Steel processing redefined
Steel & Alloy has future-proofed its business with the opening of a new state-of-the-art steel processing facility in Oldbury that will enable the company to remain the go-to processor in the UK automotive industry
2018 is the year in which Steel & Alloy – the largest independent steel processor for the automotive industry in the UK – is celebrating its 50th anniversary. A fitting present to mark the occasion was the opening of the company’s new manufacturing site in Oldbury, which was the result of a £27 million investment. This was a clear statement of intent from the organisation that it is determined to continue being at the forefront of the industry by bringing innovative practices and technologies to the marketplace – something it has done for half a century already.
Fifty years ago, David Ashwell founded the business, which has since then introduced a number of firsts into the UK automotive processing sector, becoming one of the most important players in the industry. Driven by innovation, Steel & Alloy has established a proven track record of revolutionising the steel service sector by the development of multiple inventive processes, such as multi strand blanking, coil fed blanking presses, as well as an ultra-high strength slitting line.
“The introduction of the press blanking has been among the most recent highlights for the company, as it has fostered the increased demand for shaped parts,” Max Coleman, Operations Director of Steel & Alloy points out.
Since the business first started processing steel in the late 1960s, it has grown substantially to now occupy a total of six sites, including the aforementioned one in Oldbury. Headquartered in West Bromwich, where it has already outgrown its 100,000 square feet factory, Steel & Alloy also owns units in Smethwick, Cannock, and Darlaston in the West Midlands, as well as in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham, the latter supporting OEM’s based in the North East. In 2012, Steel & Alloy was itself acquired by Gonvarri Steel Services – one of the most prominent multinational names in the European steel sector.
“Over the years, we have worked closely with our customers and developed within the supply chain, and the continued strength of the UK automotive industry has created the need to increase our capacity and capability, hence the opening of our new site in Popes Lane, Oldbury, which has allowed us to upgrade and convert two of our existing lines to be able to process aluminium,” Max explains the reasons for setting up the company’s latest factory.
In fact, the £27 million investment constitutes only the first phase of the facility’s development. “Together with the state-of-the-art steel processing facility, we have installed a 1250-tonne blanking press with robotic stacker, as well as a wide slitting line and an automated packaging line across the 10,000-square metre warehouse space. We have already obtained planning permission and, more importantly, we have the ability to construct three new production bays on-site, which will give us a total footprint of 25,000 square metres.
“The automotive industry is making lighter and stronger cars, improving the safety of the passengers and reducing the impact on the environment. Therefore, in order to support the supply chain, we need to be able to
process lighter and stronger materials. This is why we have invested in high-strength slitting lines and flexible presses processing materials suitable for hot stamping, and have also converted lines to produce lightweight aluminium components,” Max continues, remarking that the machinery installed in the Oldbury factory has been closely aligned with the recent trends in car manufacturing.
Going into a bit more detail, he outlines the main functions of the recently-purchased equipment. “The 1250-tonne Fagor blanking press, for example, has been configured to process short pitch blanks ideally suited for hot stamping. Additionally, to ensure that the material is perfectly flat, we have also placed two leveller cassettes in the line. The impressive robot stacker, in turn, ensures that the flat blanks are perfectly stacked, while the large press bed means that we can accommodate a wide range of press tools. Last but not least, the slitting line, with its shimless tooling, gives a high-quality product, which can be automatically packed to the customer’s requirements and this, ultimately, grants us another competitive advantage, as we can address clients’ needs more precisely.”
As a result of the major investment in Steel & Alloy’s current production lines, the company has now expanded its capability and developed an expertise in providing its customers with aluminium rectangles, trapezoids, and slit coils. “The additional capacity we have created, is giving us the opportunity to venture into new markets, as well. By investing £27 million in the Oldbury site, we have clearly demonstrated that we believe in the UK automotive industry and expect it to stay strong in the years to come. We feel comfortable in our role as a leading player in the sector and embrace the responsibility to ensure that the supply chain remains robust and flexible, and have the capacity to support our customers in a reliable manner,” Max adds.
Nevertheless, he is fully aware that there is a degree of uncertainty around the market. “The situation is quite challenging presently. There is a worrisome lack of clarity regarding the long-term viability of diesel-powered vehicles and, of course, there is Brexit, which is another area of concern as nobody really knows how profoundly the business landscape will be changed when the UK leaves the EU. Despite all of this insecurity, we are not and will not be phased or slowed down. We have faith in British manufacturing, our company has always taken a long-term view, so we will continue to act in accordance with the bigger picture and apply our pioneering approach to drive the sector forward,” Max promises.
For Steel & Alloy to attain its position as the number one independent steel processor for the automotive industry in the UK, the company has had to form a very strong team of dedicated employees willing to go the extra mile in their work. “There is no doubt that our biggest strength is the vast experience our staff possess. We are proud to have a skilled and motivated workforce, whose intelligence and expertise give us the confidence to invest in new technologies. When you couple this with the industrial strength and knowledge of the Gonvarri group, it becomes clear that we have some very distinct advantages that help us to constantly develop as a company,” Max impassions.
A visionary and conscientious senior management team that steers the business in the right direction is another trait of Steel & Alloy, which we can highlight as one of the factors for the company’s continuous success. Every year, the organisation’s leaders carry out an annual strategic review, analysing the previous year’s performance and setting key targets for improved results in areas such as health and safety, customer satisfaction, product quality, production efficiency, and profitability. The review is then formulated into the company’s annual business plan, whose key objectives are regarded as the cornerstone of Steel & Alloy, are communicated to all of its employees, and are monitored and reported on monthly.
Reflecting the customers’ demand for quality of the processed materials, the company is known for often exceeding these expectations. To stay true to this commitment, it uses various business management systems compliant with the ISO 9001 and TS 16949 standards. Similarly, Steel & Alloy operates an Environmental Management System structured under the guidelines of the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard to reduce the environmental aspect of its actions.
Having begun to process aluminium, the business is showing unambiguous aspirations to grow its presence in the segment in the near future. “Our plans are to continue leading the market in the automotive service sector, so we have to make the most of the opportunities we have now opened up in aluminium,” Max maintains, referring to Steel & Alloy’s intentions for the next three to five years. “It is our overreaching objective to look for new ways in which we can support our customers and this is inextricably linked with making further investments in flexible equipment that will enable us to manufacture products of even higher quality,” he wraps up.
Steel & Alloy
Services: Steel processing