Features & Interviews

Looking to the future: why firms are now investing in new facilities

27 January 2022 #Features & Interviews

Last year was a challenging year for engineering companies operating in the commercial vehicle industry due to ongoing disruption to normal business routines caused by the pandemic.

Another reality was the UK’s departure from the EU, with companies having to forge new trading relationships with Europe and rest of the world.

Nevertheless, in an encouraging sign, businesses used 2021 to make major investments in new buildings and equipment, with further projects planned in the coming months.

For example, tipping equipment specialist Harsh ploughed more than £250,000 into its York factory, including a new large gantry crane to speed up the off-loading of heavy equipment such as skiploader and hookloader bodywork, prior to these units being fitted to their chassis. The workshop also now features a fully illuminated 15m inspection pit that gives technicians easier access to the underside of tractor units when fitting PTOs and pipework of tractor wet kits.

According to Harsh, although the market for new truck chassis remains difficult in terms of supply, the company continues to have a considerable stock of vehicles awaiting fitting.

Adam Hargreaves, Harsh Managing Director, said: “We’ve further plans for 2022 that include extending some of our buildings to provide additional work space as well as introducing a one-way system around our whole site.

“When everything is taken together, we will see significantly enhanced efficiency and productivity throughout the whole factory system.

“We’ve used 2021 wisely to sharpen up the whole operation, it would be unrealistic to expect that many of the difficulties in the marketplace are going to be resolved anytime soon, so we have adapted ourselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile,  refrigerated vehicle manufacturer Solomon Commercials opened its seventh new factory to enhance its existing capacity levels and meet rising demand in production.

The 35,000sq ft facility in Darwen, near Blackburn, which is now fully operational and employs 80 staff, is focused on manufacturing delivery vehicles operating in the online shopping sector.

It means the Lancashire firm has more than 240,000sq ft of production facilities producing more than 3,500 vehicles each year.

Anthony Clegg, sales director at Solomon Commercials, said the decision to make the investment was in response to the growth of the e-commerce sector, which has accelerated during the Covid crisis.

He added: “The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for businesses to pivot their operations. It’s prompted a surge in demand, which will probably become the norm as more companies become comfortable operating a dot.com business.

“We’ll now be able to manufacture up to 1,500 vehicles through this one facility alone and we expect this to increase year on year as businesses are looking to operate highly efficient urban vehicles.

“Our new facility will help us to comfortably answer current and future levels of demand from the industry.”

Last year Gray & Adams, which manufactures specialist temperature controlled and bespoke vehicles, installed a 10-bay multifunctional unit at its Fraserburgh site with four overhead cranes, roller shutter doors at each end and an additional lean-to with plant equipment.

The site offers greater flexibility to the manufacturer, allowing it to build any of its products, which range from double decks and urban trailers to single decks and lifting decks.

It is phase one of a multi-phase investment project for Fraserburgh, which will also  develop a new facility for its light commercial vehicle accident and repair shop.

The overall investment will support increased manufacturing capacity for panel development and improve efficiency by streamlining productions.

Peter Gray, Joint Managing Director at Gray & Adams, said: “Given the circumstances we are living and operating under, investing in our business and our employees, will enhance our manufacturing capabilities as well as creating new opportunities for our people.

“The development of this new facility has already led to increased employment in the area with the creation of 15 new roles in the business and is the first part of our phased approach to developing our Fraserburgh site.”

It is also worth noting that over the past few months businesses based outside of the UK have also been willing to commit funds to develop new factories here.

Last month, Dhollandia, the Belgian manufacturer of tail lifts, ramps and passenger lifts, acquired a manufacturing facility in Wrexham, where it plans to undertake manufacturing, assembly and distribution of its range of column lifts for light commercial vehicles.

The 81,000 sq ft facility on a 5.5-acre site joins the company’s five other European production plants and provides a facility dedicated to the UK sector, where it has seen substantial growth over the past two to three years.

Dhollandia will retain its UK headquarters in Huntingdon, which is also the base for its sales, aftersales and national spare parts centre. The firm already has a factory in the Republic of Ireland, where its single deck column lift range has been produced for several years.

According to the company, the lightweight vehicle tail-lift sector remains a competitive one, reliant on short delivery times, and the Wrexham site will “create important additional capacity at both sites and a planned reduction in lead times”.

It comes after Schmitz Cargobull opened a new factory in Wythenshawe, Manchester last summer to produce customised trailers for the UK and Ireland markets.

It has initially operated at a capacity of 50 units a week, with freepost curtainsiders and box van semi-trailers built at the 7,500m2 facility, complemented by an additional 1,000m2 spare parts warehouse.

The family-owned firm, based in Germany, produces about 46,000 trailers per year worldwide.

Andreas Schmitz, Chief Executive Officer of Schmitz Cargobull, said: “The UK is a key transport and logistics hub and an important market for us.

“Our new plant in Manchester will enable us to move closer to our customers and allow us to address the specific needs and challenges of the UK transport market.”

Despite a difficult year gone by, the investments made in UK production facilities, should give the industry cause to be cautiously optimistic about the coming months.

Update Newsletter