Alpha Manufacturing – Moving to Smart Operations

Alpha Manufacturing, the award-winning custom metal fabrication company, continues to invest in smart development.

Alpha Manufacturing, based in Hixon in Staffordshire, is an industry-leading sub-contract sheet metal fabrication supplier. The company was initially established within the Bri-Stor Group, a UK-based vehicle conversion company, to meet internal demand for metal components, but now 75% of the business is generated by external customers across a range of sectors from automotive and construction to retail and health care.

Alpha’s extensive capabilities in CAD design, prototyping, laser cutting, laser/punch combination, CNC punching, CNC folding, turning and machining, welding, powder coating and assembly mean that the company can offer the complete sub-contract service.

Managing Director Paul Clews says: “Over the last decade, the business has grown to offer a complete “one-stop shop” for customers with sheet metal fabrication and integration requirements. This is also what distinguishes us from our competitors, who mostly operate a limited range of specific machines with a lower level of automation and robotisation.”

“We offer a full metal design and engineering service, nationwide delivery of our finished products and quick turnaround prototyping capabilities, all under one roof. Moreover, our wealth of design and engineering knowledge enables us to advise customers on enhancements for reduced cost and increased efficiency, which ultimately brings their operating cost down,” he points out.

Smart factory

Over the years, Alpha Manufacturing has developed a cutting-edge facility capable of operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Consistent investment in the latest and most sophisticated machines and equipment available to the metalwork sector has enabled the company to stay at the forefront of the industry.

In 2020, the company achieved an important milestone – the completion of its first five-year phase of an extensive investment programme worth over £4 million, the purpose of which was to secure Alpha’s position as one of the most technically advanced factories in the industry, utilising high-tech machine automation to realise a smart factory vision.

Installations included state-of-the-art automated sheet metal processing machines such as the Trumpf TruBend Cell 7000, TruPunch 5000, Trumatic 6000 and Salavagnini P4 Lean Panel Bender. All of which have full autonomous integration with the excellent STOPA Automated Storage System, extended in 2020. The entire system now runs for 62 metres down the centre of the Alpha factory and houses in excess of 600 tonnes of raw material and part-processed items with a total of 207 pallet spaces available.

Paul Clews says: “We’ve achieved everything we set out to do and more, and this final investment will take us to our goal in terms of automation and efficiency. We’re not unique in buying the best machinery; a lot of companies have high-specification technology. However, we aim to differentiate in our operations, through the highest levels of efficiency and productivity. ”

“The STOPA system provides the ability to identify, locate and deliver any piece of sheet steel, punched/laser part or folded sub-assembly to any location at the touch of a button. In doing this, we dramatically reduce the amount of waste from our processes in terms of people movement and component transportation.”

Diversifying through the pandemic

 He further acknowledges that the company has now moved to its Vision 2025, a strategic plan for the next five years that sets out KPIs plus further investment in more automation and robotisation as well as continued reduction of the carbon footprint. The company will thus continue its journey towards digital transformation, undeterred by the current pandemic.

 Alpha’s factory never completely stopped production throughout the entire lockdown period, primarily due to demand from customers involved in supporting key workers and companies providing protective equipment. Demand for sanitisation units rocketed with Alpha producing 300 per day during peak production and to date, over 10,000 units have been manufactured. Protective screens are also being produced for a leading internal screening supplier and just recently, the first units of a new range of integrated sanitisation and cleaning stations were completed ready for distribution into the stores of a leading UK retail brand.

“During the first UK lockdown, we initially reduced our manufacturing operations to a skeleton staff but we were soon back to full production with new, effective safety guidelines implemented across the business to meet a spike in demand for various Covid-related products – a market we knew nothing about a year ago,” says Paul Clews. He affirms that the supply for the company’s traditional sectors will continue, with these new jobs boosting the business until the existing customers demand resumes.

 The human factor

While investment in automation will dramatically reduce the amount of manual labour on the shop floor, the management of Alpha Manufacturing is aware that human resources will continue to be a key part of the expected business growth. To this end, the company encourages and trains every member of its team to develop their own individual skills to maximise the company’s potential and also considers the younger generation, its future engineers.

The Bri-Stor Group launched its fully-accredited Apprenticeship Scheme in 2010, attracting 100 apprentices to date, of which around 30 have been recruited by Alpha Manufacturing since. Many of its apprentices go on to further their careers in the business, and those with exceptionally high levels of drive and determination go on to achieve a Level 4 qualification, with the opportunity to gain a full degree.

“I am passionate about promoting this way of training that brings such value to businesses, and it is exciting to see the development of the next generation of engineers for the future,” says Paul Clews. “We have so many success stories in our company of people who started at 16 on the shop floor and progressed all the way up – including myself and my counterpart Simon Webb, who is Managing Director of our sister company Bri-Stor Systems. It is not just university graduates who can become company directors.”

“The fact that apprenticeship has become again a valued and recognised path of education, offering some great opportunities, will bring far-reaching benefits. Developing local technical skills is the key to making British manufacturing great again,” he concludes, affirming that Alpha Manufacturing is proud to participate in that development.

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