Fabricators back up bespoke builds


A good fabricator that produces a great product with high levels of service and reliability is crucial for every tailor-made kitchen design project.

And with bespoke fabrication on the rise, these businesses need to ensure that they are keeping up to date with the latest technology and service provisions.

One name that re-emerged in the fabrication sector in May this year was Stellex, after being part of distributor ScoMac since 2011. The now-stand-alone business remains part of the Unitech Industries Group and produces products ranging from tables, bespoke dishwash tabelling, sinks, and a full range of front of house counters and hot displays.

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Tony Chamberlain, co-owner and MD, commented: “Stellex is now better placed to compete within the marketplace. Looking into next year, the company is looking to further capital investment by embracing new technologies and developing products that can deliver efficiency savings and reduce running costs.”

This will include the purchase of an Amada punch press, which has recently been agreed, complementing the firm’s existing Amada bending station. “This will give more capacity within our production facilities for increased volume and quicker turnaround, reduce our reliance on subcontractors and enable a reduction in stock holdings,” explained Chamberlain.

The company’s board of directors has also commissioned an architect to look at extending its existing factory to put in a 15,000ft2 extension at the back to give additional production space. Currently, the business is also recruiting at the Northumberland facility to enhance the production capacity.

In terms of markets, Stellex has seen the private sector spend rise in areas such as restaurant and hotel chains, and the firm had a very busy summer period due to receiving many school and college-related orders.

Further recent orders included the fabrication for Middleby UK’s new showroom in Wigan, as well as working alongside distributors to provide fabrication for the kitchen at Wynyard Hall visitor centre, a popular wedding venue in Durham. [[page-break]]

The fabricator was part of an event attended by HRH Prince Charles on the 8 September, as it supplyed the centre tables, sinks and hot cupboards for the Dumfries House royal visit, which was celebrating Ayrshire’s local produce, hosted by Prince Charles’ charity.

Over at supplier RH Hall, its fabrication department will be boosted by new apparatus. “Machinery is a key part of our operation, and we are currently looking to invest in a new top of the range press brake which will help us to increase production, in turn reducing our lead times and costs and creating even more satisfied customers,” reported Adam Hall, bespoke solutions manager.

“This will further enhance our machinery inventory – which already includes a modern laser cutter and Pega punch press. 

“Not all improvements are based on new machinery however, and we are also working on the implementation of a new Lean objective that will help us work smarter and improve efficiencies throughout.”

The company is seeing an increase in ‘off the shelf’ items, for which it works with its partner, Simply Stainless. “This range of modular fabrication can be supplied for next working day delivery throughout the UK and is a fantastic solution where speed is of the essence,” commented Hall.

“The wide range of accessories that can be added at any time allow us to provide the benefits of a bespoke solution, at the speed of standard stock items.”

RH Hall’s food solutions division is also seeing a lot of enquiries for front of house self serve concepts, working with its fabrications team from design to final roll out.

“We constantly push the boundaries of what is possible with metal, creating new and exciting designs for our customers, based on years of knowledge within the fabrication industry,” added Hall. [[page-break]]

The firm has recently gained a major contract from Pret a Manger, which Hall describes as “a completely new challenge” for its fabrications and head office teams.

“The enormity of the project and the quality expected from this highly regarded high street brand has pushed us to develop our skills even further, incorporating areas such as plumbing and electrical work,” detailed Hall. “As a result of the huge team effort made by all involved we are able to offer the complete turnkey solution expected by Pret and are now working with them as they expand their US stores.”

Derby-based Parry Catering Equipment is currently focusing on maximising the capacities of its kit and people. “The two go hand in hand – if we don’t invest in training our people then we would not achieve any benefits from investing in our kit,” commented operations director Mark Banton.

As part of its continuous improvement culture it has increased its fabrication capacity by investing in a new raw materials cutting cell for box sections and flat sheets, as well as relocating the fabrication press brake cell and creating and refurbishing the welding cells.

Banton detailed: “The returns we have achieved from these improvements are reductions in waste, particularly two of the seven Lean wastes: transportation and unnecessary motion.

"Put simply, this means we are more efficient in our production, but additionally these specific improvements also have a positive effect on the other five wastes: overproduction, waiting, inappropriate processing, excessive inventory and defects.”

He feels that the trend for more stainless steel fabrications in front of house set ups means that there is a heightened focus on the appearance and quality of a piece, as opposed to its functionality.

“However, a more significant trend is the demand for shorter lead times and remedial alterations to fabrications when they are being supplied for a new installation or refurbishment,” he stated. [[page-break]]

“Either the site dimensions alter shortly before the agreed delivery date for the fabrications, and hence the fabrication needs to change, or there are site issues that have been overlooked and only become evident when the fabrication is being installed. This often results in the piece being returned to the factory for immediate remedial work.

“The distributor is often working to a tight deadline with penalty clauses and consequently the modified fabrication is required urgently, which can only be achieved at the factory by the contract being given priority over another customer’s order or with the extra cost of overtime.”

Nevertheless, Parry prides itself on its short lead times and flexibility, with Banton believing that the firm’s orderbook is supported with a load and capacity plan that is revised daily to ensure that it maintains its ‘on time in full’ (OTIF) delivery rate of 98%.

The firm recently supplied a fabrication order for one of its customers, which was contracted to supply and fit out a new restaurant from Italian chain Pesto in Desford, Leicestershire. Banton explained: “We had to supply a visually impressive 7metre long x 0.75metre high heated pass that was mounted on top of a narrow wall that wasn’t actually built!

“Additionally the pass had to have a free standing end that would see a lot of foot traffic and so needed to be very rigidly fixed, but only through its base. We designed, manufactured and installed the pass complete with bespoke cantilever base fixings and achieved the high quality finish that our customer required.”

Competitor, Moffat Catering Equipment, recognises that delivery is often the element that lets a project down. “Over the past 6 months, we have made significant steps to improve our delivery, through investment in our transport and logistics department; something we will continue to improve going forward,” said John Wannan, sales and marketing manager.

The company has also invested in its design software to take account of changes in requirements, including BIM.

According to Wannan: “This has meant that manufacturers of bespoke products need to be capable of producing compatible drawings in the correct format. We have invested in Revit, which allows us to be flexible.” [[page-break]]

Furthermore, Moffat is currently undertaking its largest ever organisation redevelopment review, in conjunction with some of the leading independent manufacturing organisations within the catering equipment industry.

“The end result will be a more agile and customer-focused business, producing the best products – better than anyone else,” believes Wannan.

The company has also invested in personnel, as it enters what MD, Gordon McIntosh, describes as “a period of significant change”. As well as attracting and recruiting new personnel into the business, the firm is developing the skills of its existing workforce.

Other fabrication trends Moffat is seeing include more importance being placed on quality and after sales service, as well as end users appearing to have a higher dependence on stakeholders, such as distributors, who in turn want more support from their suppliers, and in particular their salespeople.

The firm handles work from consultant-led projects to bespoke one-off installations, with recent examples including supplying robot-driven food trolleys and bespoke countering to one of the largest new build hospitals in Europe.

Wannan recalled: “The robotic-driven food trolleys were a new exciting challenge for Moffat, enabling us to demonstrate how we can produce innovative products in a cost-effective manner and in a limited timescale. It was a perfect blend of our manufacturing experience with leading-edge technology.”

Elsewhere, Chelmsford-based fabricator, D&D Engineering, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Manager, Sally Smith, reported that the company is hoping to buy premises in the near future, as it is outgrowing its current building.

“Moving to a new unit will give us the benefit of redesigning the flow of work through the factory and make us more efficient. Owning a building will hopefully mean the business is even more secure to move forward into the next decade for D&D,” she said. [[page-break]]

Remarking that lead times are reducing so much that the firm is sometimes being asked to deliver same day, Smith added: “Our clients can be very demanding and we are proud to be able to say yes. We have also had several enquiries for smoking-themed equipment, and are working with a designer who has a few projects coming up which we hope to be involved in.”

She believes: “What makes D&D different is its ‘can-do’ approach to any project. We often take on work that other fabricators are unable to do and I believe we are only able to do this as our MD, David Ruggles, has an ability to see through problems and find solutions.

“Being a small team we take a personal interest and pride in the projects we undertake, as most of the guys will handle parts for every job as it goes through production. When we install, we stay until the job is done – whatever time we have to, even into the night or the next day.”

D&D recently completed a project for a school where the designer had included decorative ‘bulkheads’ 3metres above the counter.

“They were extremely heavy and getting them fitted was a challenge,” detailed Smith. “A few scaffold towers and some lifting gear later they were in place and the client was very pleased.”

The company has also been involved with a smoking oven project with Brad McDonald from The Lockhart in London for his new restaurant, Shotgun, in Soho.

“The unit we made weighed around 600kgs and had to pass through some narrow doorways into position. We would usually make items with access issues modular and weld and polish them on site, however due to the nature of the oven this wouldn’t have been possible,” Smith explained.

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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