Sertec Group – Entering Europe
We learn how the Sertec Group operates as a technology-led company, and how it is repositioning itself to grow in the European market.
The Sertec Group specialises in supplying body-in-white components such as aluminium and steel body part components to the automotive industry, and this narrow focus on the automotive sector has made them a leader in the industry.
“At Sertec Group we’re 100% in the automotive industry,” says Ben Higgins, the Senior Vice President of Operations.
Manufacturing-wise the Group is currently positioned in the UK and mainland Europe with a technical centre in China. Sertec’s current size and scale, not counting the figures from last year when they were hit by the pandemic, place it at roughly £200 million in turnover across its manufacturing sites in Europe and the UK, where it employs 1,200 people.
“I joined the company in 2006 when we were a £30-million-pound turnover outfit across two sites,” Higgins recalls. “We’re now at £200 million across our global footprint, so the growth we’ve seen in the last 14-to-15 years has been tremendous.”
But Higgins insists this growth has not come at the cost of the company’s identity.
“We are still privately owned, and we’re a family business, owned by the Mosedale family until 2016, with the founder’s children carrying the company on until a management buyout,” Higgins says. “We’re in a transitional phase with investors on board and we’re trying to be more of a corporation with the perceived professionalism in the way that works, but we’ve kept the family values and feel of the company. The testimonials of people who join us show that working for Sertec is not like any other place.”
While the Sertec Group is well-established, it has also been undergoing something of a transformation. In the technology space, the company is still a lightweight vehicle specialist with a particular focus on the production and assembly of aluminium components. It’s a skill-set that has equipped them well for exciting new markets.
Dave Steggles, the Vice President of Engineering and Product Development says “Our lightweight expertise is second-to-none and that’s something we need to sell and market. We’re entering the electric vehicle space and have been successful with some awards in the UK for battery components as well as the casings that sit around the batteries,” “We’re looking at all possible avenues to add value for our customers. The family values, the company culture, are key but our technology offering and know-how are what we offer to new customers.”
Indeed, electric vehicles are set to become a key part of Sertec’s offering going forward.
“The electric vehicle space is the anchor. We’re making sure we’re not ignoring our core business, body-and-white, which is the cornerstone of the business today, but we see a lot of potential here,” Steggles explains.
“In particular, we are looking to support both existing and new customers in the UK and Europe as lightweighting of body structures becomes critical in future Vehicle structures. Over recent years the Group have focused via our Research and Development teams, on the products and processes aligned to the emerging requirements for EV components needed in battery production.
“At the forefront of this approach, is our investment in a fully equipped Testing Lab, established in 2020. The testing lab has been invaluable in developing the Group’s abilities in designing and testing Busbars used in Modular Battery production. This has developed further with the installation of a fully equipped Low Volume laser production cell.
“This is currently being used to prove design concepts of assemblies requiring welding of dissimilar Busbar materials and it has proven to be pivotal in the Group’s nomination for the UK’s first mass-production Busbar assembly line, scheduled to go into full production Q3 2021. With a well-established R&D Team, testing and production development facility, the Group is well placed and focused on supporting all our valued existing and new customers to meet the new technologic challenges of the future.“
Investment in staff
As well as positioning themselves to serve the growing electric vehicle market, Higgins is also keen to tell us about the ways Sertec is preparing to build a larger footprint in mainland Europe, including bringing new leadership into the organisation.
“We’ve got a new MD for our Hungarian facility, a European sales director who’s remotely located at the moment,” Higgins says. “We’re going to look at a technical centre in Germany similar to the one we have in China, and then a small plant in the north which we’re currently recruiting a new MD for. We’re repositioning our German plant as an electric vehicle plant using the known-how we’ve built up in the UK.”
Leadership has been a watchword for Sertec during this repositioning, and the people they’re bringing in have exciting new ideas to bring to the table.
As Higgins points out, “Our new Managing Director in Hungary is really starting to come up with forward-thinking ideas and challenging the Board in the UK, which is what you expect from a really good general manager MD.”
This ability to see deficits in their own knowledge base and bring people in who possess the knowledge and ideas they need has been a real driver in Sertec’s repositioning, and a similar story is visible in the electric vehicle space.
“A couple of years ago now we recognised from an engineering point of view that entering the electric vehicle market would be a challenge for us, although there was a lot of crossovers. There were an extra expectation and challenge on the engineering side of things, it was expertise we didn’t have in abundance,” Higgins recalls. “So at that time we went out and brought some big hitters in, top-level engineering specialists. We appointed someone to the board and brought in program and engineering managers at a different level to what we had, and we’ve integrated them into our culture.”
As well as bringing in leading experts in the field, Sertec is also nurturing new talent.
“On the other end of the scale to that we have an extensive apprenticeship scheme, with 30 active apprentices across different areas, including maintenance, engineering, and business,” says Higgins. “We have a big investment in those guys and they graduate each year out into the business. We also have a graduate scheme we started last year. It was really about identifying the key elements we need to fill and go out and really make the customer believe we could deliver what we’re promising.”
This is essential, as the scrutiny Sertec’s engineering capability will come under in the electric vehicle sector is intense. As Higgins says, “You’ve got to have the people there and customers have to believe they are experts.”
Between the Sertec Group’s repositioning in Europe, and their work to enter the electric vehicle sector while still serving all their old customers, the future is one with great growth potential.
“The ambition over a five-year road map is to build up to a £50 million level, which was our original target three or four years ago before Brexit, and Covid and their consequences happened,” Higgins says. “We expect to see a recovery and the European and electric vehicle markets will be key to that.”