Roaring forties - Renishaw gets into its stride

10 min read

Renishaw hit 40 earlier this year. Since 2000, it has been steadily growing its UK and international footprint, getting badly buffeted along the way, but is now in expansionist mood, as Andrew Allcock reports

Renishaw plc celebrated its 40th anniversary this year; it was founded on 4 April 1973. Today, it is a company turning over £332 million, exporting over 90% of UK production. Following a record year in 2008, when it posted turnover of more than £200 million, it saw business drop to £165 million in 2009, post global crash, and lost staff. In its 2009 annual report (year to 30 June 2009), the company highlighted that the reduction was about 20% of the group workforce (437 people) – the year was "the most difficult in the history of the company", according to chairman and chief executive Sir David McMurtry. But, since then, business has clearly rebounded and global headcount has climbed from 1,843 at 1 July 2009 to about 3,200 today – 2,100 in the UK. Although metrology probe technology is what the company is best known for within Machinery's audience, the company categorises its products within six broad areas: industrial metrology (within which its probe technology falls); position encoders; geometry software and services; additive manufacturing; dental/neurology technology; and Raman spectroscopy. Central to its product development is that, in the words of its chairman: "Renishaw fundamentally believes that success comes from patented and innovative products and processes, high quality manufacturing and the ability to provide local customer support in all its markets around the globe." In June, the company threw open its doors at its recently acquired Miskin, Wales, site, underlining both an expansionist outlook and its efficient UK manufacturing approach. This is the company's latest domestic manufacturing expansion; it having acquired, in 2011, what was previously a Robert Bosch fuel injection equipment manufacturing facility (Renishaw facilities' round-up). UK MANUFACTURING GROWTH With a total area of 461,000 ft², Renishaw refurbished 68,500 ft² at Miskin last year and has recently completed a further 66,000 ft² refurbishment. This is where the company will primarily grow UK manufacturing, while in Gloucestershire, where it has a number of sites, expansion will primarily be in support of R&D and corporate/back office functions, although existing manufacturing will not be moved, it is stressed. Image: The Miskin facility front entrance Since 2000, Renishaw has been expanding its operations and acquiring other businesses. Focusing on the UK, going back to the first year of the new millennium, most manufacturing operations were centred at New Mills, Wotton under Edge, including machining and assembly, explains Gareth Hankins, director, group manufacturing services division. But in 2000, it acquired its Woodchester, Gloucestershire, site, which is today its largest assembly plant, although it was originally intended to support both manufacturing and assembly operations. In 2005, the company acquired the Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, facility, which became a further machining site, adding another 100,000 ft² to its tally. The Miskin facility is a further UK assembly and machining addition, with space to support future growth. The total site covers 193 acres (77 hectares), in fact, and was purchased for £7.7 million – some of that land will be sold off, however, with a business park envisaged. To get an idea of Renishaw's manufacturing operations, Mr Hankins explains that the company makes almost 40,000 components; approaching 26,000 sub-assemblies; delivers 10,500 saleable assemblies out of Woodchester; with customers able to buy just under 17,000 variously configured products from its subsidiaries, which are located in 32 countries. Although a few products are made in batches up to 1,000-off per month, 200-off is a typical run, he adds, while many products are made in single figure batches or a few 10s. Of the 10,500 assemblies out of Woodchester, only 200-300 are 'main runners' having production plans set, for example, while some 840,000 products are produced there annually. The company is a high value/margin, high complexity, low volume manufacturer of a broad range, making products that combine mechanical parts, electronics and software, Mr Hankins outlines, adding that manufacturing close to where R&D and design are centred is important, in answering the 'why manufacture in the UK?' question – fundamentally, better communication that supports both cost-effective design and manufacture. Indeed, for many years, standardisation of design processes, component features, manufacturing processes and manufacturing equipment, in support of a design-for-manufacture objective, have been key elements in allowing Renishaw to cost-effectively innovate and manufacture new, reliable products in the UK. This approach goes for electronics, software and mechanical elements. MORE ON MISKIN Returning to its latest expansion, activities undertaken at Miskin today include machining (since May 2012), electronic board assembly (using surface-mount technology, since May this year) and the manufacture of the company's range of metal additive manufacturing machines (selective laser sintering process), since December 2012 – this business having been acquired in April 2011, following the purchase of UK firm MTT Investments (see box item). Investment in production technology at Miskin has seen both surface-mount technology and machining capacity installed, with the latter centred on its RAMTIC technology – Renishaw's Automated Milling Turning and Inspection Centre. This is a perfect example of the standardised manufacturing process/equipment approach. Image: PCB assembly Image: Anodising facilities are also part of the Miskin capability RAMTIC sees automated vertical machining centres served by magazine units that carry fixtured work and tools to and from the machines, with unmanned manufacturing supported by on-machine tool setting and part probing. The latter is further supported by in-cycle referencing of part measurement probes to an artefact of the same material as the workpiece, so as to track and compensate positional variation due to thermal changes. It is standardised manufacturing technology running capable processes for standard part design features and has its roots in the late 1980s/early '90s. This system provides both a turning and milling capability, with turned parts held in the spindle and driven against static tools. The technology allows for up to 140 metalcutting hours/week and 10 such machines can be run by a single person. In total, there are 37 RAMTIC machines running in Renishaw factories at the moment. The first batch of RAMTIC units at Miskin represented a £3.2 million investment – there are 18 machines. A further 14 will follow in 2013/2014, with six large mill-turn machines also on the shopping list. Manufacturing technology such as this is key in supporting cost-effective UK manufacture, underlines Mr Hankins. Indeed, the Miskin facility employs just 81 currently. And it was made clear that similar automation of the additive manufacturing process is an ambition, and that such machines would one day populate the Renishaw shopfloor and be making metal parts for the company's products – still some years away, it was stated, however. The recent acquisition of experienced practitioner of metal additive manufacturing LBC Laser Bearbeitungs Center GmbH, Kornwestheim, Germany, will help the company develop process knowledge, no doubt (see extended online feature). But even before it has filled the refurbished area at Miskin, let alone that which remains to be refurbished, the company already reveals that it has plans to create a further 400,000 ft² of floorspace to support manufacturing, research and development facilities. In addition, expansion at the New Mills, Gloucestershire, headquarters is also underway; 230,000 ft² is planned, with a first phase of about half that ongoing. Close to New Mills, the company's Charfield site is to see a 50,000 ft² addition, while Dublin is expanding by 26,000 ft² this year. Four years after the worst period in the company's history, Renishaw is able to celebrate an important anniversary, while looking ahead with confidence. Box item 1 The education challenge Already a committed apprentice trainer and graduate recruiter, in 2011 Renishaw created a new education liaison role, with the target being to better engage with primary, secondary and higher education levels, as well as STEM activity providers, of which there are over 2,000 in the UK. This means getting involved with things like The Big Bang Fair ( and Green Power ( nationally; locally, it is involved with Stemworks ( and has so far managed to engage with 2,500 children in southern Gloucestershire; it is also supporting a mobile laboratory that will visit local primary schools; at secondary level, it is working with 15 schools in Gloucestershire and looking to do the same in Wales; at the higher education level, it is looking at working with three or four universities. With the company's growth plans, recruitment of skilled individuals will be a key factor in support of that. And local competition is strong. In Gloucestershire as a whole, some 15.5% of employed people have jobs in manufacturing; in Stroud, that figure is 20%. The national average is 11-11.5%, highlights Chris Pockett, head of communications at Renishaw plc. This summer, the company is taking on a record number of apprentices; at the end of August, 50 apprentices will join the company – 40 traditional mechanical engineering schemes and 10 for software. Over 300 applied for the positions this year, Mr Pockett reveals, adding that numbers are climbing year on year, even pre-dating the change to university tuition fees. And while traditionally apprentices had joined at 16/17, they are now joining at 18, post A-levels. A record number of graduates will also be employed – 64 across the business; while there are 60 summer placements, 8-10-weeks; 30 one-year industrial placements; and up to four pre-university placements. Finally, there will also be over 70 one-week placements for 15 to 17-year-olds this year, the company says. Providing a final note on this subject, assistant chief executive Ben Taylor says that it is important to get parents involved. "We need parents to want their children to get in to manufacturing. There are too many parents that remember what manufacturing used to be like and are reluctant to encourage their kids to get into it." Underlining the challenge, he says that when Renishaw went to a school that was a little over 30 miles away: "We were a bit surprised that not one student had ever heard of Renishaw. The bigger shock was that not one member of staff had heard of Renishaw." Well known in its local area it may be, but "because we are not a consumer product, we don't have the coverage of the community that we thought we had". And he concluded that it has got to be industry and education, rather than government, that pushes the message, adding: "That's what we are doing." Extended article from here Box item 2 Renishaw in the round Renishaw's New Mills, Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire site is today a pre-production facility that undertakes machining and assembly and is the company's headquarters for research, development and design. Additive manufacturing research is additionally supported out of Stone, Staffordshire. Production machining takes place at Stonehouse, Gloucestershire; Miskin, Wales; and Völklingen, Germany (CMM styli and accessories; this was previously ITP GmbH, which was acquired in 2006). Assembly takes place at Woodchester, Gloucestershire; in Old Town, Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire; Charfield, Gloucestershire; Dublin, Ireland; Völklingen, Germany; and Pune, India. Assembly of AM machines is undertaken at Miskin. Box item 3 How Renishaw will make additive manufacturing add up Renishaw acquired metal additive manufacturing technology firm MTT Investments (MTT), based in Stone, Staffordshire, in April 2011. MTT has a direct link to the originators of the metal additive manufacturing process, Fockele & Schwarze (Germany), who were the first to commercialise the selective laser melting (SLM) process developed at the Fraunhofer Institute. MCP-HEK Tooling GmbH took over commercialisation of the technology from F&S and MTT was a spin-out from the German company. In explaining Renishaw's metal additive manufacturing (AM) outlook, Robin Weston marketing manager, additive manufacturing products division (AMPD), said that AM is an emerging technology in fields where Renishaw is already a leading player with existing products – they will share the same customers. The scope for complex metal objects "is vast" and AM has "the potential to unlock hidden benefits", he adds. Existing metal AM systems "are in their infancy; a step-change is required for acceptance in large-scale manufacturing". And he adds that "Renishaw has the fundamental capability to make this happen." AM machine production is undertaken at Miskin, in a 1,200 m² area, and with a large investment in stock and WIP, delivery time for a machine is put at 4-6 weeks, ready to run at the customer's works. This means that AMPD at the Stone, Staffordshire location can focus on development and customer support. There are 12 AM 250 machines at Stone; these are used for applications' support and process development. Further expertise is being developed around the world, at Renishaw locations in Germany, USA, China and Italy. Image: Additive manufacturing machines are assembled at Miskin Some 80 to 100 members of staff throughout the Renishaw organisation are involved in AM, with 58 in the division itself. In terms of markets for its machines, over the past two years, successes have come from small entrepreneurial operators. The medium term focus is on larger OEMs and service providers in Europe and North America, but the demands will be higher, as the targets will be end-use parts, Mr Weston offers. The acquisition of German company LBC Laser Bearbeitungs Center GmbH, Kornwestheim, will help the company build its expertise. LBC is a pioneer in the field of metal-based additive manufacturing for tool and mould making, using AM to produce inserts with conformal cooling features. In the long term, China is said to be of particular interest, because of the company's existing sales and support network there. Renishaw is already working with Tsinghua University, Beijing, as a development partner and already challenging tungsten parts have been produced – tungsten has a very high melting point. As things stand, the USA is the leading market for AM, with Europe placed second, but, in five years' time, Mr Weston suggests China will be number two. "When you see how much attention additive manufacturing gets from Chinese government officials, it is clear that it is part of their overall strategy for manufacturing." In terms of large companies cited as interested in the technology, he mentions American firms GE, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney and the UK's Rolls-Royce. GE in particular has acquired two specialist companies, Morris Technologies (US) and Avio (Italy), with 22 and 13 AM machines respectively, to boost its efforts in this area. And Mr Weston claims that many aerospace companies are looking to approve a process and roll it out to their Tier 1 suppliers. But there are some hurdles in moving AM and Renishaw's ambitions on. "To exploit AM fully and get the benefits, designers need to change the way they design parts. We have built hundreds of parts that we should never have touched, because they weren't designed for the process; they were designed for the casting or machining process. So we need to start the education process. "Coupled with that, though, we have to think about the production engineering side of that. People will not design for this technology, if there's nowhere to go to get parts made." And the AM process is still not focused on production, with build rates that are slow, so Renishaw will review this area, too. Indicators that AM is seen as an acceptable technology with traction, Mr Weston suggests, will be the inclusion of Wizards within CAD systems. But there is a need for international standards and practices for performance measurement and monitoring. "These will be required before production engineers and manufacturers take machines into their facilities, and it will require a collaborative effort between competitors and customers to establish those standards. The ASTM Committee F42 and Germany's VDI are working on them, but these things take time." And he concludes that the technology is towards the end of the early adopter phase of technology and is climbing the 'slope of enlightenment' – the stage before the 'plateau of productivity'. Real results are being seen, including a solution for a small component used in mobile phones that replaces multiple operations, although in the event it was a factor of four out on cost. "Quite encouraging for a technology like additive manufacturing. If we are only out by a factor of four, with no production engineering effort, that says to me that with the right effort, with the right technology and improvements in build rate, we can be competitive for small components like that and give designers freedom to make design changes without knock-on effects to routings and tooling." To push things along, the company has a number of alliances in place. These include activities in the aerospace sector with Moog, the Aircraft Research Association and others on the manufacture of new parts for flight and control systems that benefit from lower weight and part count. It is also working on a Technology Strategy Board-funded project concerned with maxillofacial reconstruction alongside PDR, Cardiff ( Renishaw has acquired LBC Laser Bearbeitungs Center GmbH, as already highlighted, and it has also signed an agreement with BEGO Bremer Goldschlägerei Wilh Herbst GmbH & Co KG - a leading international specialist in dental prosthodontics. BEGO is a pioneer in additive manufacturing processes for the dental sector, for which it holds various patents, and a licensing agreement between Renishaw and BEGO will allow the Renishaw Group to strengthen its existing dental business on a global basis. Renishaw has produced AM crowns and bridges for several years. Published in Machinery, September 2013