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The Morgan motorcar, a British icon, stands for passion, tradition and quality, but the company behind the legend is also a leader in technological innovation as Solutions discovers.
The Morgan, that quintessentially English car, is the epitome of hand built excellence and the craftsmanship which symbolises the brand is certainly very much alive and well. But Morgan is also breaking new ground and is one of the most innovative automotive manufacturers around – reflected in its models that range from pedal cars to supercars and the hydrogen fuel cell powered LIFE car.
This diversity is due largely to its adoption of world class manufacturing technologies – many of which are provided through strategic partnerships with suppliers. Typical of this approach is Morgan’s alliance with the precision sheet metalworking company, Radshape Sheet Metal, with which it developed its bonded chassis. Morgan is believed to be one of only four automotive manufacturers in the world to embrace this technology, the others being Aston Martin, Jaguar and Lotus. When Radshape started manufacturing the Aero 8 bonded chassis in 1999 it produced approximately 200 units in the first year. Over the next ten years Radshape manufactured between 1,000 and 1,500 chassis per year.
Fits, bonds, holds
The sharp decline in global demand for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars in 2009 contributed towards Radshape losing business worth €1.2 million. This outcome caused a significant drop in Tier one and tier two order intake, but it has since bounced back with a vengeance. Following the downturn, Radshape expected to record revenues of €3.5 million – far beyond expectations – by the end of its financial year in March 2011.
Radshape believes that its strong customer orientated business strategy has been central to this recovery and has enabled it to build on production partnerships with niche manufacturers such as Morgan. Now it is not just the supplier of bonded chassis to the Malvern-based car manufacturer, but it also delivers several other panels, grilles, bumpers, cowls, wind and side screens. “We rely on our trusted suppliers to recommend technological developments that will improve production and enhance our product,” confirms Morgan’s operations director Steve Morris. “The decision to adopt a bonded chassis is a typical example of how Morgan benefits from its strategic partnerships.”
A specially built production cell at Radshape’s Birmingham factory manufactures the bonded structure for Morgan and, in the past, similar assemblies for the Gibbs Aquada amphibian vehicle. Crucial elements are a Trumpf TruPunch 5000 and two TruBend 5130 press brakes.
“We’ve used Trumpf machines right from the start of this project,” reveals Radshape’s bonding engineer John Harper. “This chassis is self-jigging – there are no fixtures involved – so we have nothing to rely on but the accuracy of the machines.” Manufacturing tolerance on the chassis is 0.25mm which is even more rigorous than the 0.5mm standard required by Morgan.
Always getting better
Mr Harper continues: “The TruTops CAD/CAM software has proved a particularly good investment for us. It’s easy to use and has radically changed how we make the tub (the chassis assembly). In the early days, we needed to spend days working out the correct profile but now we can do it in an hour or so.”
The 2.5mm aluminium chassis parts are punched, formed on press brakes and then transferred into the bonding cell for wet build and curing in the oven. “Originally, we were simply responsible for the chassis up to the bulkhead, but now we build up the front end and install sound-deadening material,” explains Radshape’s managing director Keith Chadwick. “Indeed, over the years, we have suggested around 600 ideas for improvement of which more than 65% of which have been taken up.”
One major change originated by Radshape was the development of the universal tub to replace left or right hand drive versions. Belief and ongoing commitment in the apprenticeship system is another common thread between Morgan and Radshape. Steve Morris was a fully trained sheet metalworker who, having completed his apprenticeship at Morgan, has risen through the ranks at the company to operations director. Managing director, Keith Chadwick tells a similar story. He served his apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in Crewe and, in his 25 years with the company, experienced every area of manufacture before taking a top post in purchasing and supply development.
“When I became managing director in 2005, I wanted to turn the clock back to my apprentice days in the 1970s at Rolls-Royce,” he recalls, “as the benefits of such a program are huge for a customer-centric business such as ours. As a result, even during the period of business decline, Radshape continued to take on apprentices.”
Two particular apprentices provide Mr Chadwick with a good example of why he thinks the rounded education provided by modern apprenticeships is so important. In the process, both Jamie Sproson and Tom Gwynn have learned everything they can on Radshape’s shopfloor and recently moved into the sales office as commercial engineers and their background experience certainly gives Radshape an important edge in its dealings with OEMs.
“How can anyone talk about how much a job will cost if they don’t know how to make it?” Mr Chadwick reasons. “These lads have the experience to look at a drawing and point out, for example, that the design would present a problem and recommend solutions to resolve it based on the knowledge they have attained during their apprenticeship. It adds value to the process and gives Radshape the edge on customer service.”
Open to new ideas
Typical of Radshape’s low volume, high quality business is the stainless steel and electro-polished grille for the new Bentley Mulsanne – elements of which interlock like an egg box. This prestige component is produced on a Trumpf TruLaser 5030 to a manufacturing tolerance of ±0.05mm. In common with many UK automotive suppliers, Radshape is seeking to diversify to safeguard its business. Rail, aerospace, commercial vehicles and nuclear sectors are all playing their part, but it’s another take on automotive that is poised to boost growth in the coming years. Radshape is now making its mark on the radio controlled race car market.
This initiative came from Radshape’s business development director Chris Dickinson, and it has spawned a thriving new division of the company. RadshapeRC produces aftermarket metal spares on its Trumpf machines to strengthen, modify and enhance various brands of RC cars. “We’re the only company making metal parts and they have proved immensely popular with hobbyists,” Mr Dickinson explains.
“Within just four months, RadshapeRC trademarked spare parts are selling to 24 countries across the world and we have just developed our own, as yet unnamed, RC vehicle.” Keith Chadwick concludes: “We are confident that in five years, this division of Radshape will represent up to 20% of our business and here too the Trumpf machines are proving crucial in providing timesaving CAD/CAM and flexible sheet metalworking as we scale up production on this new venture.”