It holds and holds and holds …
The morgan motorcar, a british icon, stands for passion, tradition and a great deal of handiwork —all cast in sheet metal. That’s true enough, but under the hood you’ll find the most modern of technology — and that is delivered by Radshape.
The Morgan, that quintessentially English car, is the epitome of hand-built excellence. That may be the prevailing image, but it’s not the full story. The craftsmanship which symbolizes this brand is certainly very much alive and well, but Morgan is also breaking new ground. It is now one of the most high-tech automotive manufacturers around and this is reflected in its models that range from pedal cars to supercars and the hydrogen fuel cell powered LIFE car. And this diversity is thanks to the company’s adoption of world-class manufacturing technologies. Many of these technologies are provided through strategic partnerships with suppliers.
A question of precision
Typical of this approach is Morgan’s alliance with the precision sheet metalworking company, Radshape Sheet Metal, with which it developed its bonded chassis. Morgan is therefore believed to be one of only four automotive manufacturers in the world to embrace this technology, the others being Aston Martin, Jaguar and Lotus. When Radshape started manufacturing the Aero 8 bonded chassis in 1999, it produced approximately 200 units in the first year and over the next ten years Radshape manufactured between 1,000 and 1,500 chassis. And this gradual escalation in demand proved vital to Radshape at a time when its other major automotive customer was not faring so well.
The sharp decline in global demand for Rolls Royce and Bentley cars in 2009 contributed towards Radshape losing business worth 1.2 million euros. This outcome caused a significant drop in Tier 1 and Tier 2 order intake, but it has since bounced back with a vengeance.
Radshape’s strong customer-oriented business strategy has been central to this recovery. It has enabled the company to build on production partnerships with niche manufacturers such as Morgan. Now it is not just the proud supplier of the bonded chassis to the Malvern-based car manufacturer, but also delivers several other panels, grilles, bumpers, cowls, wind and side screens too.
Fits, bonds, holds
“We rely on our trusted suppliers to recommend technological developments that will improve production and enhance our product,” confirms Morgan Operations Director Steve Morris. “The decision to adopt a bonded chassis is a typical example of how Morgan benefits from its strategic partnerships.”
A specially built production cell at Radshape’s Birmingham factory manufactures this bonded structure for Morgan and, in the past, similar assemblies for the Gibbs Aquada amphibian vehicle. Crucial elements are a TRUMPF TruPunch 5000 and two TruBend 5130 press brakes. “We’ve used TRUMPF machines right from the start of this project. The series just got better and better,” says Radshape Bonding Engineer John Harper. “This chassis is self-jigging, there are no fixtures involved. So we have nothing to rely on but the accuracy of the machines.” Manufacturing tolerance on the chassis is 0.25 millimeters which is even more rigorous than the 0.5 millimeters standard required by Morgan.
Always getting better
John Harper continues: “The TruTops CAD/CAM software has proved a particularly good investment for us. It’s easy to use and has radically changed how we make the tub (the chassis assembly). In the early days, we needed to spend days working out the correct profile. Now we can do it in an hour or so.” The 2.5 millimeters aluminum chassis parts are punched, then formed on press brakes, and transferred into the bonding cell for wet-build and curing in the oven.
“Originally, we were simply responsible for the chassis up to the bulkhead, but now we build up the front end, too, and install sound-deadening material,” explains Radshape Managing Director Keith Chadwick. “Indeed, over the years, we have suggested around 600 ideas for improvement, more than 65 percent of which have been taken up.” One major change originated by Radshape was the development of the universal tub to replace left- or right-hand drive versions. Belief and on-going commitment in the apprenticeship system is another common thread between Morgan and Radshape. Steve Morris was a fully trained sheet metalworker who, having completed his apprenticeship at Morgan, has risen through the ranks at the company to operations director.
A real advantage: Well trained employees
Radshape’s Keith Chadwick tells a similar story. He served his apprenticeship at Rolls Royce Motor Cars in Crewe and, in his 25 years with the company, experienced every area of manufacture before taking a top post in purchasing and supply development. “When I became managing director in 2005, I wanted to turn the clock back to my apprentice days in the 1970s at Rolls Royce. The benefits of such a program are huge for a customer-centered business such as ours,” Keith Chadwick adds with great enthusiasm. As a result, even during the period of business decline, Radshape continued to take on apprentices.
Two particular apprentices provide Keith Chadwick with a good example of why he thinks the rounded education provided by modern apprenticeship is so important. In the process, both Jamie Sproson and Tom Gwynn have learned everything they can on Radshape’s shop floor and recently moved into the sales office as commercial engineers. And their background experience certainly gives Radshape an important edge in its dealings with OEMs. “How can anyone talk about how much a job will cost if they don’t know how to make it?”, Keith Chadwick asks. “These lads have the experience to look at a drawing and point out, for example, that the design would present a problem and recommend solutions to resolve it based on the knowledge they have attained during their apprenticeship. It adds value to the process and gives Radshape the edge on customer service.”
Open to new ideas
The company is also keen to consider and adopt services that are common in other sectors, the consumer industry being one of them. Keith Chadwick continues: “There are so many good ideas out there, bar coding, allocating delivery slots, and even the use of webcams so the customer can see their part being made! I can’t see that being introduced, but we will certainly consider it if the customer thinks it’s important. Attention to detail is everything.” It’s this high level of customer service that has proved such an important element in Radshape attracting more business from the prestige automotive sector. Its relationship with Bentley now accounts for 35 percent of Radshape’s revenue and includes the supply of radiator and bumper grilles, wing vents and various other parts and spares for the top-of-the-range niche vehicles. Typical of this low-volume, high-quality business is the stainless steel and electro-polished grille for the new Bentley Mulsanne, elements of which interlock like an egg box. This prestige component is produced on a TRUMPF TruLaser 5030 to a manufacturing tolerance of ± 0.05 millimeters.
Succes in small sizes
Typical of this low-volume, high-quality business is the stainless steel and electro-polished grille for the new Bentley Mulsanne, elements of which interlock like an egg box. This prestige component is produced on a TRUMPF TruLaser 5030 to a manufacturing tolerance of ± 0.05 millimeters. In common with many UK automotive suppliers, Radshape is seeking to diversify to safeguard its business. Rail, aerospace, commercial vehicles and nuclear sectors are all playing their part, but it’s another take on “automotive” that is poised to boost growth in the coming years. Radshape is now making its mark on the radio-controlled race car market.
This initiative came from Radshape Business Development Director Chris Dickinson, and it has spawned a thriving new division of the company. RadshapeRC produces aftermarket metal spares on its TRUMPF machines to strengthen, modify and enhance various brands of RC cars. “We’re the only company making metal parts and they have proved immensely popular with hobbyists,” Chris Dickinson explains. “Within just four months, RadshapeRC trademarked spare parts are selling to twenty-four countries across the world and we just developed our own, as yet unnamed, RC vehicle.”
Keith Chadwick concludes: “We are confident that in five years, this division of Radshape will represent up to twenty percent of our business. And here, too, the TRUMPF machines are proving crucial in providing time-saving CAD/CAM and flexible sheet metalworking as we scale up production on this new venture.”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in spring 2011.