People power

With a constant stream of innovative solutions being delivered to customers throughout the world, Mettis Aerospace is helping to forge the future of some of most complex and demanding of industry sectors

If you were to take a tour around the Redditch facility of Mettis Aerospace (Mettis), one of the world’s leading manufacturers of precision forged, machined and sub-assembled components, there are a wealth of different sights that will draw one’s attention and amazement, but few stand as proud, and more importantly as tall, as one of its most recent, game-changing investments. The sight in question is the company’s new, 40-tonne counter-blow Bêché hammer press, called the DG40.

Possessing the equivalent power of a 20,000-tonne hydraulic press, enabling Mettis to produce forgings of up to 750 kilograms depending on the material, the DG40 represents one of the company’s largest single investments in decades. “The installation and trialling of the DG40 marks a significant moment for Mettis,” begins Chief Operating Officer, Jeremy Cieslik. “We have a proud history of almost 80 years of being an industry leader and this new counter-blow hammer press, the first new press to be installed on this site in some 35 years, sends out a very strong and clear message to our employees, customers and peers that we intend to continue going from strength to strength.”

One of the secrets to this success comes in the form of the tried and tested production system that the company has in place, one that is categorised under what it calls the ‘Four P’s’ – Pounds, Process, Product and People. “If we look at things initially from a ‘Pounds’ perspective, in the time since we last spoke around 12 months ago, Mettis achieved sales totalling approximately £76 million in 2017, with 2018 on track to result in an increase in this figure to £85 million, and with a more than achievable target of £100 million by 2020,” Jeremy continues.

This impressive increase in turnover has also coincided with a period of sustained internal investment, which has seen around £25 million ploughed into the business and its processes in the space of five years. “A sizeable percentage of this investment has been used to introduce new technologies, including robotic additive layer techniques, water jet cutting, infra-red heating and blue light scanning solutions,” Jeremy adds. “We have also welcomed the development of the first 3D scanner in the UK that can distinguish between parts that look identical to the human eye, with automated part marking so that they can be organised into kits before being delivered to final assembly lines.”

This pattern of investment is only set to increase, with new, prestigious contracts set to be signed that will shepherd in the construction of an entirely new facility, complete with a state-of-the-art machine shop. “This ‘factory of the future’ will help to take the business to another level of process capability,” Jeremy enthuses. “Featuring a flexible manufacturing system, it will help us to decimate standard machining times when it comes to titanium, resulting in a reduction in our cycle times by at least an estimated 50 per cent.”

From a product point-of-view, a core demand that Mettis’ customers share in common is their desire for class-leading products that fulfil their requirements, and the company works to meet this appetite by having a steady stream of innovative concepts and solutions in the pipeline. “If I look at our new product to market portfolio, we currently have 48 products within our New Product Introduction (NPI) process, which make up all manner of different capabilities, materials and manufacturing processes,” Jeremy says. “When I joined the business five years ago we had a peak of only about 20 such products in NPI, so this goes some way to highlighting our continued commitment to innovation and just why Mettis is today active on all leading aircraft and next generation programmes, as well as other vital defence, nuclear, rail and maritime projects.”

Last, but by no means whatsoever least, there is the people aspect of the company. Since we last spoke, more than 40 new starters have been brought into the business. “Our people represent the very heart of Mettis, and we provide them a platform upon which we encourage each individual to be bold, courageous, creative and innovative in everything they do,” Jeremy reveals. “We also actively encourage multiskilling, allowing for a flexible and agile workforce that can be allocated tasks as work flows through, and in response to fluctuations in our order book. We have also continued to promote our apprenticeship programmes, bringing in four new apprentices in 2018 and resurrecting a dedicated forge master apprenticeship. Such actions form part of our long-term plans for not simply the next year or two, but for the next 20 or 25.”

On that very subject, Jeremy then turns his attention to what he describes as the four key drivers for future growth. “One of these drivers involves the continuous improvement of our productivity, with our efforts in the last five years resulting in an increase in turnover of 50 per cent. Despite this, we know there is more that we can do to improve this further by undertaking things that will reduce variability and increase efficiencies,” he details. “The second driver involves the roll out of what we have called the Mettis Advanced Planning System (MAPS), which we have been using to map out all of our interfaces, from the point we receive customers’ orders to when we deliver parts to make our order delivery process more effective.

“The third driver is quality and our push towards achieving zero defects. We have made significant progress towards this by engaging all parties involved in the production process, and providing the required levels of training development and time needed to identify issues or failings, and then do what we do best, and that is turning these into positive solutions. Finally, we will continue to work to unleash the immense potential of our organisation, enabling it by focusing on things like succession planning, training and transferring knowledge through the generations of people that work for Mettis.”

With a roadmap in place that will go a long way to helping Mettis achieve its long-term goal of becoming a £500 million Group by 2025, Jeremy has every right to be confident about what the future will hold. “We are continuing to utilise a winning and successful formula, but believe me we are by no means complacent,” he concludes. “This is precisely why we are driving quality and productivity, and improving the delivery planning process in order to reduce time to market. Nevertheless, we recognise that all of that needs to be enabled by our organisation, and the key to that is our people!”

Mettis Aerospace
Products: Complex precision forged and machined components