Engineering superheroes: IfM Engage helps aerospace company spread their wings
Yorkshire-based engineering company Produmax, global experts in flight control components and assemblies, won The Manufacturer’s MX Leadership & Strategy award in November 2022. They credit their collaborative journey with IfM Engage as crucial in helping them succeed in a volatile global market and build resilience for the future.
IfM Engage, the knowledge-transfer arm of the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), began working with Otley-based engineering company Produmax in 2014 as part of the Sharing in Growth (SiG) initiative, which supports UK manufacturing & engineering companies to increase cost competitiveness, grow capability and sustainability.
With a £5m turnover, Produmax were one of the smallest SiG beneficiaries at that time. But with plans to move the whole organisation to a new state-of-the-art factory in nearby Shipley, the company had high ambitions to grow, develop its capabilities and nurture its workforce. In 2014, IfM Engage began working collaboratively with Sharing in Growth to develop Produmax’s strategy for doubling turnover to £10m by 2020.
Tools and approaches included:
· The ‘Prioritisation Diagnostic’ tool to understand strategic business priorities, identify a manageable number of objectives and get buy-in from the management team to address objectives.
· ‘Strategy Development workshops’ to investigate and understand the internal and external environment for the company, explore a range of potential strategic options and then decide upon a future action plan. Following these workshops, Produmax’s senior leadership team was inspired to become ‘Engineering Superheroes’ who would commit to engaging and inspiring their wider team so they could further develop their skills and contribute to growing the business.
· ‘Strategy Refresh’ workshops in 2017 to further develop the strategic landscape for the company. These workshops involved identifying and prioritising external drivers, market-facing opportunities and developing an objective and transparent framework (Mapping Opportunity v Feasibility) to evaluate and build topic roadmaps for a portfolio of the company’s prioritised options. The Opportunity v Feasibility framework and topic roadmapping were then drawn upon again in 2018 & 2019 to further evaluate and build Produmax’s portfolio.
“Each individual engagement with IfM Engage was relatively short, with minimum disruption of the management’s day-to-day operations,” says Duncan Hurlstone (an Industrial Associate with IfM Engage who has worked closely with Produmax since the beginning).
“This is one of the key benefits of using our highly developed, collaborative approaches with companies. Time commitments are minimal, but the impact is long-lasting.”
By the end of 2019, the company was well on its way to achieving the targets it had set back in 2014. “Then, of course — COVID came along,” says Duncan.
“Although this kind of disaster scenario was considered as part of their resilience planning, Produmax — as with most of us — hadn’t actually expected it to happen in real life.”
Navigating a new landscape
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was devastating for the aviation and aerospace industry, with demand for new aircraft (including Boeing — a major Produmax client) almost coming to a complete standstill. The impact on Produmax was both immediate and profound:
“Covid was very difficult. We were exposed across all platforms, effectively victims of our earlier success. As a result, our turnover quickly fell — dropping back by over 60%,” says Mandy Ridyard, Produmax Financial Director.
“The challenge became inverted (from building our capability to deliver our growing order book) to fully utilising our newly grown capability and capacity. At the same time, we were determined to play our part in helping the UK through COVID and maintain staff morale as much as possible.”
Mandy credits the knowledge transfer, expert input plus the strategic tools and guidance provided by IfM Engage as being critical in helping them to get back on their feet:
“Our team revisited the strategy development and refresh work we had done together with Duncan and IfM Engage and used it to actively consider the new external context and critical drivers/challenges.
“We proactively targeted Space, Energy, Civil Aerospace and Defence sectors. This diversification allowed us to rebuild revenues and mitigate risk across a wider portfolio of products and customers.
“This refined strategy to build Produmax resilience has increased our customer base three-fold. We have also spread our market exposure to a balanced mix of platforms and sectors that align nicely with the evolving strategic criteria that we first developed and adopted in our work with IfM in our first strategy refresh workshop back in 2017.”
Duncan says that developing the strategic landscape with IfM Engage helped Produmax to understand the ‘big picture’ as well as the real and present implications for their business:
“The ‘Opportunity-Feasibility Evaluation’ approach helped prioritise key opportunities and challenges that still aligned with their overall strategic ambition; and ‘Topic Roadmapping’ helped to plan and implement what they decided to do to pursue this ambition.
“There are many people who talk about the need for organisations to be able to ‘pivot’ when required– well Produmax did that brilliantly. They actively deployed and built upon their developed core capabilities to help them navigate these new challenges and adjust their direction through targeted diversification and so to grow again.”
‘IfM Engage tools have become part of our DNA’
By the end of 2022, Produmax revenue had been rebuilt by nearly 90%, with a further 40% growth for this coming year projected. Today, the company exports 70% of its production to the USA, Canada, Japan, Morocco, the Philippines, and Italy.
They have won multiple awards for their work (such as SiG Award 2017, MAKE UK SME of the Year Award 2020 and Manufacturer of the Year Award 2022,) and most recently, in recognition of the company’s breadth and depth of leadership and management skills, as well as a clear, well-communicated business strategy, the company was awarded the Manufacturer’s MX Leadership & Strategy award last November.
“The results speak for themselves; turnover is up by almost 70% and an increase in people of almost 80%. In this time, we have opened a second factory, built a satellite facility focussed on Additive Manufacture at the Digital Manufacturing Centre at Silverstone and have recently won MAKE UK SME of the Year,” says Mandy.
“The tools and approaches we worked on with the IfM Engage and SiG team have become part of our Produmax DNA,” says Mandy, “enabling us to adapt our strategy to address critical challenges as they present themselves.
“We will continue to build upon what we have learned to equip ourselves for the new challenges and opportunities that undoubtedly lie ahead.”
Duncan reflects on the company’s engagement with the IfM:
“Ever since day one, the team at Produmax have actively engaged with the approaches we have worked on together. Their insatiable thirst for proactively applying what has been learned but also building upon this further is truly inspiring. It also demonstrates how IfM Engage’s highly collaborative tools and approaches have a lasting positive impact, without the delivery sapping too much valuable time from the management team along the way.”
To discover how IfM Engage approaches might help your organisation with the challenges of today and the future visit engage.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk
Produmax is an advanced manufacturing company with expertise in high-precision engineering. Operating globally, Produmax works in partnership with many of the most prestigious aerospace manufacturers to produce high-quality machined components and assemblies
About IfM Engage
IfM Engage partners with organisations across industry, government and academia to support them in solving complex challenges, using approaches and knowledge developed at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), a division of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. IfM Engage’s offerings are grounded in exceptional research and a breadth of industrial expertise.
A ‘not-for-profit’ organisation whose ambition is see UK engineering & manufacturing businesses succeed and grow within an ever-challenging world. Sharing in Growth’s vision is to “Grow great businesses, by developing great people for this generation and the next…” , working “shoulder to shoulder” with clients to grow the confidence and capability of their people to achieve ambitious business goals. Taking companies from “Good to Great”.