WM manufacturing opportunity: permanent magnets for wind turbines

December 23, 2017

Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris (FREng) is drawing attention to a recent article in the Guardian Review on wind energy giving an up-beat view of off-shore wind farms which, he agrees, are showing a lot of promise, particularly compared with the very expensive and increasingly problematic nuclear option. He comments:

“However, in this article, there was no mention of the vital role played by NdFeB-type permanent magnets in the direct drive generators provided by companies such as Siemens”.

The untutored writer consulted a second engineer who said that readers may have noticed wind turbines of rather different shapes starting to appear. The more traditional ones have a nacelle behind the rotor – the gearbox to convert slow rotation to a higher speed required by the generator.

He continued: “These gearboxes are expensive and heavy, bringing new problems to solve. One solution is the turbine with NdFeB, otherwise known as rare earth magnets. They eliminate the need for the gearbox, driving the generator directly at the speed of the blades. They can be recognised by a large ring structure behind the blades. (The traditional gearbox opposite has the low speed shaft to the left. It makes the high speed shaft to the right turn approximately 50 times faster than the low speed shaft.)

Stanford Magnets reports on the emergence – over the last two years – of commercial-scale & direct drive permanent magnet generator systems with the hub directly connected to the generator (right). Being direct drive, these turbines have significant advantages over the geared variety:

  • significantly increased reliability,
  • reduced maintenance costs,
  • reduced downtime for maintenance
  • improved efficiencies in the power conversion process and
  • greater efficiencies when wind speeds are not at full rating.

The second engineer warns that “engineering is always a compromise and there is a clue in the name RARE earth: these generators need a large quantity to make the magnets required. There is a limited amount of these materials and they are predominantly found in China”. 

Mineral reserves: resources known to be economically feasible for extraction economically and technically feasible to extract. Note that the New Scientist reports that in what is said to be the first detailed report on the country’s supply, the US has 13 million tonnes of rare earth metals –  but it would take years to extract them.

Source: https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/critical-metals-investing/rare-earth-investing/rare-earth-reserves-country/.

Professor Harris and his colleagues David Kennedy and Adrian Arbib end: “With this medium to long term threat to the magnet supply very much in mind, the West, including Europe and the USA, should recreate its previous manufacturing capacity for the production of NdFeB-type sintered magnets, start to exploit alternative rare earth reserves and develop and support NdFeB-type magnet recycling. Simply leaving matters to market forces will certainly not be sufficient”.

 

 

 

 

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Updating KPM Marine 2013: John Clancy’s legacy fund, the BSBLF 

December 7, 2017

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy said earlier this year, “(Entrepreneurs) risk-takers are hugely important to the city economy, creating jobs and wealth. Given the right support, they can help us create inclusive growth across Birmingham, so I’m delighted that we’re able to support our SMEs through the new Birmingham Small Business Loan Fund.”

The Birmingham Small Business Loan Fund (BSBLF).is administered by ART Business Loans and supported by Birmingham City Council, Thin Cats peer lending platform and Unity Trust bank. It provides loans of between £10,000 and £100,000 for small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) in Birmingham that are unable to obtain any or all of the finance they need from high street banks.

KPM Marine, which we featured in 2013, (KPM safety products lead in global marine and automotive markets), has been able to use a BSBLF loan to provide working capital to help it take advantage of growth opportunities presented by recent shifts in the value of sterling.

KPM products and designs – in Mott Street, Birmingham – are the first choice of work-boat builders, military and rescue agencies throughout the world. Julian Morgan, Joint Managing Director of KPM Marine, said “We can find ourselves competing with some of the world’s largest manufacturers . . .  95% of our supply chain is based in Birmingham, which is not only good for the local economy, but also gives us greater flexibility, faster response times and better control over quality than sourcing products and materials from the Far East.”

In 2003 the Duke of York looked over Rikki Hill’s V24 ‘Bat boat’ under the watchful eye of Jules (Julian) Morgan, owner and design director of KPM Marine and founder member of Idea Birmingham.

Julian’s business partner, Joint Managing Director John Key adds: “We moved into the marine sector around 15 years ago and have developed our product range to include bilge pumps, engine reventilation systems, shock-mitigating seating systems and interior fit out modules. We are delighted to have won naval contracts on both sides of the Atlantic and in Europe. Our latest success is as part of the supply chain providing a fleet of up to 38 workboats to support the Royal Navy’s new flagship carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth”

Steve Walker, Chief Executive of ART Business Loans says: “KPM Marine is a good example of the type of business we are here to support – innovative and dynamic small to medium sized enterprises which are the lifeblood of the local economy, but which struggle to access finance from the banks.”

The BSBLF aims to lend £3m to Birmingham business over three years. To apply go to www.artbusinessloans.co.uk or call ART on 0121 359 2444.

 

 

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Nov 1-2: Mechatronic Solutions launch the Podconnect at the NEC

November 1, 2017

We return to Mechatronic Solutions after this two year old post was selected by most of the visitors to this site last month – the majority coming from the United States.

A fact summary:

This company designed its first robot for the Morgan Matroc ariel assembly in 2000 and the  Kaizen workshop was developed in 2002, described on this site in 2015.  – see with Change Agent Andrew Thomas.

It now offers RoboPod, a standardised platform for robot applications that they say ‘represents a first in the industry’ used in these sectors:

and also automotive  aerospace, packaging, process automation and testing

Robopod have unveiled the Podconnect, an Automated Intelligent Vehicle (AIV) which – as its name suggests – has in-built intelligence and can operate autonomously. It connects machines and systems for ultimate efficiency: “Automated logistics and safe, efficient delivery of materials make the manufacturing environment work seamlessly with other functions”.

As well as these physical and logistical benefits, Podconnect provides detailed information back to managers; providing valuable statistics on performance, output, stock and flows. See a video here.

The Advanced Engineering Show 2017 is described as ‘The UK’s largest annual gathering of advanced engineering professionals’. It attracts professionals from across the UK and worldwide advanced engineering industries: including managers and directors as well as those specialising in fields as diverse as Research and design (R&D), Design, Test engineering, Production, Logistics and Procurement.

On 1st November, the 2-day exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham will see Mechatronic Solutions launch Podconnect AIV Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle plus a new Robopod brochure setting out information about the whole range. 

 

 

 

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Top post: Mechatronic Solutions: Kings Norton Business Centre

October 25, 2017

Most widely read post last month with American visitors again topping the list.

Mechatronic Solutions, one of the UK’s leading providers of innovative automation solutions and systems integration services, has delivered over 400 projects during the last 25 years across a wide range of manufacturing sectors.

Extract from the article:

One of many advantages of moving to larger premises was adding a Concept Kaizen area to serve Mechatronic’s growing customer base.

Prototypes can be developed in this area and machines modelled in soft materials to provide an early realisation of the concept design being developed by Mechatronic engineers.

By improving standardized activities and processes, Kaizen (lit: ‘change for the better’ – continuous improvement), first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War and formalized by Toyota, is now used throughout the United States and known as lean manufacturing . . . Full text here: https://westmidlandsproducers.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/mechatronic-solutions-kings-norton-business-centre-birmingham/

Next post: the latest from Mechatronics

 

 

 

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Avonstar of Digbeth: metal manufacturing

October 14, 2017

Make Works, an open resource where you can discover skilled manufacturers, tools and materials to make work with in your area, lists Digbeth’s  Avonstar – a ‘light’ engineering firm which has been providing quality service to its customers for over 20 years.

Avonstar’s skilled 30 employees can handle all types of metal construction and parts of construction and undertake work in all types of metal – including steel, aluminium and stainless steel.It offers powder coating, which contains no solvents and releases little or no chemical pollution into the atmosphere, unlike liquid coatings.

They work with a wide range of clients based in Digbeth, including arts organisations and individual creative practitioners.

The Avonstar website appears to be ‘under construction’ but the company has developed another remarkable site for an online trading store.

Avonstar Classics supplies a wide range of useful metal goods to customers in many sectors including city councils, education departments and the automotive industry, supplying

  • clinics and hospitals
  • kitchen departments
  • car accessories
  • campervan/caravans
  • gardening stores
  • sports departments (for rugby, netball, fishing and football)

 

To see their full range go to Avonstar Classics.

 

 

 

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Berck of West Bromwich: worker-management co-operation, training and investment

September 26, 2017

Berck Ltd, a family-run company in West Bromwich, founded in 1947, took difficult decisions to weather the downturn following the 2008 economic crisis.

To reduce costs, the company chairman Brian Yates and the management team decided to cut 11 jobs in the firm, which employed 90 people (above). They also asked the remaining employees to cut working hours and they agreed to do this in order to help the company through the crisis. After applying for a bank loan secured against the factory buildings, there was still a question about Berck’s ability to pay its monthly instalments on the loan and the directors were asked to take a salary break of two years, and put in some of their own money.

These measures were successful and in 2015, Berck received a Made in the Midlands’ Manufacturing Achievement Award

Berck produces a wide range of precision components, including cabling and routing, brackets batteries, terminal contacts, in-tank fuel cell sensors, air bag technology, switching for dashboard systems, which are used in the majority of car manufacturing plants in the UK and overseas. Products are exported to China, Mexico, India, Brazil, Egypt, the United States, Dominican Republic and most countries in Europe. components. Berck also serves over twenty other sectors, including domestic appliances, home computers, alternative medicines, i.t networking and solar heating

Like many successful West Midlands companies covered on this website, they invest in training and new machinery.

Above: Joe Hickman, toolroom apprentice – more news of apprentices on their Facebook page.

Last year, Berck invested in a Nikon Metrology iNEXIV VMA-4540 CNC video measuring machine (below) to replace Mitutoyo Quick Vision Ace CNC optical coordinate measuring machine (CMM) and a Kemco manual touch-probe CMM to inspect sheet metal parts and tools. See the Nikon pdf.

The latest widely reported news is that in July this year, Berck acquired Walsall’s Fourjay, specialists in deep drawing. The staff from Fourjay will now move across to West Bromwich to join Berck’s 70-strong workforce. Darren Yates, managing director at Berck, welcomed the addition of people with a variety of new skills to their skilled workforce.

Berck will now be supplying the MoD with vital fuses for Typhoon Eurofighter and F-16 combat jets. May they be used only for defence.  

 

 

 

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Arc Specialist Engineering Limited: Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Walsall

August 6, 2017

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Arc Specialist Engineering Limited, formerly known as Bowman Birmingham Limited, is a group of steel processing businesses formed in March 2013 which manufacture and supply various specialist steel products. Its majority shareholders were Marc and Nathaniel Meyohas (Greybull Capital, a family-owned, family-run business, see its dealings with Tata, Morrisons and more). Over the years the number of employees has grown from 200 in 2013 to 500.

In July 2017 Mobeus Equity Partners backed Arc’s management team buyout and refer to a partnership with the Arc managers.

Its strategies: to differentiate services and find niche markets

  • As UK manufacturers facing overseas competition, the Arc companies look for manufacturers of products that won’t travel well, because items that are easy to dispatch overseas face competition with countries such as China, South Korea and Taiwan.
  • They have found that small-volume manufacturing accesses markets that larger competitors wouldn’t enter, such as the pre-coated non-stick bakeware market. Many bigger coil coating businesses are coating 100,000 plus tonnes of metal per year; while Arc’s subsidiary Cooper Coated Coil (below) coats just under 20,000 tonnes per year.

  • PVC window and door reinforcement products access markets which require lower run quantities, more frequent deliveries and more product variety than larger firms are interested in offering.
  • Because relatively small amounts are manufactured Arc’s companies are good at ‘changeovers’ – converting an assembly line or machine from running one product to another
  • Its system enables the managing director of each business to be close to customers and employees within the business, providing not only the product itself, but also knowledge, advice and an excellent service, building strong long-term relationships.

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Over Greybull’s four years of ownership, time and resources were invested to turn Arc around. Andy Richardson, who leads the current management team, said: “The past four years have seen a transformation of Arc into a profitable growing business, with hundreds of jobs saved along the way, all made possible by much-needed investment in our manufacturing capabilities. We are immensely excited about the next stage of our journey, which would not have been possible without Greybull’s guidance and support. We are very grateful for everything they have committed to the business”.

 

 

 

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