Electrica Ltd is a family-run designer and manufacturer of electronic systems in Tameside. Its components can be found in a dizzying array of products, from security cameras and steering wheel controls to aircraft coffee machines and even cow teat sanitising equipment.
The business has progressively moved towards higher value, higher precision projects in recent years, carving a role for itself in some of the most demanding and complex applications, such as medical and military devices.
When Manufacturing Advisor Andy Hinton first met Electrica’s Director, Andy Nield, in 2017, he initially went into the business with a view to identifying ways Electrica could improve productivity on the shopfloor.
However, having invested heavily in new equipment, Electrica’s overwhelming barrier to growth was the need to demonstrate working to a provable, industry-recognised standard.
As Andy Nield explains: “We do design jobs that excite our engineers. Our aim is always to be in a position to look at any assembly and with confidence say, we know how to do that.
“But we’re not a huge company; we’re only 30 people, so we knew that in order to compete in the higher value electronics world, we had to be able to prove we have the technical skills.
“We were increasingly working in medical design and manufacture, which is all about high precision. That meant we needed to meet the highest class of standards set by the IPC, the certification body for electronics.”
Having identified the IPC standards that would open the door to higher-value sales, Electrica was able to access grant funding from the Hub’s Manufacturing Growth Fund to support the knowledge transfer process for staff.
“With the support of the grant, we were able to embed the high level of knowledge and practical skills we needed within our team,” Andy says. “The IPC standards immediately opened doors to new opportunities for us and it’s been the foundation of all the growth we’ve experienced since.”
In parallel, Electrica also received advice on how to improve operational efficiency through lean manufacturing principles.
“Because of the nature of our work, things have to flow correctly around the facility,” Andy continues. “We can place around 90,000 components per hour onto circuit boards, so ensuring staff can identify the right components at the right time is crucial. Andy’s advice on things like Kaizen and flow analysis were certainly something we took on board.”
Now able to work to industry-leading standards, Electrica was quickly gaining new sales. However, virtually all business was coming via word of mouth. While this had never been an issue before, the lack of visibility was a risk that Andy wanted to remove.
“When we attended an exhibition a couple of years ago, a lot of people said they’d never heard of us, which we found a bit shocking,” he says. “So we’d been aware for a while that we needed to become a bit more digitally-aware and put some marketing in place. But as a business we’re all electronics experts – marketing isn’t really our area of expertise.”
The need to increase visibility in the marketplace led to a second Manufacturing Growth Fund grant in 2020 to help Electrica bring onboard a specialist sales and marketing consultancy.
The consultants provided new insight into Electrica’s competitors, threats and opportunities, and perspectives from existing customers to feed into a brand-new website.
Achieving the IPC standards almost immediately led to multi-million-pound-orders from some of Electrica’s existing customers, with the business growing by 35 per cent in the year the standards were achieved alone.
In fact, business has been so successful that progress on the marketing front had to temporarily be put on hold.
“Our existing customers are keeping us extremely busy at the moment – we expect to double our turnover and headcount in 2021-22. Keeping up with that demand means we’ve still got a bit more work to do on our marketing, but thanks to the consultancy project we’ve got a much better understanding of how to drive our business forward.”
With a number of new jobs created already, Andy is now planning to build a junior engineering team and is excited about the opportunities ahead.
“We’re currently taking stock of all the opportunities that are opening up for us. For example, green energy technologies is an area where we’re seeing lots of growth, in applications like smart charging for electric vehicles. We’re very confident about the future and looking forward to seeing what comes our way.”
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