Manufacture of multi-level warehouses for storing and retrieving bar, tube, sheet and other material automatically, and production of the world’s most extensive range of sawing machines for cutting the material accurately, are the two specialisms of the German firm, KASTO.
Its UK subsidiary in Milton Keynes, which has been supplying these products to the manufacturing and stockholding sectors for more than a decade, reports buoyant sales on both sides of its business in the last six months. Managing director, Ernst Wagner, has analysed the company’s sales and makes some interesting comments on the choices British industry is making regarding where goods are manufactured.
He said, "I have seen a marked change in sentiment since 2003, when I joined KASTO. Back then, offshoring of production was in vogue to save costs and improve margins. In some cases this was successful and has been sustained, particularly for less complex work.
"Gradually, however, reshoring of manufacturing has taken place as wages in the Far East and Eastern Europe have risen and eroded the cost benefit. Difficulties with communication, logistics and quality are accelerating the return of work to the UK.
"So also is the disparity between on the one hand the need to place large orders for bulk delivery when sourcing from overseas suppliers, and on the other hand the fact that customers are looking for ever smaller batch sizes and JIT delivery to reduce inventory costs and space.
"These factors leave British manufacturing in a better place than it has been for some time. More production is coming back to these shores to join the work that never left, notably manufacture involving difficult materials as well as safety-and security-critical components.
"The aerospace, defence, traditional and renewable energy sectors, motorsport and the high quality end of steel and alloy stockholding have all tended to keep their supply chains local."
Against this backdrop, Mr Wagner considers how KASTO’s sales in the UK have developed and believes they mirror the trends he has noticed across industry generally. He has seen a significant increase of late in sales of the company’s rigid, vibration-managed KASTOtec carbide tooling-designed bandsawing machines, which are capable of raising productivity and competitiveness by a factor of three or four using tungsten carbide tipped rather than bimetal blades. Recent machine deliveries have taken the total of these top-end saws installed in the UK to 93.
As regards warehousing of material, KASTO’s maxims are 3D and CNC. Three-dimensional, high density storage of bar, tube and other long stock as well as sheet, boxes and pallets takes material off the floor and out of conventional racking, saving space, minimising risk to personnel and reducing the chance of damaging the material. Such towers can be interfaced directly with machine tools.
Computer control of the storage means that material can be called up more quickly and reliably, maximising productivity. Inventory control is also more efficient using built-in functionality in the KASTO controller and easy connectivity with MRP systems.
In the area of automated storage, KASTO has seen a positive upward trend over the past decade towards adoption of the technology in the UK, albeit from a low base. Importantly, the uptake is accelerating. There have been several large installations within the last three years and new business is looking healthy.
In November last year, Wolseley UK, a leading distributor of heating and plumbing products in the UK, placed an order for a 3,300-location KASTOunicompact computer-controlled, automated warehouse.
Then a special steels stockholder in the Midlands placed a large order via a letter of intent for an automated warehousing system. These will be two of the largest single storage installations that KASTO has ever supplied in the UK and will increase turnover substantially. Another customer has already invested in four separate KASTOunicompact systems each with 2,000 storage locations.
Mr Wagner continued, "Our industrial sector is way behind Europe and the rest of the developed world in the number of operational computer controlled storage systems. Of the 1,450 that our group has installed, just six are in the UK plus around 20 smaller KASTO storage systems.
"However, UK industry is starting to realise that its manufacturing sector can compete on the world stage if it invests in the right infrastructure and plant.
"Management needs the vision, courage and commitment to embrace high technology and move their businesses forward to operate competitively in the global marketplace. There is every reason to think that they can – and not only in the very high technology areas in which this country is already successful.
"We are clearly moving fully out of recession now, even if it is still unbalanced and patchy. So now is a good time to review investment strategies and start expanding the manufacturing base in the UK. Government and funding institutions need to play their part too."