Best Engineering Factory Winner: Ketlon

By Wheatley, Malcolm | Management Today, November 1992 | Go to article overview

Best Engineering Factory Winner: Ketlon


Wheatley, Malcolm, Management Today


The Engineering Industry Award went to Ketlon, chosen from plants in mechanical and instrument enineering

Curiously enough, both finalists in our engineering category came up with virtually identical descriptions of themselves. They said they didn't have products of their own as such; that their customers owned the designs for what they made; and what they sold was their ability to manufacture them better than anyone else. Both factories have to manufacture safety-critical components. Both have to achieve extremely high tolerances. And both have visibly impressive implementations of flowline and cellular technology. Anyone curious about what the hi-tech jobbing shop of the future looks like need go no further than Ketlon (UK) in Paddock Wood, or Lucas Aerospace in Burnley.

The components manufactured by category winner Ketlon have to perform reliably under demanding conditions for thousands of miles and years at a time: these are complex precision automotive gearbox and steering components for the likes of Ford, Rover and Jaguar. Runner-up Lucas Aerospace's products operate-but only once-underequally demanding conditions: they are rocket motor casings for missiles, including the British MLRS and US Patriot systems that worked to such devastating effect in the Gulf War.

Lucas's skill is typified by the manufacturing design which won it the MLRS contract, now in its sixth year: a multi-million pound, purpose-built, state-of-the-art computer-driven production line complete with robots and automatic guided vehicles that can produce up to 1,000 missile cases a week with only two operators in attendance to monitor the process.

Ketlon, in contrast, resembles far more a Japanese 67 manufacturer, such as Kawasaki: the company's skills lie in buying up old machine tools and refurbishing them to contemporary state-of-the-art standards for a fraction of the price of new equipment. Knowing the equipment intimately enables them to customise it: fancy electronic controllers and such are then bolted on to achieve hard-to-beat standards of process control and inter-machine linkages.

The committed feel of the shop-floor is reinforced by technical director Trevor Lawler's clear dedication to his work. 'This machine is 25 years old,' he enthuses, pausing in front a multi-spindle chucking auto that would normally be a museum piece. 'We stripped it down and retro-fitted electronics to it- now it's better than a new one. And you can't even buy a new grinder for that particular job,' he adds, pointing towards an adjacent cell. …

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