Barton Intent on Punching Above Its Weight

Published On: December 17th, 2016

Twelve months on and the transformation in the Barton operation, courtesy of around €2.5 million infrastructure investment from Optimas, is remarkable. See what’s changed, including the breaking news that makes Barton the first European plant to hold specific licenses that benefit the automotive sector.

On 1st November 2015 Optimas Solutions acquired Barton Cold-Form; a strategic investment targeted at assuring supply chain security for critical European automotive customers. A year on, Executive Editor Phil Matten revisited the UK precision fastener manufacturer to hear from Managing Director Andrew Nuttall, how a transformed business is already delivering tangible benefits to Optimas and its customer base –with plenty more to come.

The combination of direct-to-line feed and today’s volatile global socio-economic conditions means there has never been a greater imperative for OEMs, whether in the automotive or many other critical industrial sectors, to assure the security of their supply chain. This was the key context in which global supply chain management experts Optimas Solutions acquired Barton Cold-Form last November.

One of the longer established UK cold forming fastener manufacturers, Barton has for more than eighty years resolved the most complex of fastening challenges for engineers throughout Europe. At the end of 2006, having continuously grown to the extent its previous plant in Droitwich Spa was at bursting point, Barton relocated to a custom-built, 5,100m2 facility on the outskirts of the historic town. That move took an effective but definitely cramped production operation into a modern, efficient environment equal to the best in Europe.

Twelve months on and the transformation in the Barton operation, courtesy of around €2.5 million infrastructure investment from Optimas, is remarkable. Barton has substantially enhanced both cold heading capacity and capability through the acquisition of fifteen carefully selected machines. During the first quarter of 2016 most of the additional equipment was integrated to the existing machine park. “That meant moving every piece of machinery on the production floor,” explains Andrew Nuttall. “The whole plant now sits in a completely new footprint, from the tool room through to the materials storage – including the logistical offices and inspection operations. The wash plant was swung round 180 degrees to improve production flow. This allowed us to structure the heading section in two banks, ensuring all the machines are serviced by our overhead crane system.”

“Walk round now and it feels right with the efficiency in work flow clear to see. Most importantly,” says Andrew, “we achieved all of that without any customer disruption at all.”

Key acquisitions included two Nedschroef four-die boltmakers, complementing three existing headers from the same maker. Each has been thoroughly overhauled and is already in service, running to optimum capacity. By the time this article is published, a National Machinery five-die parts former will return from Germany, having been completely rebuilt, and will be commissioned for production. Barton also acquired two SACMA four-die headers, adding to five existing SACMA machines. Potential demand for the new SACMAs is building rapidly, so Andrew Nuttall expects to bring at least one into operation in 2017. Barton has increased from nineteen to thirty-two heading machines and also introduced six additional thread rollers. That enhances annual capacity on the current two-shift pattern by around 500 million pieces and radically strengthens the company’s capability to produce complex, quality
critical parts.

Achieving such a significant increase in capacity and capability demanded an intensive “due diligence” process to determine which parts Barton should target to achieve the best possible return on investment and deliver maximum benefit to customers. “If you look at our typical parts profile,” Andrew Nuttall says, “they are special, technically challenging, parts which is what Barton has
always been about. The new boltmakers, in particular, present opportunities to produce parts we could not previously consider.”

Optimas also invested substantially in upgrading and redesigning Barton’s tool room. “Some of the investment was in replacing equipment but we also acquired additional machinery,” says Andrew. “We work in partnership with world class tooling manufacturers worldwide and have been building closer relationships with UK tooling providers. The key focus for the tooling room is to ensure machine downtime is at an absolute minimum.”

Enhanced capability has not just come from additional equipment. Barton has now acquired the licence to produce Taptite® – facilitated by Barton’s sister plant in Chicago already holding a global licence. “We are in the process, now, of making our first Taptite® product,” explains Andrew Nuttall, “having hosted
a training event in August, at which eighteen of our experienced engineers and manufacturing personnel were brought right up to speed. Now we are in the position to go out to Optimas customers and demonstrate we are a credible UK manufacturer of these parts.”

The breaking news is that Barton has just formalised an agreement to become the first European plant supplying the automotive sector to hold licences to produce Mortorq® and Mortorq® Super internal and external drives. “This is a really exciting agreement, for Barton and for Optimas as whole. It means we can offer existing and new customers a significant lightweighting opportunity with absolutely no compromise on product performance and installation reliability. We can combine the Mortorq drive with any thread form, which also gives benefits in confined space applications. We estimate a potential weight saving on the parts as great as 15%. On some of the larger diameter, high volume fasteners we already produce for automotive applications that equates to a double-digit tonnage reduction on a single part.”

Barton has increased its skilled workforce to eighty to ensure seamless growth in production and a continuation of its high standards of customer service. Conscious of the aging skilled workforce issue that faces fastener production Europe-wide, Barton is also planning a new apprenticeship scheme next year
aimed at ensuring essential skills continuity.

“Optimas is primarily a logistics and distribution expert, providing integrated supply management solutions to world-class customers. Integral to that is the ability to deliver highly engineered fasteners,” explains Andrew Nuttall. “Barton is here to support Optimas in ensuring excellence in that provision. We are an expert element in a wide ranging and complex supply chain. Barton
is treated in exactly the same way as Optimas supply partners worldwide; subject to rigorous audit and constantly expected to demonstrate both commercial and technical competitiveness.”

“Barton’s major contribution is in introducing the manufacturing knowledge and experience possessed by day-to-day practitioners in those skills. We now support Optimas in developing and refining solutions for customers and in providing a benchmark for its global supply chain. We can respond to technical questions, propose new solutions or simply analyze the commercial breakdown of a part.”

“Where Barton really comes into its own within Optimas is our capability to take on challenging parts. That challenge may be logistical, providing a short-range response where demand fluctuates significantly. It may be technical, providing the benefit of a direct engineering relationship with the parts manufacturer.”

“All of it is backed by our own supply chain management, drawing quality assured materials from European mills and holding inventory to ensure flexibility to respond to Optimas customer needs. We are closely, both geographically and commercially, linked to the UK’s major external processors for heat treatment, coatings and thread-locking. The part we make in Droitwichmoves no more than fifty miles for completion of all the processes. Right now, the ‘Brexit’ impact on currency, has further highlighted the value of Barton as a dependable and adaptable close range parts manufacturer”.

2017 will see Barton focus even more strongly on product development. While the business already has a strong track record, a key and very positive development has been the relocation of the Optimas technical laboratory to the Barton site. Completely distinct from Barton’s process control and final inspection resources, the modern, comprehensively equipped laboratory supports the whole of the Optimas European operation. “Previously based at our main logistics centre in Gloucester it was primarily an inspection facility,” says Andrew Nuttall. “Co-location with Barton’s enhanced manufacturing capabilities provides an outstanding resource to explore not just the returns to be derived from Barton’s new licences but also opportunities to develop our skills using more advanced, higher performance but demanding materials.”

Building on that opportunity Andrew Nuttall is keen to see Barton at the heart of a technology council to share best practice and state-of-the-art knowledge throughout the Optimas network.

“Barton has a solid reputation in supplying demanding customers in twenty-one countries; many who deeply value the direct engineering relationship with the fastener manufacturer. Optimas now possesses an in-house capability that can enhance the potency of its global supply chain management and engineering solutions package. In the last twelve months we have honed that
capability, and will continue to do so, particularly in contributing to component light weighting without sacrifice to engineering integrity. Optimas’ primary goal is to help its customers’ businesses grow, transforming their supply chain so they can transform their business. We’re just 80 amongst a nearly 2,000 strong global team but when it comes to delivering excellence, directly or indirectly to Optimas customers, we are definitely going to punch above our weight.”

For the full article, see Fastener + Fixing Magazine // Issue 102 November 2016.

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