A fresh look at industry Q1.18
BROMPTON BIKESâ€™ ELECTRIC FUTURE Return to sender? Reverse logistics comes to the rescue LAID BARE The man from Mars talks new product development
Q1.18 ISSUE.02 This magazine has been created by the people behind Slough Trading Estate. It reflects their passion and commitment to industry in the UK and worldwide
IN THIS ISSUE... 11
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INTELL: The latest industry insight
INDUSTRY 4.0: The factory’s future is digital
furnacemag.com @furnace_mag Furnace Mag furnacemaguk
Editor: Clare Dowdy Editorial Consultant: Tim Watson Art Director: Sweeta Patel Sub Editor: Chris Bourne Marketing: Ed Little Marketing & Digital Design: Ben Cotterill
INNOVATION: The secret world of Mars’ chief chocolate inventor
SECTOR REPORT: Can reverse logistics solve the challenge of burgeoning returns?
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COMPANY PROFILE: Brompton bikes’ new route
MADE IN UK: GriffonHoverwork’s latest hovercraft
ENTREPRENEUR: Ready meal doyen Charlie Bigham opens a countryside campus
36 40 41
PHOTO STORY: Can China’s craftspeople scale up?
APPRENTICE: Devon Sumner spells success at Airbus
GO FIGURE: Industry stats
hat do a fish pie and a fold-up bike have in common? They’re both changing the way we behave. Ready meals were mostly eaten by empty nesters, until premium brand Bigham’s came along. Their chicken tikkas, beef bourguignons and fish pies are so tasty that now the parents of young children turn to them as a treat. Likewise, before Brompton bikes really took off, city cycling was the preserve of reckless couriers and men in Lycra. Increasingly, commuters reduce their time on public transport or behind the wheel by mounting their Brompton for part of their journey. The upshot of these shifts is a 20 per cent increase in Bromptons sold from 2014 to 2017, and a leap in sales for Bigham’s from £23.5m in 2012 to £52m in 2017. And with its launch of an electric fold-up bike this year, Brompton is hoping to get even more people off the tube. To describe Brompton chief executive Will Butler-Adams as evangelical in his mission is an understatement. Furnace is treated to some quality time on the factory floor with ButlerAdams and Charlie Bigham, and discovers that despite their products’ success, both men are constantly tweaking their processes, on the hunt for yet more improvements. Which is why Brompton has built its own wheel testing machine.
TIMANDRA HARKNESS WRITER Harkness is the author of Big Data: does size matter? (Bloomsbury Sigma) and a Visiting Fellow in Big Data, Information Rights and Public Engagement with the Centre for Information Rights at the University of Winchester. For BBC Radio 4, she presents the series FutureProofing and documentaries including Data, Data Everywhere and Supersense Me. For the BBC World Service she presents Are You A Numbers Person? In this issue, she takes us on a hypothetical tour of the factory of the future, and highlights the advances of reverse logistics.
ANGE HART ILLUSTRATOR Hart is an illustrator and fine art printmaker. She combines the two to produce commercial illustration for the likes of TfL and Knight Frank, and exhibits her prints throughout the South-West, from where she runs her studio and online shop www.angehart. co.uk. For Furnace 02, she has illustrated our two sector reports: Many Unhappy Returns and Tomorrow’s Factory Tour.
The similarities – such as they are – end there. Brompton’s new factory is in London, while Bigham’s has moved some of its production from the capital to a former limestone quarry in Somerset. We find out why these very different locations make sense. Both facilities are state-of-the-art, but in this issue Furnace goes several steps further, imagining the factory of the future. Because the next big change – the digital revolution – is upon us. Welcome to the world of motion capture and activity sensors, to spot when you tire or lose concentration. Production lines are not the only place to find new thinking. Consumers who innocently over-order only to return some items are creating major challenges for distribution systems. Furnace unearths some of the more novel solutions that the reverse logistics people are trialling. Clare Dowdy firstname.lastname@example.org
GAVIN KINGCOME PHOTOGRAPHER Kingcome has shot interiors, portraits and gardens for titles including The Observer Magazinee, House & Garden, World of Interiors, and the Guardian Weekend. For publishers Bloomsbury, Quarto Books and Cico, he is behind lifestyle content such as food, interiors, crafts and portraits. In this issue, he captures Mars’ head chocolate inventor at work.
Our regular round-up of valuable insight
Coals to Newcastle? No, electrical goods to China 02
In an unexpected role reversal, a Hastings-based manufacturer has got the green light to export its electrical products to China. Focus SB’s specially-designed plug sockets and switch-plates (for light switches) meet Chinese Quality Certification Centre standards, meaning they can be sold on the Chinese market. The 60-strong company’s range is aimed at China’s multi-million-pound high-end residential and hospitality construction sectors. Focus SB says it is the only European manufacturer in its industry to sign a deal with a Chinese distributor. Its competitors either have their own factories in China or operate through joint ventures.
Another new word to get used to: biomimetics Plenty of innovative concepts hover around for a while, eliciting responses such as “That’ll never happen” or “Let me know when it becomes a reality.”
Focus SB’s distribution partners in China have made “conservative forecasts that could see our £4.5m UK turnover double over the next three to five years”, says managing director Gary Stevens. Last autumn, the 40-year-old firm took on a further 5,000sqft of factory and office space. It has turned its sights on China to counter the threat of a potential future slowdown in the UK construction sector following the Brexit vote. Ironically, the new direction was partly funded by Locate East Sussex, an EU-supported organisation which helps growing businesses in the county.
But biomimetics is one idea that is fast becoming reality, in the shape of a new beanie hat. Biomimetics or biomimicry is about applying principles from engineering, chemistry and biology to the synthesis of materials that mimic the natural world. The latest biomimetic manifestation is a beanie hat made by materials science start-up Bolt Threads from a combination of wool with a bioengineered spider silk. This yarn is produced using genetically-modified yeast that, when fermented, generates proteins that can be spun into a fibre. Bolt Threads’ chief executive and founder Dan Widmaier thinks replicating materials made in nature will unleash a wave of innovation (not just softer headwear). “Right now, what you see is spider silk,” he says. “But we are looking at the vast array of things that nature makes possible.” The hat may be a simple and slightly quirky application, but it gets a whole lot more serious when you consider that the best new plastic replacement for cups and cartons might be made from discarded shrimp shells. Of which, apparently, there is a plentiful supply. A major benefit is that deploying naturally occurring materials uses far less energy and far fewer chemicals than manmade ones. Which means we’re going to see a lot more biomimetic innovation in the next 15-20 years.
Our regular round-up of valuable insight
What can housebuilders learn from the factory floor? Efficiency 04
A Leeds-based developer is bringing the efficiencies of the production line to house-building. Citu has constructed an 80,000sqft factory on the site of its latest development in Leeds’s South Bank, to assemble and fit out hundreds of low-carbon homes. And rather than contracting external suppliers, Citu is employing tradespeople on a full-time, permanent basis to carry out the work. Citu managing director, Chris Thompson, says, “We need better control over the quality and assembly of our buildings.” The 530 units at the company’s £125m Climate Innovation District comprise timber frames and specially-designed panels. According to Thompson, each frame can be erected in two days, with fit-out taking eight weeks.
He explains that construction will not be hampered by adverse weather conditions, delays in transporting materials to site and poor communication between multiple contractors. The skilled workers: plumbers, electricians, joiners and timberframe specialists, are organised in ten squads of eight. Meanwhile, 12 apprentices have been recruited in partnership with the Leeds College of Building. The facility at the Climate Innovation District has the capacity to produce up to 750 low carbon homes a year. The first prototype house is due to be completed in March.
BRINGING FRESH IDEAS TO THE TABLE
HOW PRODUCTIONLINE INVESTMENT CAN BRING JOY TO SELF-ASSEMBLY The joys of an IKEA flatpack furniture delivery can sometimes/often/always (delete as appropriate) be overshadowed by the process of assembly. Those pesky bags of screws and other fittings are enough to give some of us nightmares. So the Swedish manufacturer is rolling out an alternative. Hey presto: the wedge dowel, a small ribbed fitting that’s milled on the end of wooden legs. Meaning cack-handed customers can click them directly into a matching predrilled hole on the underside of a table top.
The patented wedge dowel was the brainchild of prototype engineers Anders Eriksson, Benny Andersson and Göran Sjöstedt at the IKEA pattern shop in Älmhult, Sweden. Back at home, it cuts assembly time by up to 80 per cent, according to IKEA. It’s a feature of its LISABO table range, whose own production has been speeded up by 3,500 per cent since the supplier, the IKEA Industry Lubawa factory in Poland, invested heavily in new machinery and training. That means the LISABO can now be mass-produced, and Lubawa’s workers are now churning out five tables a minute. That’s a huge leap from their previous speed of one table every seven minutes.
£20 BILLION OF IMPORTS AND EXPORTS Bolloré Logistics is a global leader in international transport and logistics. In the last 12 months Bolloré Logistics has handled over £20 billion of imports and exports from its new state-of-the-art 82,317 sq ft building at Skyline, Heathrow. As an existing customer, we worked with Bolloré Logistics to facilitate their growth and changing needs, culminating in a new facility to accommodate their business ambitions. When brilliant businesses find outstanding spaces, extraordinary things happen.
TOMORROWâ€™S FACTORY TOUR By Timandra Harkness | First page illustration by Ange Hart
If the first Industrial Revolution was coal-fired, the second powered by electricity, and the third sparked by telecommunications, the fourth Industrial Revolution is digital 07
“Digital technologies are transforming industry,” says the UK Government-commissioned Made Smarter report. “Emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as AI (artificial intelligence), robotics, and the Internet of Things are significant in their own right. However, it is the convergence of these IDTs (industrial digital technologies) that really turbocharges their impact.” The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) cuts out the middlehuman, and lets devices communicate directly, sharing data as easily as toddlers share germs. Every day, 5m devices link to each other, and by 2020 there will be 20bn data-sharing objects in the world. That’s the forecast of the Made Smarter report, which concluded that investing in Industry 4.0 could boost manufacturing growth by 1.5 to 3 per cent every year. The IIoT promises improvements at every level, from production scheduling to customer satisfaction. With a cleaner, safer workplace and less unplanned downtime, small gains in efficiency swiftly add up to big savings. Companies like Sight Machine, which originated in Michigan’s automotive industry, now offer data
analytics to enterprises of all shapes and sizes. By bringing together diverse types of data into one system, managers can oversee the whole manufacturing and distribution process on one dashboard. In real time, the information flows in and the picture updates. Digital design and additive manufacturing techniques disrupt our idea of how work flows through a factory. If parts can be custom-made within days or hours, every job becomes a bespoke job. Luckily, supply chain management is now delegated to powerful computers that can handle the new complexity. Thankfully, AI anticipates problems before they happen. Whether it’s a machine about to break down, an understocked warehouse, or an over-tired worker, your Machine Learning algorithm will soon know the warning signs and alert a responsible person. And most of this technology is already being used somewhere, by somebody. Should you be investing in the IIoT too? To see what’s available, don your RFID-tagged hard hat and join our tour of Factory 4.0.
Smart energy management systems track fluctuating prices for electricity and gas, purchasing when they’re low and predicting when demand will peak. The system adjusts production schedules to take advantage of renewable energy. You can run energy-hungry processes on sunny or windy days, or postpone them when electricity prices rise, due to high demand and restricted supply. If your own solar panels and wind turbines give you more – or less – than you need to use, a Smart Grid will trade with neighbouring businesses on your behalf, keeping costs and carbon emissions low.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING – AKA 3D PRINTING
Once known as rapid prototyping, using a digital design to build up a solid object in layers is now a mainstream manufacturing technique. Creating custom components on demand is easy. If you can design it in a virtual space, there’s a machine that can create it out of powdered polymer, metal, or even living cells. Combine different materials in the same process to create an electronic circuit within a solid object. Or, like NASA, create a bimetallic rocket igniter. You could even scan an existing object and recreate it with a 3D printer, with obvious implications for Intellectual Property.
SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT
The IIoT turns every point in your process, from batches of raw material to truckloads of finished goods, into a data point. As each data point updates itself in real time, your virtual business shadows the real thing. Cheap and discreet electronic RFID tags in every product let the automatic stock control system track each item from production to sale. Stock is less likely to go astray en route from Shanghai to Shenfield. And any irregularities in manufacture are traceable back to the source of the problem, so you can solve the issue in minutes, not days.
WORKFORCE SAFETY AND WELLBEING
Yes, machines can increasingly work without human supervision. In fact, sometimes it’s the machines keeping a watchful eye on their human colleagues. Not only do smart ID tags mean no more manual clocking-in, analytical software could detect unusual patterns of behaviour that may be a sign something is wrong. Thanks to RFID tags in safety helmets, cranes can detect the presence of a fragile human head in the danger zone, too close to a swinging hook. Motion capture and activity sensors spot when somebody is tiring or losing concentration. And soon, facial recognition technology will be able to detect when an employee is unhappy – or maybe just annoyed about this constant surveillance!
Simulators are already used to train pilots, surgeons and drivers. Thanks to Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), onsite training now uses simulation too. Staff members can practise in a virtual environment, or augment the real environment with information, instructions and controls. Haptic interfaces even simulate the sensation of touch, letting you feel the resistance of a rusty bolt or the squelch of Swarfega. Trainers many miles away could interact with trainees on location, seeing what they’re seeing as well as what they’re doing. Cheaper than sending them on residential courses, and safer than letting them loose on the real thing right away.
ROBOTS AND CO-BOTS
Sure, big manufacturing plants have had industrial robots for years. Now smaller factories making lowvolume, high-precision goods are opting for co-bots. The new generation of mechanical workmates are designed to learn new tasks from human colleagues and then work safely alongside them. “It’s an ideal fit for the lower-volume, higher-mix environments which define the vast majority of manufacturing tasks today,” say Rethink Robotics. Their Baxter robot can reproduce actions that a human workmate has shown it, by demonstration or by manipulating the robot’s arm through the required motions. Baxter learns by imitation, no programming required. But do they ever take their turn on the tea run?
Spotting tiny abnormalities or defects is slow, repetitive and dull for a human being. That makes it the perfect task for an AI programme based on Machine Learning (ML). Fujitsu, for example, works with Siemens to analyse scans of 75m-wide wind-turbine blades faster and more thoroughly than the unaided human eye. Researchers have even tested ML algorithms with an electronic nose to speed up quality control of olive oils. Downtime Analysis also uses ML to analyse data when machinery stops working. By classifying downtime periods by cause – equipment failure, starved of materials or blocked from sending completed work onwards – it helps predict and prevent future incidents.
Take-out: Industry 4.0 is not a kit of parts, it’s the confluence of many different technologies. What will really make the difference for your business? 09
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I N N O V AT I O N
Photography by Gavin Kingcome
Mike Zietek has a dream – if highly secretive – job. He mixes new recipe ideas and customer feedback to concoct chocolate bars and fillings at Mars’ UK HQ. Like his role, Zietek’s title is a bit of a mouthful: principal scientist for global product design and prototyping. Clare Dowdy watches Slough’s answer to Willy Wonka at work in the pristine test kitchen.
A good sweet is…
I taste chocolate products at least once a week, and a good sweet for me is one where all the flavours and textures combine. Like Maltesers: the centre crunches and dissolves, and when you combine that with the chocolate it creates a melting mix of malty magic.
And a bad sweet…
I’ve had my fair share of disasters in the test kitchen and the pilot plant, which is where we keep all the large-scale equipment for making our pilot products. I once tried to coat Maltesers with a peanut Gianduja, a mixture of nut paste and chocolate. It just didn’t work, it was too soft.
Taking feedback to heart
One consumer – a male landscape gardener in his 30s – said, “A Mars bar’s just too arduous to eat.” I think he meant that that, while the caramel and the nougat are both OK to eat on their own, when you put them together, they combine to create this bolus at the back of your mouth that won’t go away. That comment now informs how I create new products for the Mars bar.
Bars to entry
The trickiest part of my job is getting something launched. It has to be desirable (to consumers and retailers). It has to be feasible, so that it can be made somewhere in Mars’ supply network. And it has to be viable. The absolute worst thing is the viability, getting the business model right. That means balancing the cost of raw ingredients – which is my responsibility – with the packaging, logistics and manufacturing costs – which is the finance team’s job.
Below & Right: Zietek hand-crafts the interior of a Ripple
We’ve just filed a patent application for my latest invention: an aerated filling with mousse-like characteristics. I’m now busy writing the recipe, but it will take at least eight years for us to get the product and process specs right, and for it to then hit the shelves.
Telling you how I came up with that new filling would give away what it is, and if I told you that I’d have to shoot you. I can tell you that I was in the test kitchen, messing around with ingredients, and it happened accidentally on purpose.
New! New! New!
Big innovation projects are my bread and butter. I’ve got three new products – all chocolate-coated centres – launching this year and in 2019. Again, details are under wraps. I work on globally aligned projects, so I’m certainly not allowed to do my own thing. So for these three, I took into account internal research and I looked externally for inspiration, like the trends of health and wellness, premiumisation, and more indulgent experiences.
Innovation – what’s the point?
Above & Middle: The making of Maltesers
You can certainly build a company on products that are 80-plus years old, but you need to keep innovating to keep newsworthy. If you’re not generating comments from customers like “have you seen that new product from Maltesers, Galaxy, Mars?” you’ve not got a hope of surviving in the marketplace.
I followed up catering college and a stint as a pastry chef with a degree in food science and nutrition, and spent some of that course working at Mars. I always saw myself as working in product design, and obviously I had a feeling for the chocolate side of the business as I’d trained as a pastry chef. I picked Mars because I’d heard good things about the way they treated and developed people. And the way you’re able to work your way up in the company.
My favourite product
Snickers, because it’s got the most amazing combination of flavours and textures. I’ve done some product innovation around Snickers, but I can’t tell you about it.
I N N O V AT I O N
Take-out: â€˜Good enough to launchâ€™ might work for software businesses but launching a tangible product takes imagination, tenacity and conviction 13
By Timandra Harkness | Illustration by Ange Hart
“It became almost like a mania for me,” says designer Alex. “I was working long hours so it was hard to actually go shopping, but you have all the shops right on the laptop in front of you. So it was very easy to order stuff, get it shipped in, try it on and then not be satisfied with it. At work, I am always the guy who is having the deliveries all the time.” Part of the appeal of shopping online is being able to try things on at leisure and to return unwanted items. Nearly a third of goods bought online now make the return journey. “One fashion retailer admitted to me that their biggest supplier to their warehouse is themselves with returns,” says Andy Gulliford, chief operating officer at SEGRO.
Of course, fickle shoppers are blissfully unaware of the challenges they present to their favourite brands. “What retailers want most of all is to make sure that customers have a great experience,” says Emma Clark of ACS Reverse Logistics. So collecting the unwanted item is a relatively happy ending to the shopper’s story. But for the retailer, it’s just the beginning of a logistics journey that costs the retail sector £60bn per year. For starters, where do you take it? To date, returns have been schlepped back to the retailer’s warehouse. Typically, a mezzanine space might be added “to keep returns out of the flow of the general warehouse”, says Gulliford.
But increasingly, retailers are turning to specialist third-party logistics companies such as ACS Reverse Logistics, iForce and Clipper Logistics. Their centralised return centres, “give retailers back space, time and money”, as Clark puts it. Instead of clogging up outbound warehouses, returned goods from multiple retailers are sorted in one dedicated space. Then, whether it’s picked up by the manufacturer, returned to the retailer, or sent onward to a third node, it’s a single journey instead of collection from many sites.
Retailers tend to rely on a single return centre in the middle of the country, but Gulliford predicts the arrival of local warehouses which just handle returns from shoppers in that area, and put them back onto the market locally. “That’s where we see the future,” he says. Which brings us to Asset Recovery. Because it’s not a simple matter of sending your outfit back to reappear on the same retailer’s shelf it left a week ago. Even if it’s still pristine, by the time it’s been inspected, repacked and rebadged, it may be last season’s style, or too low-margin to be worth the cost of that processing. But nobody wants to just chuck it away. Most brands and retailers are careful about where their stock might end up. Seeing the same thing on sale cheaper, or in a more downmarket store, might erode the value of the brand. Some even specify that rejected goods can only be sold in different parts of the world, which means finding reputable traders to ship them abroad.
The same kind of tagging and tracking that originally got a commodity through the supply chain into the customers hands can now help to get it back on sale fast. Luckily, there is a market for returned goods. Discount remaindered stores, brands’ own eBay stores, or specialist dealers welcome them. Online auctions devoted to returned and surplus goods get yesterday’s rejects to tomorrow’s customers. “If you can sell it somewhere, it helps you recoup some of the cost,” says Clark. “It’s ethical, it’s sustainable and it’s not going into landfill.” Hand-in-hand with these solutions, the industry is trialling ever-more inventive ways of turning returns into an opportunity. And that is where the future lies for reverse logistics.
Californian FinTech start-up Returnly wants to streamline the process of getting refunds to customers. Instead of waiting till their purchase is returned, customers can have the price instantly refunded to a virtual wallet. But that credit note can only be spent with the same retailer. “Asking shoppers to wait for a return to be processed before they’re refunded is just a bad shopping experience,” says founder Eduardo Vilar. “We empower brands to offer a better returns experience, turning returners into hyper-loyal shoppers and lost sales into repurchases.” Or what self-described compulsive online shopper Alex calls a “gateway drug”. ASOS customers with the ASOS app can order goods to their home, try them, and only pay for what they keep – at no extra cost. Previously, shoppers who wanted to try things before deciding which to keep had to fork out for all of them and return the unwanted items to get a refund. Now, shoppers don’t have cash missing from their account while a return is processed.
TECHNOLOGY WILL SAVE US ACS offers a software platform, solvup, to streamline the process of returning faulty goods. The computer programme helps often inexperienced staff to decide whether to send the product for repair, offer a refund, or just exchange it. Then it connects the product with repair facilities or suppliers, as appropriate. It can also guide online customers through the returns process, and automatically arrange to collect unwanted goods. Returning your online purchase from home? Don’t be surprised to open the door and see, not a uniformed courier, but what looks like a small photocopier on wheels. MyHermes and Starship Technologies are running trials of the autonomous “ground drones” in urban streets. A code sent to your phone lets you open the secure compartment, which carries up to 10kg. Then it trundles off at speeds up to 4mph. For now, they are under human supervision, but one day the pavements may be full of delivery-bots.
BOXING CLEVER Collect Plus and Gett have joined forces to provide scooters which collect and deliver unwanted purchases back to Collect Plus destinations on behalf of shoppers. Yoox Net-a-Porter Group plans to allow customers to try on clothing at home while a ‘butler’ waits at the door for any returns. DHL Parcel and Volkswagen have a pilot project in Berlin where selected customers can use 50 VW Polos as mobile addresses for the delivery – and returns – of their DHL parcels. Some shopping centres in Europe are implementing new ‘click & try’ services. Online orders are delivered to centres with special areas for customers to try on items, with the option to return immediately.
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Brompton: together in electric dreams By Clare Dowdy | Photography by Trent McMinn
After years of development and a £2m investment plan, the city commuter’s friend is going electric
In years to come, will push-bikes go the way of the quill – an obsolete piece of kit only used by eccentric hobbyists? Will Butler-Adams (pictured Right) thinks so. His money is on electric bikes. As chief executive of the Brompton Bicycle Company, he’s invested five years and £2m developing a folding e-bike, which launched this year with a retail price of £2,595. “If we’re trying to change how people live in cities, we need to use technology,” he says of the Brompton Electric. His team at Brompton worked with Formula 1 team Williams Racing to develop an electric batterypowered motor light enough for a fold-up bike. Butler-Adams, 43, exudes bonhomie and enthusiasm on the December morning of Furnace’s visit to the Brompton factory in west London: He happily plucks his Brompton e-bike out of the boot of his electric car, unfurls it and cycles around the car park, with only a padded gilet to protect him from the pelting rain. Listening to him explain Brompton’s role in urban transport sounds a bit like Jamie Oliver taking ownership of the diet of the nation’s school children. Both are peddling solutions to problems rather than offering mere products. “Our aim is to change how people live in cities,” says Butler-Adams, who loathes the idea of commuters “going down a hole like a rat. We are trying to make a product that makes your life better. It happens to be a bicycle, but we don’t look at it in that way, we look at it as an urban tool.”
And there’s more: “It’s no surprise that we have physical and mental health problems (in cities). We need to rethink how we live.” Brompton exports 80 per cent of its bikes to 44 countries. “I see this trajectory in cities around the world, and governments are waking up to the idea that they’ve created a society that they can’t afford to look after.” The Brompton bike was born out of one man’s frustration with city life. “The reason we have this bike is because of Andrew Ritchie who designed it from his flat overlooking Brompton Oratory (in the mid-1970s). He was frustrated by cycling in London. If he’d lived in some rural idyll it would never have even come into his brain.” Which goes some way to explaining why Brompton’s 280 staff are still based in London, albeit in zone 4. “London created the bike, the city demanded the bike.” They did consider moving out of the capital but he insists that many other places are “totally un-bike friendly. We’d be a company making a product for which we (at Brompton) have no use.” Although he admits that it’s “a bloody expensive solution”. (Butler-Adams, a mechanical engineer by training who joined Brompton in 2002 as a project manager, makes an effort to rein in his swearing during the interview. But a few good-natured bloodys and shittys slip out.)
IN HIS FLAT OVERLOOKING BROMPTON ORATORY IN SOUTH KENSINGTON, LONDON, INVENTOR ANDREW RITCHIE DESIGNS A FOLDING BIKE
LOW-VOLUME PRODUCTION BEGINS
FULL-TIME PRODUCTION BEGINS IN RAILWAY ARCHES IN BRENTFORD, WEST LONDON
BROMPTON MOVES FROM BRENTFORD TO CHISWICK
BROMPTON MOVES FROM CHISWICK TO GREENFORD
RITCHIE STEPS DOWN FROM THE BOARD
WILL BUTLER-ADAMS BECOMES MANAGING DIRECTOR
BUTLER-ADAMS BECOMES CHIEF EXECUTIVE
BROMPTON ELECTRIC LAUNCHES
Meanwhile, keeping production in the UK is a qualitycontrol issue. “If you outsourced it, how can you know about how it’s made?” Brompton moved out of two Chiswick sites to its new £2.5m HQ and factory in Greenford – complete with pool and ping-pong tables and a piano in the mezzanine break-out space – because “we were bursting at the seams,” says Butler-Adams. Technically they could have produced more bikes there, but the business was becoming more multifaceted. “We’d taken back distribution, R&D had got more complex, and we needed testing facilities.” The aim now is to produce 100,000 bikes a year by 2020. If Oliver can get Thai fish curry on to school menus, then Brompton can surely get more city-dwellers cycling. “We know we can do it because we’ve had a sufficient impact in London (where 100,000 have been sold), Brussels and Barcelona. We have made
half a million bikes to date and we haven’t even started.” Certainly the wind is already blowing in cyclists’ direction. Motorists entering central London during the morning peak in 2000 outnumbered cyclists by more than 11 to 1. By 2014, the ratio was 1.7 to 1, according to TfL. But now it’s all about electricity. Butler-Adams says Brompton started thinking about this ten years ago, because some people are put off cycling up a hill, or turning up to meetings dripping with sweat. Now the technology of the electric drive “breaks down these barriers to entry”. The market has not only grown, it’s exploding. Just 12 years ago, Germans spent €20m on e-bikes; that jumped to €1.2bn last year. In the UK, sales grew by 20 per cent in 2016. According to ButlerAdams, this means that“if you’re not in (e-bikes), you’ll die.” And the sector is getting crowded – in Furnace 01, we reported on how Gtech, best known for its cordless vacuum cleaners, has launched an e-bike.
C O M P AF NO YC UPSR O F I L E
Even though Brompton spotted the trend early, it’s taken a good while to develop their own drive system (a removable lithium-ion battery which powers a motor in the front wheel hub) with Williams. Many other folding e-bikes use offthe-shelf drive systems, but these would have made a Brompton too heavy for ButlerAdams’ liking. The bespoke system adds just 2.9kg to the Brompton Electric, making its total weight 16.6kg. The initial work was done at Williams’ facility in Oxford, then Brompton built a capability at Greenford. Butler-Adams admits it’s a big risk, and has meant “a huge investment of our savings”. Yet he expects (or hopes) that the Brompton Electric will double the size of the business in the next three to five years. But that’s not the end of the story. Now that they’re en route from being a just mechanical company to incorporating electronics and software, off-piste ideas can be developed faster. “I’m impatient with all the ideas, we’ve got a whole bloody war-chest,” though he declines to be specific. But the implication is that, one day, Brompton could mean more than bicycles.
RE-INVENTING THE WHEEL
The team at Brompton are perfectionists. “Even now it’s nowhere near good enough,” says Butler-Adams, “but technology’s moving on, and new tools allow us to optimise the design.” He cites the wheel, which hasn’t changed much for 100 years. “If you want to improve its design, you need to understand what the wheel is doing.” Brompton spent six months designing its own machine to test the wheel. Most standard machines assume that cyclists are riding in a straight line. “Our machine tests wheels turning and tilting, which allows us to get an insight that other people don’t have,” he says. “Once we have insight from the machine, we can optimise the design.”
Take-out: A bespoke take on new technology has the potential to give a product the edge
Trail Brazer: Despite being bundled up in an unwieldy-looking outfit of overalls, gloves, face guard and steel-toed shoes, Rebecca Summers’ job is all about the detail. As a brazer, she lugs around an air-flow back-pack to filter chemical fumes, and wields a blowtorch, joining the steel parts of the bike’s mainframe together by melting copper into the joints.
This is a far cry from Summers’ first job: hairdressing. But she soon quit that to join Brompton on the assembly line. Three years ago, she set herself the goal of being the company’s first female brazer. This is the most skilled part of making a Brompton, and she joined the apprenticeship scheme to learn on the job. Summers, 26, qualified in 2016 and is fired up about brazing Bromptons: “I’m in control of my own bike parts and I have a real responsibility to keep people safe.” The tricky bits, she says, are the small details, “like giving the copper a petal-like ripple effect to make it look pretty”. Like all the 42 brazers, each part she works on is marked with her own number code and letter code, adding an element of craftsmanship to the job.
ENGINES FORD DAGENHAM
MOTOR CONTROLLERS SEVCON OXFORD
ELECTRIC MOTORS YASA OXFORD
WINDOWS HOUDINI MARINE SOUTHMINSTER
INFLATABLE SIDE DECKS HENSHAW INFLATABLES WINCANTON
Hovercraft to the rescue 28
MADE IN UK
PROPELLER BLADES MULTI-WING LEICESTER
If you’re a coast guard, or you need to rescue someone from sinking sand, or if you carry out environmental survey work at low tide, then this could be the vehicle for you. Like all hovercraft, the prototype 995ED is amphibious and glides swiftly over sand and shallow water. It is also very light, and has room for two first-aid stretchers. It’s the brainchild of Southampton-based GriffonHoverwork, a company that designs and manufactures hovercraft, which can trace its roots back to Sir Christopher Cockerell’s inflatable rubber ‘skirt’ invention of the 1950s. Its bigger craft carry passengers between the Isle of Wight and the UK mainland. For the 995ED, the company specifically targeted UK suppliers to partner up with, so its engineers got plenty of help solving issues as locally as possible.
SEATS TEK SEATING LLP TUNBRIDGE WELLS
SKIRT GRIFFONHOVERWORK SOUTHAMPTON
Photography by Trent McMinn
Starting afresh in Somerset
E N T RFEOPCRUESN E U R
Charlie Bigham has a challenge: keeping his cottage-industry ethos when his cottage pie business is booming. In his vast new countryside campus, he shows Clare Dowdy how he balances a hands-on approach to food production with corporate expansion. When is a factory not a factory? When it’s a kitchen. At Bigham’s new facility in Somerset, meals are prepared with the love and attention of a fancy restaurant. There are even people fluffing up the fish pies’ mashed potato by gloved hand. This, combined with the use of fresh ingredients, is what helps his ready meals stand out from the crowd. Bigham, 50 (pictured above) says, “There’s no shit in our food” (we assume he is speaking figuratively). As a result, more and more customers – currently around 300,000 a week – are happy to part with around £7 for a ready meal for one, boosting annual sales from £23.5m in 2012 to £52m in 2017. The brand, which first appeared on Waitrose’s shelves 20 years ago, is now all over the place: Waitrose has been joined by Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Budgens, Booths and Ocado. “Business is so good we ran out of space on our two sites on the Park
Royal Trading Estate in west London,” says Bigham. But rather than expand there, he has added another facility in an old limestone quarry near his home in Somerset. And even more extraordinary – for such a company – he brought in a firm of young architects to design a £21m building. Having his own site is an important part of breaking with food-processing convention. “We want the new campus to be everything that a food factory isn’t,” says Bigham. “This is a fantastic opportunity to raise the bar.” Dulcote Quarry, whose 18 acres are home to peregrine falcons and great crested newts, is now also home to Bigham’s food production campus, and breaks the mould in a number of ways. Architects Feilden Fowles have designed a timber-clad building with a single entrance for all employees, a staggered pitched roof, 5m-high ceilings, and loads of windows. And instead of a mezzanine full of suited office workers overlooking the production floor, up there are the canteen and break-out space.
E N T RFEOPCRUESN E U R
When Furnace visited the 6,500sqm² building in December 2017, it was operating at 20 per cent capacity. Staff – a combination of locals and existing employees who relocated from Park Royal – were busy making chicken tikka and fish pies. “We do what’s important by hand,” says Bigham, gesturing to workers sprinkling nigella seeds, chilli and freshly chopped parsley atop portions of curried chicken. As for the cooking, rather than colossal pieces of unrecognisable industrial equipment, it’s all done in bigger-than-average ovens, saucepans and frying pans. And, unusually for a convenience food manufacturer, all the ingredients for a dish are cooked at the same time. “That’s about freshness and making things difficult for ourselves.” He insists that this sentiment continues in the home, meaning the Bigham’s meals should go into in an oven, not a microwave.
Jackson Woods, an analyst at Kantar Worldpanel, has put it like this: “In a category dominated by older, empty-nester shoppers, Charlie Bigham’s has stood out for appealing to younger buyers.” “People start eating our food when they have kids and want a night off from cooking,” explains Bigham. A former management consultant, Bigham set up with no background in the food sector – bar a bit of work experience in a Notting Hill deli – because he didn’t like the look of the convenience food on offer, and saw a gap in the market.
‘We do what’s important by hand’
Bigham’s wooden cartons are labelled with cartoon line drawings that wouldn’t be out of place in a broadsheet newspaper. Packaging design is handled by Big Fish, the same company responsible for another middle-class indulgence, Gü. This aesthetic has helped Bigham’s do something that some other convenience food brands struggle with.
With his chunky-knit jumper and fly-away hair, he looks as if he’s just back from walking the dog rather than running a demanding business. But that is misleading. His ear to the ground and his taste buds tuned in, he’s forever on the hunt for improvements to the range and the production process. “I spend a lot of time talking with my customers and my staff, and I taste every product at least twice a week. The whole time we tweak and make things tastier, because we’re focused on trying to make the food better.” New products will appear on the shelves in late spring, though Bigham declines to be drawn on details.
“We’re a very small business, with the opportunity to grow,” he adds, through increasing the number of stockists, recipes and customers. And some of that growth will manifest itself in the picturesque quarry. So far just one kitchen building and a gatehouse are built, but there are plans for another two kitchens, a visitors’ centre, pavilions in the landscape for employees to take their lunch break, and a Bigham’s Academy. Some of this could be a decade away, because “the site belongs to us, and that gives us the freedom to do things on a different time horizon,” he explains. In the meantime, the UK’s time-poor foodies continue to bring home the Bigham’s.
‘We’re a very small business with the opportunity to grow’
“I started in the dispatch area at Bigham’s Park Royal site in 2007. Now I’ve relocated with my family to Dulcote, and was part of the design team for the new building. Here, I’m responsible for everything that’s on site, every single employee, as well as the right quality of the food, the right ingredients and right standard. It’s about training 100 individuals as a team.” Marcin Czuba, Operations Manager
Take-out: For a premium product, expansion and growth must go hand-in-hand with sticking to your guns
UPSCALING CHINAâ€™S AGE-OLD CRAFTS FOR A WIDER AUDIENCE
Photography by Frances Lin & Pak Fung Wong
FROM MOUNTAINSIDE TO MASS PRODUCTION
At Furnace, we love all things tech. Likewise in China, the buzzwords among the industrialised masses are all about progress: smart technology, intelligent manufacturing and mass entrepreneurship. But the Greek word “tekhnologia” alludes to the “science of craft”, so we occasionally like to scout out the artisan’s workshop. As well as being the world’s factory, China is home to the world’s biggest community of craftspeople. Yet these small-scale operators are in danger of being forgotten.
Just in the nick of time, two photographers have started documenting them. Poet and artist Frances Lin, and Eugene Lin – co-managing director at international product design firm IDEO in Shanghai – kicked off their journey in Yunnan, south-west China. They snapped some of the 394,000sqkm province’s 24 ethnic minority groups showing off their centuries-old skills sets. The Lins unearthed experts in embroidery, batik dying, loom weaving and woodblock printing. “A lot of the photos we took happen to be textiles, because each ethnic minority group has their own distinctive garments and this is a point of pride for them,” says Frances.
The couple hope that their initiative, Song Expeditions (songexpeditions.com), will raise the profile of these makers and perhaps even help them commercialise their output. Though this won’t be an Amazon Prime-style operation. “A complete garment can take up to a year, sometimes even two, to complete,” Frances adds. Song Expeditions’ next venture has more obvious retail potential. The focus will be on food, and the tools and vessels used to concoct traditional dishes. This time, the Lins will have an industrial designer in tow to create a range of cookware with master artisans. These pieces will be manufactured by one of China’s most prestigious cookware companies and sold in stores and online.
TAKE-OUT: EVERY PRODUCT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO UP-SCALE, WITH THE RIGHT VISION AND BACKING
Devon Sumner is one in a million. Well, not quite. But as an engineer, she’s pretty rare, because a pitiful 9 per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce is female. And yet, just a few years after dropping out of university, Sumner, 27, is highly-qualified and leads a team of project managers at Airbus in North Wales. It couldn’t have happened without the apprenticeship scheme, she says. Y ou were at university, and yet you switched to an apprenticeship. Why? DS After A levels, I never thought of doing an apprenticeship. Instead, I started a product design degree at the University of Leeds. In my first year, a lot of the modules emulated those of an engineering course and I soon realised that I was more interested in, and had more flair for, that side of things. So I left uni and explored apprenticeships. I was amazed at what was out there, and loved the idea of combining academic and vocational training with on-the-job experience. I’ve always been fascinated by the aviation industry, so it was Airbus’s three-year undergraduate engineering scheme that stood out for me.
W ithout blushing, can you tell us about all those qualifications? DS I completed my apprenticeship in October 2014, graduated with a First Class Honours degree from Glyndwr University, and was accredited as an incorporated engineer through the Royal Aeronautical Society. I also got the RAeS’s final year undergraduate prize for the highest overall marks at my university. And I was named higher apprentice of the year at the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru 2014. What do you do now? DS I’m head of configuration and product developments at Airbus UK’s wing manufacturing plant in Broughton. With my team (many of them ex-apprentices) I manage the design modifications to Airbus wings. Those changes are driven by factors like cost reduction, quality improvements and continued airworthiness. We tend to take an immature concept and work on it until it’s ready to become a permanent fixture on the aircraft. No two days are ever the same, we deal with loads of different people, and are exposed to a lot of diverse and interesting topics. How have you benefited from your apprenticeship? DS Not only has it given me a whole heap of opportunities, it’s allowed me to achieve a huge amount in a short time. I definitely wouldn’t be in the position I am today if I’d followed any other path.
Take Out:To accelerate a career, the right apprenticeship can be even more valuable than a straight degree 41
ONLINE RETAILERS’ TAKEUP OF INDUSTRIAL AND LOGISTICS SPACE IS UP BY
SINCE 2008 (SAVILLS)
THE UK WILL CONTINUE TO HAVE THE LARGEST SHARE OF ONLINE RETAIL SALES IN WESTERN EUROPE, UP FROM
18% IN 2017 23% IN 2022 (FORRESTER)
MORE BRITS ARE BUYING READY MEALS (AN EXTRA 100,000 HOUSEHOLDS IN THE PAST YEAR) AND ARE SPENDING MORE. THE MARKET IS UP BY
1.2% OR £37.5m
WESTERN EUROPE’S ONLINE RETAIL SALES
WILL GROW AT MORE THAN 3 TIMES THE RATE OF TOTAL RETAIL SALES OVER THE NEXT 5 YEARS
(FORRESTER’S ONLINE RETAIL FORECAST: 2017 TO 2022 (WESTERN EUROPE).)
INVESTMENTS IN ADVANCED DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES COULD HELP GENERATE MORE THAN
$500m OF VALUE ANNUALLY FOR AN AVERAGE POST AND PARCEL ORGANISATION (ACCENTURE)
MULTI-CHANNEL SHOPPERS IN THE UK NOW MAKE OF THEIR RETAIL PURCHASES ONLINE (UP FROM 74% IN 2017). OF SHOPPERS NOW PAY FOR DELIVERY SUBSCRIPTIONS,
BRITISH CONSUMERS SPENT
ON NEW CLOTHES IN THE JANUARY SALES. BUT PLANNED TO RETURN AT LEAST ONE ITEM (COLLECTPLUS)
OF THEM WITH AMAZON (ROYAL MAIL)
YEAR-ON-YEAR INCREASE IN CYCLING JOURNEYS IN CENTRAL LONDON’S CONGESTION CHARGE ZONE (TFL)
FURNACE is a digital magazine that champions industry. FURNACE exists to celebrate the future of industry, where it’s going and the people t...
Published on Feb 6, 2018
FURNACE is a digital magazine that champions industry. FURNACE exists to celebrate the future of industry, where it’s going and the people t...