our expertise across Europe through our established distribution network. Therefore, I expect this facility to improve our already superior customer service provision as well as to be an information centre dispensing the latest advances in machine technology to our colleagues in the rest of Europe.
Now I should like to give an important message to all staff at Citizen Machinery UK. As I explained before, this new centre represents the largest of our recent investments, but I have no hesitation in saying that you have earned it through your hard work and dedication in helping to grow our business. However, its continued success depends on your ability to take full advantage of its potential. I urge you to please utilise this facility to its full extent, both to increase customer satisfaction levels and to contribute to growing the economy not just of the Midlands, but of the whole of the UK.
On behalf of Citizen, I would like to say I appreciate everything you have done, both for Citizen Machinery UK and for Citizen Machinery Japan, and I am very proud of you. I look forward to your further success.