North West Manufacturing: Suppliers have to be flexible

SUPPLIERS to the manufacturing sector have to be flexible, prgamatic and resilient.

This was proved when bus maker Optare moved its manufacturing facility and headquarters to a new plant in Yorkshire. Rather than lose its major customer Darwen-based WEC Group followed Optare over the Pennines and is now growing.

Optare previously had three bases – at its old Blackburn headquarters and in Leeds and Rotherham – but as part of a dramatic turnaround plan,
consolidated into a single, modern manufacturing site in Sherburn, reducing head count from over 900 employees to 430.

Optare may have been forced to reduce staff numbers but these are jobs that have instead been passed down the supply chain, insists chief executive Jim Sumner.

WEC Group produces under a Just-In-Time arrangement the steel structure of the bus and has itself invested in a new facility next to Optare’s new plant in Sherburn.

Click here to download our 18-page Manufacturing Supplement in association with DLA Piper and Lloyds Bank.  

Wayne Wild, group director at WEC, said: “They took a strategic decision
to outsource the fabrication of  all their bus metal structures to focus mainly on their assembly operation.”

WEC was invited to tender for the contract in its entirety as it already produced some of the components required in Darwen using specialist flat bed and tube laser cutting equipment.

Mr Wild said: “To win the contract we had to purchase a brand new 27,000 sq ft factory at a cost of £1.5m on the same industrial estate as our customer and we also safeguarded 50 staff that were transferred to WEC.”

To help with the move, Optare gave WEC a two-year supply contract. Thanks to the deal and the group’s substantial investments in new  machines, WEC has increased its headcount from 303 at the start of 2011 to more than 375.

Winning the contract also meant a further investment in a £500,000 flat bed laser cutting machine to support the contract, based at the laser engineering division in Darwen.

“Not only does this help ensure the long-term future of employees within Darwen, it also means 10 new jobs have been created,” said Mr Wild.

Click here to download our 18-page Manufacturing Supplement in association with DLA Piper and Lloyds Bank.