West Midlands precision pressing firm and one of Birmingham's longest established family-owned engineering companies, Brandauer, was granted a royal visit to help celebrate its 150th anniversary.
The company, which started life as one of the city's most respected pen nib manufacturers, welcomed the Princess Royal to its Newtown factory in March to showcase the precision components and stampings it sells all over the world.
In fact, there is a family connection between her Royal Highness and the company. John Berkeley OBE, chairman of Brandauer, explains: "Back in 1887, our co-founder, Joseph Letière Petit, produced a pen bearing the Royal Coat of Arms to mark Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, so it is a great honour for us to welcome a member of the royal family here to celebrate our own important milestone." (Queen Victoria is Princess Anne's great, great, great grandmother.)
During her visit, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne was introduced to 11 former employees, existing staff that have more than 550 years' service between them, recently qualified apprentices and the family owners, which included the co-founder's four great-great-grandchildren.
Heading for a record £9 million in annual sales this year, Brandauer exports 75% of its sales overseas to more than 20 countries, including millions of components to the United States and China. The factory tour, which was led by former apprentice and now managing director David Spears, took an in-depth look at a recent international contract win from a Tier 1 automotive supplier.
Estimated to be worth £700,000 per year, the order involves the production of specialist components for use in rear view mirrors on premium cars, including Audi, BMW, VW and Porsche.
The contract makes use of Brandauer's ability to design, develop and manufacture the press tool, then manage the specialist in-house stamping and heat-treatment processes needed to create an electrode clip form on a continuous metallic strip.
From here, it is then assembled by the Tier 1 customer to the mirror and the finished component carries the electrical current required to darken the glass, thus reducing the effect of dazzle from car lights and improving driver comfort.
Currently shipped direct to the US, the part will eventually find itself in hundreds of thousands of cars in more than 20 countries.
Also celebrating contract success is Mollart Engineering, which has won a major international aerospace partnership contract for producing key operations on a family of turbine shafts that could progressively build up to be worth £4 million a year within three to four years for the company's Chessington site.
"We had to produce sample parts for final approval, which meant we needed total support from our workforce that was involved in the project. Over the Christmas period, they showed their dedication by giving up parts of their holiday to come in and ensure the customer would take delivery directly after the break," explains managing director Guy Mollart.
Operations director Mike Pragnell explains how the contract was secured, which involves working closely with the forging supplier. "It was our ability to combine three essential elements of our business in deep hole drilling, and the associated tooling development expertise for special bore production and our large capacity turning and boring capability. However, most influential in the customer's mind was the security of our track record with other blue-chip customers to machine very difficult alloy materials that are used in ultra-high functionality and demanding applications."
The parts are supplied as free-issue, rough-turned, heat-treated forgings up to length 2,200 mm and weight 800 kg.
Prior to machining on Mollart's Weiler E90 CNC lathes with 6 m bed length, each high-cost forging has to be fully qualified by Mollart engineers to determine there is no distortion from heat treatment, and that it will fully clean up when turned and bored.
TURNED TO PERFECTION
The forged blank is a tube with a trumpet-shaped end, having a 50 mm thick flange of 500 mm dia at the mouth of the cone shape that is merged into the main body of the turbine shaft that has to be profile turned to 160 mm dia. A main bore is some 84 mm dia by 1,800 mm deep from the flanged end and a further bore is produced at 44 mm dia to a total depth of 1,900 mm.
The part is then relocated and a bore of 70 mm dia is counterbored to 96 mm dia. There are also a series of steps, cones and internal/external tapers to the conical end of the shaft that have to be machined. Currently, overall production time is running at 40 hours per shaft.
As part of the contract, Mollart's engineering team developed a special ejector drill head, cartridge and insert design to produce the main 84 mm bore, as well as the special conical forms required at the bottom of the bore.
Another company, Staffordshire-based laser cutting specialist Laser Process, is enjoying impressive growth as a direct consequence of diversification and a buoyant Midland manufacturing sector, with its work on public view around the country.
Laser Process has hit the £5 million turnover mark for the first time in its history, after securing a healthy amount of repeat business from some of the region's largest manufacturers and an increasing number of new customers.
Managing director David Lindsey explains: "Business is buoyant now, things seem to be picking up and we're benefiting from it. I think manufacturing, in general, seems to be having a resurgence in the West Midlands. Confidence seems to be returning to the economy and all the talk at the moment is quite positive. Everyone is fairly optimistic about the future and I think the West Midlands is a great region to be in manufacturing at the moment. I'm confident the business is going to have a good year."
The tough economic climate in recent years encouraged the firm to diversify, securing a lucrative contract to produce
240 life-size statues for installation along Britain's footpaths and cycleways as part of the project led by transport charity Sustrans. This has seen the company produce mimics of famous figures such as Gary Barlow (above), Stan Laurel, Rob Brydon and footballer Ledley King in their respective local areas, offering national exposure to the company's handiwork.
Another public art project it was involved with was the creation of a stainless steel statue in Lichfield to commemorate Erasmus Darwin, a scholar and grandfather of Charles Darwin. The work, which is officially unveiled this month, was one which held particular resonance for Mr Lindsey: "I was born in Lichfield, so it's particularly nice to be involved in something like that happening in your home town," he underlines.
On the web
 Dawson Shanahan invests as export demand continues to drive growth – www.machinery.co.uk/41548
 Virtual press toolmaking service from Lodent Precision saves weeks or months – delivers right-first-time parts – www.machinery.co.uk/41489
 Oil and gas subcontractor Exact invests to boost business further – www.machinery.co.uk/41215
 Nuclear AMRC supports Newburgh Engineering in process optimisation effort – www.machinery.co.uk/40852
 KMF (Precision Sheet Metal) goes lights out with Trumpf laser technology and automation –
First pubklished in Machinery, May 2012