Save today for a better tomorrow
Q & A with Matthew Aldridge: Managing Director of igus®
What issues are we facing today regarding logistics?
We have a number of challenges regarding logistics in the UK at the moment in today’s manufacturing world. One of these would be to react to just in time deliveries where we are delivering parts, as the expression would indicate, just in time, to be used on the production line. That means that customers can reduce their stockholding onsite, which saves them money. But, of course, to do that they need to have a really robust and lean supply chain. So, we have some mechanisms in place, having invested a lot into our ERP systems to automate this.
For instance, if we have a part which is used at an OEM customer, we can categorise the part in a certain way on our ERP system, so we never run out of stock of that part – we will always match what stock we have to the usage of that part at the customers’ premises. We have offered this for many years but as a manual process therefore subject to human error. Now we have automated the process, it enables us to keep everything in balance giving a huge advantage. The second point is online sales and online webshops. Virtually all of our products are available to buy online: the pricing exists; you can configure the parts or systems online and order them, and you can see the stock status of those parts in Northampton. This means that you will know if this part is ex stock at igus in Northampton or how long the delivery time would be. You can, therefore, order with confidence online and that is definitely the direction that the market is going.
Mirroring your mentioning of OEM customers, tell me what support igus® brings to these and other large companies?
One area that we’ve really started to develop is the manufacturing, in Northampton, of subassemblies that can be directly fitted onto a customer’s machine. So, if we take one of our e-chains® as an example – you can have that e-chain® as a readychain®, we have been making these for years here, so it is ready to fit directly onto a customer’s machine. What we can do now is supply that system on a purpose-built rack, which has some associated metalwork attached to the end-brackets of the chain. Also, the orientation of the e-chain on the rack is such that you can wheel this whole system up to the machine, bolt it into place and take the empty rack away. There is evidently a massive reduction in labour time from employing this method. A recent example is a customer that was taking over 4 hours to install a chain, while now that is done in less than 5 minutes. Wheel it up, bolt the plates onto the machine, wheel the rack away. We then have these racks on a rotation cycle so that when we deliver the systems on a rack, we then take the empty racks away to be repopulated with readychains® at igus®. This a completely circular and lean system, and that is driving huge labour savings at our large OEM customers.
On the other hand, what support does igus® bring to SME customers?
We have no minimum order quantity, so you can use this same rack system for small customers, and we can certainly supply either components or subassemblies, so there is no need to try and build a linear system yourself – you buy the whole thing complete from igus®. But really, the whole message for SME customers is there is no minimum order quantity from igus®, for any igus® parts. So, it doesn’t matter how large your production is, or if you’re a specialist manufacturer producing one or two machines a year, you can have the same products with the same delivery and the same performance. There is no restriction for motion plastics from igus®.
With logistics and delivery times in mind, tell me how is igus® dealing the with environmental issues of today?
That would be a topic in its own right, but we are doing many things here so let me talk very briefly about 3 environmental items.
Firstly, what is igus® doing here in Northampton?
Well, we are ISO 14001 accredited and have been for many years. We have a team and a programme to deliver environmental projects within our business. To reduce waste, we have zero waste going to landfill, all of our packaging is recyclable, alongside many other things that we can discuss.
Secondly, let’s talk about igus® plastics. Plastics, certainly over the last year or so, have perhaps been labelled public enemy number 1 – and for single-use plastics, yes, I completely accept that. However, igus® plastics are not single-use plastics – they are designed to be used millions and millions of times and to have a very long life. The energy used to produce a plastic part is a lot less than it would be to produce a traditional metal component. You can also see that, logistically, while we are shipping out hundreds and thousands of parcels per day, our parts are made of plastic – they are lightweight, so the carbon footprint of delivering these parts is much lower than traditional bearings or chain systems.
Thirdly, I’d like to mention a scheme which we started to help to seal the environmental credentials of igus®. That is an exchange programme where, when a plastic chain reaches the end of its life, that could be in 10 years’ time or thereabouts, we will take that chain back and issue a credit note for an agreed value of the plastic. The calculation and more information can be found on our chainge page. It doesn’t have to be an igus® chain, it could be any plastic chain from any manufacturer, and we will then reprocess that material and completely recycle it. We guarantee this and will use that plastic for another non-critical application.
Tell me about how igus® products help to develop and protect our future
Our mission is and always has been to develop products based on technical plastics which are environmentally friendly, which save our customers money and improve technology. That is what our customers need.
Think about a car, most readers of this will drive a car that would cost several thousands of pounds – that maybe 10 years ago would have been more or less the same, perhaps slightly less, but certainly, if you allow for inflation the prices, if anything, come down rather than go up. And yet, that car has increased safety systems, better technology, better performance, it is more environmentally friendly – there are many benefits to having this new car over the 10-year-old version which had cost the same. How do they do that? They do that by using companies like igus to improve technology and, at the same time, take out costs – if you do that with every component within a vehicle you can then deliver that ideal to the customer. So, we form part of all of this manufacturing scene, whether you’re making packaging machines, satellites, aircraft systems, vehicles, robotics, anything! We are involved in these industries and we are helping them to save money and improve technology.