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24 September 2012


Some manufacturers are simply synonymous with their technology area – when it comes to metrology, they don't come any bigger or better than Renishaw

Winner: 2012 Best Electronics & Electrical Plant

Arguably the most iconic product in the world of metrology, all engineers will be familiar with the touch trigger probe. It was invented by Renishaw's co-founder, chairman and CEO David McMurtry (now Sir David McMurtry) in the back room of his Chepstow house in 1973. In the ensuing 39 years the company has floated on the stock exchange, diversified into a host of other metrology and healthcare products, and grown to employ 2,600 employees worldwide.

Group revenue is circa £288 million (2011), while exports represent no less than 95% of sales.

All of these eye-opening facts are derived through an unerring commitment to in-house manufacture. The largest of Renishaw's assembly plants can be found at Woodchester, around two miles south of Stroud in Gloucestershire, a 160,000 sq ft facility supported by 440 staff. Among the 840,000 products made here every year are strain gauge probes, scanning probes, laser tool-setters, probe heads for co-ordinate measuring machines, laser calibration/encoder units, optical encoders and styli, to name but a few.

The common denominator for all of these products is a significant electronics content. Now consider this: for most electronics factories to compete effectively with global competition, volumes typically must be frighteningly high to justify investment in the necessary manufacturing technology. But at Renishaw, 1,000 a month is considered a high volume product, thus presenting the company with a significant disadvantage – or so you might think.

While product volume is low in electronics industry terms, Renishaw has 360 unique PCBs, 4,000 unique components and makes around 1.1 million component placements a week to populate 90,000 PCBs every month. A dramatic surge in encoder sales since the 2009 downturn is among the factors fuelling these figures.

In-house manufacture is considered essential to ensure quality, delivery and to support product development timescales. Woodchester therefore has full electronics production capability including PCB layout, assembly and test. Among the technologies catered for are: up to eight-layer PCBs; flexible and flex-rigid circuits; BGAs (ball grid arrays) up to 244 pads; and QFN (quad-flat no-leads) packages.

The electronics production cell harbours two fully automated surface mount lines facilitating solder paste printing, component placement (up to 35,000 an hour), infrared and convection re-flow, and automated optical inspection. There are wave soldering processes for lead-free and leaded technologies, as well as a selective soldering process for mixed technology PCBs. Also sited within the cell are automated de-panelling processes and a range of in-circuit manufacturing defect analysis testers. Investment in the electronics facility over the past five years tops out at an impressive £1.4 million.

To maximise equipment utilisation, Renishaw deploys a two-shift system within its electronics cell, unlike the rest of the Woodchester site which operates a standard 37-hour week. The cell leader is a Six Sigma yellow belt who oversees two shift supervisors – the team works to a fixed weekly planning schedule introduced at the end of 2011 so that nothing is 'parachuted in' any more.

For any manufacturer handling thousands of different electronics components, supply chain management is vital to ensure production efficiency and cost competitiveness. With this in mind, over the course of the past 18 months Renishaw has introduced vendor managed inventory (VMI) based on 2D barcodes that are scanned upon component consumption to trigger replenishment and invoicing. To date, the email-based system has been implemented on 650 electronic components across four key suppliers.

The benefits yielded by VMI include zero stock holding with circa £850,000 saved already. Furthermore, suppliers manage risk in the supply chain to agreed stock levels. There is also a reduction in non-value added administrative tasks, while greater levels of flexibility help to meet changing demand patterns. Ultimately, the combination of astute supply chain management, strategic operations planning and class-leading automated technology make this stand-out OEM a worthy winner of the Best Electronics & Electrical Plant prize.

Top 3 Points

  • Next-day customer service expectations dictate a five-week finished goods stock policy
  • Woodchester produces 70,000 different assemblies each month (batches from one to 5,000)
  • Infor SyteLine APS (advanced planning and scheduling) system is used to control manufacturing and help to 'see' several months ahead


Renishaw plc

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