A chance request spurred a family firm to install a high-tech lab that has brought unprecedented accuracy to production on the factory floor, with benefits in time and resource as well as for customers.
Weighing and measuring expert Rospen Industries has spent £100,000 on a new high-tech lab at their Haslingden, Lancashire premises to improve assessment of powder flow behaviour and so boost the precision of their hopper designs.
The decision followed a project where the customer provided their own lab report of powders to be handled. Utilising it enabled the firm’s engineers to build the commissioned machinery to exact requirements, saving time and money and prompting Rospen’s initiative – part of a wider strategy to bring previously outsourced services in-house.
“All powders behave differently, which means they discharge from hoppers in different ways. Previously we’d build equipment based on the experience and knowledge of our engineers, but having accurate readings at our fingertips removes any guesswork, meaning we get it right first time,” says Technical Director Grant McGeever, who explains more about the firm’s approach…
Before the investment, what part did Rospen’s existing laboratory play in the production flow? Was it primarily a retrospective role at the end of the process?
Before we took the decision to invest, we didn’t have any facilities apart from a single sieve deck and the test plant. We were not able to classify powders other than into basic groupings.
How does the lab’s role in the design/production workflow benefit you and your customers?
With the introduction of the lab, we are now able to confidently design a system knowing that we will be able to guarantee powder flow. The benefits to this are that it reduces/ eliminates costly site modifications for clients.
Is it unusual for customers to provide lab reports prior to builds? Were there previously barriers (cost/time/expertise/confidentiality) to Rospen obtaining this sort of information in advance of construction?
Very rarely do we have the data provided. This is generally because the most critical part of the process – will the powder flow? – is ignored. The barrier to obtaining this information before a build would be the cost and an ignorance of the variability of powders.
Was switching from outsourcing to in-house a factor in applying lab readings at design phase?
No, we wanted to be able to provide a great customer experience and try and remove some of the ‘black art’ of material handling. Before investing £100k, you would have weighed up the considerable offset gain to yourself and the customer in terms of precision, time, labour, cost. Can you quantify these? We took a long look at the costs involved but, as we are positioning the company with more bluechip customers that handle more demanding powders, it became increasingly obvious that we needed to be able to demonstrate scientifically why we needed to design a system in such a manner.
That level of investment is a reflection of the size of your business. If a smaller company was seeking to follow Rospen’s example, would this be commercially viable in their case?
It was and is a large investment for us. I can’t speak/comment on our peer group but we felt this was the way forward for Rospen to better service our clients, which will, in turn, contribute towards growing our business. Do you think there’s a lesson here for outsourcing companies if they want to hold on to business in an era of rising cost? You can outsource this facility but it’s costly and time-consuming.
How does £100k spend of this sort break down in terms of ratio of investment between instrumentation, lab expansion, changes to workflow etc?
The basic cost of the equipment including the laptop and associated equipment was around 45% of the costs. Building the office spaces, etc, was around 20%. The remainder was spent on both online and site-based training courses. It’s one thing getting the raw data, but it’s vital that we effectively interpret the results to ensure we have a great outcome.
Is it accurate to say that, in this very specific activity, you’ve moved from depending on ‘manual’ assessment by skilled professionals to machine-based assessment? And by doing so, does that make the process less vulnerable to error when an experienced design engineer is replaced by a less experienced one?
We have trained our best qualified and experienced engineers on the equipment to ensure we operate to the highest standards. What the system does is guarantee a reliable system.
Lastly, does the involvement of the lab at the earliest stages provide a more positive working relationship between the shopfloor and the lab?
The laboratory provides a ‘comfort blanket’ in effect. We are able to demonstrate analytically that we understand the properties of the clients’ powders.