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Binder technology and engineering – hand in hand

The continued collaboration between two leading foundry machinery companies, a willingness to make significant leaps in technology and a commitment to establishing a young and dedicated team has resulted in substantial international growth rate for an established supplier of no bake foundry equipment.

With a proven reputation for continuous mixer technology, Foundry Machinery & Spares Ltd (FMS) has been serving the UK foundry sector for 20 years in its current form. However, add an additional 19 years of intellectual property knowledge and expertise, thanks to the owner’s family involvement in companies like Integrated Sand Systems and Award Manufacturing – the forerunners to FMS – and it is clear to see the calibre that shaped today’s company.

Global expansion

More recently FMS has made the transition from a 90 per cent UK order book to 90 per cent export, in part due to the expansion of the relationship with fellow binder systems supplier Eurotek, which represents FMS in various territories. The increase in global orders is matched by a busy domestic market, with 2017 being the highest growth rate to date both domestically and internationally. A factory expansion and an increase in skilled staff have enabled the company to accommodate the boom and indeed build on it.

Owner Craig Perkins, who set up FMS in 1999 with his father Tony, takes up the story: “We have been working with Eurotek for many years on chemically bonded systems, but now have a much closer working partnership with them. This has enabled us to expand our customer base in many regions including Poland and Ukraine.”

Perkins is proud to be a UK-based manufacturer but is conscious of the importance of operating as a ‘local’ supplier in other parts of the world. “We have always prided ourselves on offering good support in the UK and we have increased our ability to offer remote maintenance and spares support overseas in the past eight years, which is why we are now witnessing plenty of repeat orders from our international customers.”

The transition in the past two to three years has enabled FMS to focus on a more global perspective – the company now has equipment in over 50 countries. In addition, new employees have been welcomed, some of which came to FMS following the closure of FTL a couple of years ago. The integration of employees from a respected former competitor and a general increase in key staff at the headquarters in Walsall has driven the desire to continue to build a younger team, which places succession planning at the forefront of future development.

The current team has a good balance of experience and ambition, despite predominantly being in their thirties. Sales manager, Dan Sullivan, who joined the team two and a half years ago from the greensand sector, is part of that injection of youth. “Although we have a young team, most of us have been in the foundry industry since we left education,” he tells Foundry Trade Journal. Sullivan says it is he and Perkins who now feel like the old guard. “We are conscious that succession planning is a continuous activity, so we are currently bringing in the next generation, younger than us, who have more ideas and can help us maintain our edge.”

FMS currently has two apprentices and the company is delighted that skilled foundry training is now making a comeback in the UK. “It was such a problem for many years not having a foundry training school, so the new one in Tipton is a real step forward,” Perkins says. “I do hope the industry can encourage people to use it and to invest in the future.”

The appearance of Sullivan has allowed Perkins to strategise more and develop new markets. “We have always been busy but now Dan is on board, we have been able to be more responsive and re-structure, so that we can deliver more jobs,” he says.

Bespoke solutions

There has been a marked increase in the number of turnkey business being undertaken by the company and Sullivan says this is because customers want a company that can provide every aspect of an investment. “Customers like turnkey projects more and more and they also require ongoing support. We have spent a lot of time developing touchscreen PLCs with remote access capabilities and we can respond to any issues immediately, no matter where in the world our equipment is being used.” This game-changer has resulted in the large growth in export orders but has also enabled FMS to delve into technologies often ignored by others. “We have worked with Eurotek on a recent project at propeller manufacturer CJR Propulsion, where a dual process system was required from one mixing station. This is a leap in technology as this system is usually avoided but we like a challenge,” Perkins enthuses. “We have also developed a new flood coating machine, which we can modify to customer specifications. Again, these are considered troublesome because of the maintenance issues but we have a solution for this. We have had a few requests for this type of project and, after installing our first one in Grainger & Worrall, we have accepted others. We have one going into a foundry in Turkey at the moment.”

Sullivan explains that another growth area is in the reclamation systems part of the business. “We have completed various units recently and we are also undertaking lots of research and development in this area. Our modular approach makes it easier for shipping. This also has lots of advantages in terms of footprint and acoustics, meaning markets such as France, where acoustic legislation is particularly challenging, are now opening up for us.”

However, perhaps the most acute change in recent years has been the development of a dedicated 3D design team, who can create detailed project layouts in high quality 3D.

“There have been changes to sand mixing technology in recent years especially with respect to process control,” Perkins explains. “Customers are increasingly investing in the latest technology to improve production efficiencies.” He explains that this could take the shape of specific material handling issues or a design process, which is where the 3D team benefits the customer by creating models to simulate operating procedures. Of course, product innovation is not always customer driven, the years of experience at FMS means they also get to witness equipment in operation in many foundries, leading to further continual process efficiency improvements.

Collaborative approach

Speaking about the relationship with FMS, Eurotek’s Ray Higgins said: “The alignment of our two businesses has led to a unique opportunity to offer state-of-the-art binder technology with state-of-the-art foundry machinery and engineering. The vision and drive of both companies offers unique opportunities to expand the global business built on high quality chemicals and engineering, underpinned by a dedicated sales and support team.”

In addition FMS is working with mould handling company, TRANSTEK Foundry Equipment on the automatic RAPID moulding line vertical pattern loop system. The system offers a footprint saving of up to 60 per cent compared to horizontal loop systems and there is a 20-30 seconds faster cycle time, because of continuous elevators operating in just one direction. FMS has worldwide rights to the system.

Perkins is ambitious and is keen to build on the company’s long-standing reputation of quality equipment, manufactured in the UK for use in all parts of the world. The ambition though is tempered with realism. He says he is delighted with the level of growth the company has been witnessing and the decision to work with specific collaborators like Eurotek and TRANSTEK means FMS can continue to offer a high level of support before, during and post installation. However, Perkins is keen to maintain control. “We don’t want to grow too big, but we know that with our current attitude and acumen we can continue to expand at a rate we are comfortable with. These are exciting times and we are ready for them.”

Contact: Craig Perkins, managing director, Foundry Machinery & Spares Ltd, Unit G & H, Fryers Close, Bloxwich, Walsall WS3 2XQ UK, Tel: +44 (0) 1922 493603, email: [email protected] web: Twitter: @Foundryuk