Ryobi Aluminium Casting UK Ltd

Global expertise in Europe

Ryobi Aluminium Casting UK Ltd offers a complete casting solution using in-house expertise and the expanded capabilities of the Ryobi Group for global engineering support

To discover the origins of Ryobi Aluminium Casting UK Ltd, we have to travel back to 1943, and the founding of The Ryobi Group in Japan. A die casting company, The Ryobi Group expanded steadily and today it includes multiple manufacturing facilities across Japan, China, the USA, Mexico, Thailand, and Europe.

This geographical growth brings us to Ryobi Aluminium Casting UK Ltd (Ryobi UK) which was founded in 1990 in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, to manufacture aluminium castings for the European automotive industry. Starting from humble beginnings supplying Ford Motor Company, it has grown substantially and now includes VW, Skoda, Peugeot Citroen, Jaguar Landrover, Magna and Ford within its expanding portfolio.

“We started up production in 1992,” said Marco Emig, Deputy Managing Director at the company. “The start-up was with four die casting machines, supplying rough castings into Ford Halewood. Today Ryobi UK employs almost 550 people who run 24 die casting machines and over 50 CNC machining centers. The portfolio has been extended from ‘cast-only’ to add CNC-machining and complex assemblies to ship completely finished and assembled products to customers across all of Europe and exporting to China as well.

“Traditionally our products come from the powertrain unit, such as components for the engine and transmissions,” he continued. “As already mentioned, we cast, machine and assemble – if required – to supply the customer with a fully finished product. Ideally, we would like to be involved in the customer’s product design process as early as possible so our engineers can provide inputs for design for manufacturing, which is really our strength.”

Having highlighted one of the strengths of the business, Marco further elaborated on some other areas that really set Ryobi UK apart from the competition. “First, I would like to point out Ryobi’s experience in high-pressure die casting, which now totals almost 80 years. Of course, we work with all sort of CAD, CAE and simulation tools but we believe this level of experience gives us a competitive advantage. We consider ourselves as a ‘one-stop-shop’ that covers the entire chain from design, tool-design and manufacture, to prototyping and launching the product in one of our global locations. Our focus is on technology and complex products and we have the right set-up to do create these. With a global production network, we can satisfy the customer’s demand across the globe and use synergies for engineering and purchasing to achieve the best possible results for our customers and of course for us too.”

The well-equipped shop floor at Ryobi UK includes the sophisticated equipment and plant that Marco had mentioned, such as die casting machines and CNC-machining centers, but it is also fully equipped to control its production using 3D-measurements, leak-testing and x-ray. “Furthermore, to increase efficiency, we have implemented a high level of automation throughout the entire manufacturing process – this is the only way to allow us to be successful in a very competitive environment,” added Marco.

Keeping its machine shop equipped with the latest technology is an ongoing process at Ryobi UK, with regular investments being made to ensure that it is able to continue solving customers’ problems and creating ith the parts they need. The most recent investment at a cost of £10 million saw the purchase of brand new machinery, and Marco explained what these particular solutions bring to the table. “The new machinery is bespoke equipment for particular products, and without it we would not be able to produce those parts, so it was ‘needs must’ really! The equipment included new CNC machines, a leak-tester, assembly stations and automation that ties all stations together.” This recent investment is just the latest in a program that has seen between £50 million to £60 million invested into the manufacturing facility over the past seven years.

With the main research and development (R&D) activities for Ryobi being undertaken in Japan, the UK operation focuses on process design rather than product design. Nevertheless, as Marco was quick to point out, innovation and continuous improvements are still key to the business – ‘otherwise we wouldn’t be able to compete’. “Our R&D department in Japan is constantly reviewing global market trends,” he added. “They develop concepts for new products, such as looking at how to save weight or how to improve to a process, and these are then rolled out to the plants worldwide. On top of that, we here at Ryobi UK work with Queens University in Belfast (QUB) on a regular basis and have developed systems for process controls and traceability in the past.”

As Marco continued to share his insights into Ryobi UK, it was clear that the business has constantly invested, grown and developed itself and this makes it difficult to single out individual milestones. However, it has recently secured a multi-million-pound contract with an emerging transmission supplier and this is definitely a significant achievement for the business. Worth almost £15m annually, the deal will see Ryobi UK produce 150,000 clutch and transmission cases per year for new hybrid vehicles commencing 2023. It will also secure the jobs of around 70 highly skilled people and will run for at least the next seven years. “This is exciting news for us,” Marco divulged. “The new contract is our first product for an electric application and we consider it as a key part of our future. The project has the prospect to become one of the most successful transmissions in its category and steep volume increases are expected in the coming years, as it will be applicable throughout a wide range of vehicle platforms. A successful launch now, will hopefully open the door for incremental volume increases in the near future.”

While Marco was keeping his cards close to his chest, he also intimated that there could be some more exciting contract wins revealed by Ryobi UK over the coming months. “We have various projects in tender stage and are confident that we can announce further good news in the near future but it is too early to go public with it,” he hinted.

Keeping a flow of new work coming through to its experienced team is a top priority at Ryobi UK, and it currently employs almost 600 staff, making it one of the largest contributors to the economy in East Antrim. But as all manufacturers are finding, it is not always easy to find new employees, and to ensure it is able to avoid the problem of skills gaps, Ryobi UK recruits young talent and focuses on the appropriate progression opportunities for their further development. “We focus very strongly on employee development and work with the local education institutes like Queens and Ulster University as well as the Northern Regional College (NRC),” said Marco. “We are committed to an operating philosophy, which is built on mutual respect, trust and teamwork, and we also offer job security. Our recent investment, especially during these uncertain times, is a real testament of Ryobi’s commitment to build a sustainable business model here in Northern Ireland.”

Mentioning the importance to Ryobi UK of creating a ‘sustainable’ business, brought Marco onto the topic of social responsibility and the environmental side of its operations – he explained that there is an overall Group policy, plus further activities specifically at the Carrickfergus plant. “The Ryobi Group Corporate Social Responsibility policy and approach is based on environmental protection, social contribution, compliance, employee engagements and corporate governance,” he said. “At a local level, we have implemented an environmental management system certified to ISO14001, which is integrated with our health and safety system certified to ISO45001. As a combined system, this allows to manage our environmental impacts as a plant permitted under the IPPC regulations, and ensures environmental protection, compliance and governance. The systems are successfully implemented and I believe our recent Distinction Award from NISG/NISO is a valid proof of that.

“We also set strategic objectives with focus groups, who are tasked with improving energy efficiency and waste management. Also in 2019, we formed a strategy group who developed the BeWell Strategy aimed at fostering a world class safety culture by engaging with employees and indeed all relevant stakeholders. This has now been fully rolled out with nominated ambassadors acting as go-to contacts in the organization.”

It’s been a difficult year of trading for the UK manufacturing industry, as it faced not only coronavirus but the challenge of Brexit, too. Marco and the team at Ryobi UK have faced the challenges head on, as well as having to plan for the additional impact that the changes afoot in the automotive sector are likely to have in the future. “The combustion engine will be replaced eventually there is no doubt,” agreed Marco. “The time line is uncertain though but very dynamic. New OEMs are coming into the market and established engine plants are shutting down, which creates a real shift in the supply base.

“On top of all that change, we have the disruption from Covid-19 and Brexit. Both of course have a massive impact on our day-to-day activities as they need to be monitored and managed to prevent any disruption to our business. Thankfully, so far, we haven’t had any real negative effects because of them. 2020 ended up 20 per cent down in turnover, reflecting the overall market downturn in Europe. The outlook for 2021 is looking very strong and we are running at full capacity at the moment.

“Brexit also has not caused any major headaches yet, at least not for us. I believe being located in Northern Ireland, with a land border to the EU, could be a real advantage in the future as we are a tariff-free trading zone. Sixty-five per cent of our products are being exported into mainland Europe and the tariffs would have been disastrous for us.

“For the years to come our primary focus is to manage these uncertain times and prepare ourselves for the future of electric vehicles,” Marco concluded. “Of course, we want to continue our success story here at Ryobi UK and sustain the business we have. The desire is always for further growth but a few strategic decisions will have to be made to ensure we have the right product portfolio by 2030.”

Ryobi Aluminium Casting UK Ltd
Services: High pressure die cast aluminium components for the automotive industry