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18 Dec 2013

Investing for the future

Investing for the future

We were recently featured in the November edition of Components in Electronics (CIE) magazine; you can read the interview on their online edition (page 19) or below.

 

Ernie Griffin and Michael Hole, Fascia Graphics’ Financial Director and Systems Improvement Manager, talk to Neil Tyler about the company’s ongoing commitment to investing in cutting edge technology.

Founded in 1994, Fascia Graphics is a privately owned company that employs in excess of 60 people at its factory in Chippenham, Wiltshire. It is a market leader in the production and supply of membrane keypads and graphic overlays in the printed graphics industry. The company’s overlays and keypads are used across a wide range of everyday industrial appliances from catering ovens to fire and security equipment and from medical monitors to industrial instrumentation.

Fascia Graphics works with a broad range of companies and when it was first set up one of its main contracts was with James Dyson. Today the company works with a growing number of well known brands and has worked hard to put in place a series of robust processes that ensure that it is able to meet the highest levels of quality management.

For example products supplied to the medical or military sector often require a lengthy and stringent approval process as keypads and overlays are often used in hostile environments with prolonged exposure to the elements.

In the medical market Fascia Graphics has worked closely with suppliers to deliver keypads and overlays that have been designed to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, mould and mildew, such as MRSA and EColi. This can be achieved by using a coated polyester substrate or through the use of additives in lacquers. This drastically reduces the threat of cross contamination and is in line with current European medical industry legislation.

Manufacturing

To be able to deliver these types of products means that Fascia Graphics has to spend significant sums of money on new equipment and capital investment has been a top priority for the business over the past few years.

According to Michael Hole, the company’s Systems Improvement Manager, “Fascia Graphics has built its reputation on being flexible, providing a fast turnaround, and supplying a high quality product.”

 “Our success over the last twenty years has been driven in no small part by our commitment to investing in cutting edge technology. Last year we spent money on new state of the art machines which significantly increased our production capabilities.”

In 2012 the company acquired the UK’s first servo-driven cylinder press serving the graphics industry, a ‘Pick & Place’ machine for precise placement and a digital printer for high quality rapid prototypes.

“The prototyping service we have established allows our customers to reduce their expenditure and operating costs, and review the design of their products prior to full manufacturing,” explains Hole.

After becoming the first manufacturer in the UK to invest in the Sakurai MS80-SD cylinder press, Fascia Graphics has invested in a second machine. As a result the company is set to benefit from further performance and energy efficiency improvements which should lead to a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.

These are not insignificant investments and have required Fascia Graphics to work closely with Sakurai and Natgraph, the suppliers of the machine. The printer has been built with a Natgraph High Temperature, Air Force UV/IR combination dryer, Model 90, which is the latest technology for a cylinder screen printing line for industrial screen printing. The machine also comes with a unique anti scratch substrate path, which further reduces waste.

According to Hole this kind of investment, “Puts further distance between Fascia and the competition with regard to performance, quality of product and energy efficiencies. We believe that this latest investment reinforces our competitive advantage, whilst continuing to reduce carbon emissions.”

It’s certainly good to come across a UK business that is investing significant amounts in new equipment. Since the recession of 2008-9 business investment has fallen significantly and has yet to return to anywhere near the levels seen before the recession.

A recent report from Deloitte, the professional services firm, found that among UK companies there was a growing shift towards expansion, but business investment remains one of the key missing elements in the economic recovery and remains over 25 per cent below its prerecession peak. Instead of splashing out on new plant and machinery, too many companies have employed more cheap labour to meet growing demand and are too often working with ageing capital stock.

According to Ernie Griffin, the company’s Financial Director and along with Paul Bennett, the Managing Director, one of the founders of Fascia Graphics, the investment made in new capital equipment means that the company is “run as lean and as efficiently as possible.”

“We’ve also benefited from purchasing the premises - with interest rates at a historically low level that’s been a real help - while our commitment to continuous improvement has cemented out position as the market leader in the industry and has helped to strengthen our financial position."fascia graphics premises

“We are also very focused on the development of comprehensive training systems such as Q Pulse and NVQ. Our long term investment program to train our staff for a national qualification in Business Improvement Techniques has also helped to improve personal career development and business performance across the company.”

The defensive strategies of cost cutting and cash accumulation that saw many UK companies through the global financial crisis now appear to be increasingly out of favour. 

“When we first set up Fascia Graphics there were up to 60 companies operating in this market in the UK. That’s now fallen to around 10-15 but they’re larger companies ordering better, higher quality product,” suggests Hole.

According to Griffin, “If you buy British it means orders can be better controlled and reviewed and there are no language barriers when dealing with suppliers. As a result components don’t need to be shipped or transported overseas which means that lead times in the UK are significantly shorter. We’ve got some excellent manufacturers in the UK and we should be talking up the success of UK manufacturing.”

In this market, at least, the quality of British made products does tend to be higher than in many other countries.

“In the markets we address our approach has always been to offer continuous improvement and high value quality products which, I believe, sets us apart from the competition,” says Hole. “For instance, we go that one step further with our customers and are happy to make suggestions about materials, adhesives and specification of parts. We want to ensure that our customers receive the most cost efficient and highest-quality product possible.”

The priority now looks to be expansion. Despite the significant investment made in new equipment the company’s 15,000 sq ft facility in Chippenham is more than big enough to allow further investment in new equipment and capabilities.

As Griffin explains “There are plenty of opportunities for growth out there. The global membrane keypad market, for example, is worth around $500m and more importantly we are seeing more work coming back to the UK. This will provide plenty of real opportunities for companies operating in Britain.”

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