Bumper Year For Alpha Manufacturing In Multi Award Wins

The business has won four awards at two events recognising local business success.

Staffordshire based sheet metal manufacturer Alpha Manufacturing, part of the Bri-Stor Group, has become a multi award-winner after scooping four accolades at local business awards.

manufacturer of the yearThe business, which offers full in-house design and fabrication services to the UK and European market, was named Manufacturer of the Year 2021 by award sponsor The Greenbank Group at the East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire Business Awards on 11th November.  And just one week later was named Manufacturer of the Year 2021 by award sponsor Michelin Tyres, at the Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.

Both sponsors spoke about the innovation displayed by Alpha during the pandemic, where the business geared up its operation to support the hospitality and leisure industry and NHS covid testing centres as the UK re-opened after the first UK lockdown, with the manufacture of hand sanitiser units and protective screens.

Not only did the business take home these awards, but Alpha’s Production Engineer and former Higher Apprentice Gemma Smith also tookGemma Smith home the Young Employee of the Year award at both events, for her work raising awareness of Apprenticeships and women in engineering, as well as her quick progression through the business while committed to her degree and charity work.

On the recent success, Alpha Manufacturing Managing Director, Paul Clews said: “We’re still on such a high after winning these awards. These awards have come at such an exciting time for our business as we experience significant growth with the opening of two new sites, including our Beacon Park, Stafford facility, Chemical Technologies in collaboration with global company INEOS Electrochemical Solutions.

“But it’s the team that are truly award-winning at Alpha, we’re so lucky to have a business with such dedicated and committed people who never fail to go the extra mile.  I am proud to be part of this incredible team, there are so many great opportunities ahead of us, it’s a great time to be Team Alpha.

Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce Awards“A huge well done to Gemma too who bagged another thoroughly deserved Young Employee of the Year award, it’s been a privilege to see Gemma achieve so much in the past five years at Alpha, she is testament to our Higher Apprenticeship programme, and I know she has such a bright future ahead.”

Gemma Smith said: “Winning one award was a shock, never mind two! First of all, massive thank you to Alpha Manufacturing for everything they have done for me in pursuit of my dream engineering career. I have benefited greatly from being given opportunities often outside my comfort zone, but those opportunities have served me well.

“Finally, a huge thank you to the judges from East Staffordshire & South Derbyshire Business Awards and Stafford Chamber of Commerce for believing in me and choosing me for this award. You don’t know how much it means to me to be recognized for my achievements and I feel proud to be recognized amongst a group of equally talented finalists and flying the flag for Apprenticeships, they are the future.”

Alpha Welcomes New Senior Production Manager, Nick Moss

The Alpha Manufacturing production team has grown again with the appointment of Nick, who previously worked at JCB for 11 years, most recently as a Manufacturing Group Leader managing a large team in the load-all division.

Nick Moss 1Nick’s new role involves him overseeing all aspects of manufacturing operations and production processes, working with Operations Manager Neal Lafford, to ensure smooth production of parts and operational functions.

Nick’s appointment comes at a busy time for Alpha, as the company continues to grow its order book, expand its processes with new technology investments, and with the opening of two new sites, including the latest development in build, Alpha Manufacturing Chemical Technologies.

About his new role, Nick said: “I’m someone who continually wants to grow my skills and learn, so  I’m really looking forward to getting to know this new business. Having worked in the manufacturing industry for many years, one thing I have never worked on solely is sheet metal, so it’s the perfect challenge for me to get to know these new processes and machinery.

“One of the things I am already enjoying about Alpha is the variety of our customer base and the scope of innovative projects the company is working on. There’s a real family feel about his company that is unique, and I’m already proud to be a part of it.”

Robot Welding Vs Manual Welding by Gemma Smith

Having the capability to offer customers a complete range of solutions for welding and fabrication jobs is just one of Alpha Manufacturing’s unique advantages.  In this article, production engineer Gemma Smith, explores the benefits of manual and robot welding and explains how Alpha customers benefit from this market-leading service.

Welder “There are so many processes involved in the fabrication of just one product, but the beauty of an Alpha manufactured component is that every area of our production uses the best available technology for that particular process.  There’s no question, certain methods have their unique advantages and welding is no different – not only from a process and application capability but from a value engineering process too.

“The manual welding process has great flexibility and can be involved in a wide range of applications. One of the first differences between manual and robot welding is that manual welders are able to work with a variety of different thicknesses and a mix of products using their own skill and knowledge base, rather than requiring a programmer to set up before each use.

This method also means that high complexity can be achieved as manual welders can navigate hard to reach weld sites.  One of the unique benefits of manual welding is that it’s the perfect solution for low quantity runs and prototyping, enabling the welder to use their skills and expertise.

“But that’s only half of the welding story.  At Alpha Manufacturing, arguably we have the most exhaustive robotic welding capability in the UK including the Yaskawa Robotic Welding Machine.  Featuring ‘cold metal transfer technology’, Alpha customers have come to rely on world-class weld standards.  While manual welding has many advantages, robotic welding delivers consistently high quality output with a high repeatability rate, as the robot follows the exact same programme.

“There’s no question, for Alpha customers having the in-house capability to deliver a broad spectrum of weld techniques is just one of the Alpha Manufacturing differences.  Whether a component is welded in one of our weld bays by one of our expert weld team or a component is passed through our automated welding machinery, every component manufactured in our Staffordshire production facility achieves the same world-class standard.  That’s our commitment to every Alpha Manufacturing customer. It’s what we’re famous for.”

Find out more about our welding services or read more from Gemma Smith.

Alpha Manufacturing Quality Team grows with Appointment of New Trainee Quality Engineer

In August, Alpha Manufacturing held its first ever Recruitment Open Day. With up to 30 positions available in a range of skilled and semi-skilled roles, candidates were offered the chance to interview for their preferred role on the day.

Libby MellorIn attendance at the Open Day was Libby Mellor, a former Mechanical Engineering Apprentice who found her passion in the Quality Department at Perkins during her apprenticeship and had progressed to the role of Quality Inspector in her fourth year at the company.

Libby attended the Open Day with the aim of finding out more about Alpha Manufacturing and the roles available within the Quality Department. Speaking about her new role, Libby said: “I think it’s fascinating to see how other companies work, whether you’re looking for a job or not, and so it was great being able to take a look around the factory at Alpha and see all the facilities first hand.

“I had heard a lot about the progression opportunities available at Alpha and how they support people through education and training, and as I was ready to take my next steps in my career, Alpha seemed like the perfect place.

“At the Open Day, I spoke with the management team about looking for my next challenge within the industry, and it wasn’t long afterwards that I was offered the position of Trainee Quality Engineer. I was so thrilled to have been offered the perfect next step that I was looking for, at a company that I had been so impressed by.

“Having worked here a couple of weeks now, I’m still learning the ropes but am so excited to get stuck into my role. The main thing I’m looking forward to is planning and investigation, where I will be evaluating potential quality risks before they arise to contribute to the company’s high-quality standards.

“My overall hope for the future is to keep learning and progressing in my career, hopefully working my way from Trainee to Quality Engineer and eventually I would like to manage a team and go into the Quality Management side of things.

“At the moment, I’m really enjoying getting to know all of the processes and the team here, who have all been so friendly and welcoming! My advice to anyone wanting to take their next steps in their career is to go for it. By taking a chance you could find the perfect job for you like I have at Alpha.”

We wish Libby all the success in her new role and it’s great to have her as a part of Team Alpha.

Find out more about our Quality Department, or meet Quality Manager Ben Austin and Quality Inspector Peter Ricketts.

Alpha Manufacturing Shortlisted in Three Business Awards

Shortlisted as a finalist in both the Manufacturer of the Year and Innovation & Technology category, with an employee also shortlisted as a finalist for the Young Employee of the Year Award.

Staffordshire sheet metal manufacturing company, Alpha Manufacturing has been announced as a finalist in three award categories at the prestigious East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire Business Awards.

The company is proud to have been selected as a finalist for the Manufacturer of the Year and Innovation & Technology Awards, with Production Engineer Gemma Smith also shortlisted as a finalist for the Young Employee of the Year Award.

Ground-Breaking Ceremony

The award comes at an exciting time for the business, which has seen significant growth in the last 18 months despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic. Since the start of this year, Alpha Manufacturing has seen a surge in demand for quality UK sheet metal manufacturing, resulting in the opening of two new divisions; Alpha Integrated Technologies and the most recent being Alpha Manufacturing Chemical Technologies, a 35,000sq ft purpose-built manufacturing facility in Beacon Park, Stafford in partnership with global chemical company INEOS Electrochemical Solutions.

The growing company’s production facility is the most technologically advanced in the UK.  The recent extension of its STOPA storage system makes it the longest installation of its type in the UK and allows it to offer an unrivalled level of service in terms of efficiency and value.  Commenting on the news, Alpha Manufacturing Managing Director, Paul Clews said: “What fantastic news! Being selected as finalists for these awards alongside other fantastic local businesses is a credit to the hard work and dedication of the Alpha Team who have worked tirelessly throughout the last 18 months to not only keep the business running through the pandemic and supply essential COVID safety products to customers across the UK, but to open two new sites since the start of the year, in response to unprecedented demand for our services.

“Our long-standing Apprenticeship Programme continues to produce some incredible young engineers and will continue to drive our business into the future.  Gemma is the perfect example of a talented, dedicated and exceptional young individual whose commitment to everything she does makes us proud to have her as a part of our team.”

Gemma Smith

Production Engineer and former Higher Apprentice Gemma has been selected as a finalist for the Young Employee of the Year Award due to her achievements in her career so far, her commitment to raising awareness of STEM pathways for young women and her charity work. Gemma said: “I’m so happy that Alpha Manufacturing has put me forward for this award – it feels like a dream! Since completing my degree at Derby University through my Higher Apprenticeship at Alpha Manufacturing, I have worked hard to progress my skills and knowledge while also aiming to be a role model to other young women who want to pursue an engineering career. It just shows where hard work can take you!”

As well as being recognised for her performance and skills in her role at Alpha, Gemma has also raised money for local hospice Katherine House through a Unicycle Challenge and even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for an African Children’s Charity while completing her degree.

The winner for each award will be announced at an Awards Evening at the Pirelli Stadium in Burton-on-Trent, home of Burton Albion FC, on Thursday 11th November.

“I secured my dream job at Alpha’s Recruitment Open Day”

In August, Alpha Manufacturing held its first ever Recruitment Open Day. With up to 30 positions available in a range of skilled and unskilled roles, candidates were offered the chance to interview for their preferred role on the day.

Offering robust training schemes and professional development opportunities, a Group bonus scheme and competitive salaries, the Open Day was a great success with over 70 potential candidates attending over three time slots throughout the day, and almost all roles filled, with some candidates being offered the job on the day.

RoffyAmongst the attendees on the day was Roffy Chitumba, a recent Masters graduate in Advanced Product Design, who was looking to start his career in the engineering industry. Roffy picks up his story from here: “As early as I can remember I have always had a passion for engineering, always wanting to understand how machines and moving parts work, but growing up in Zimbabwe there were not many higher education pathways for me to develop the knowledge and skills required.

“After moving to England to pursue my education, I attended University to study Aeronautical Engineering in Manchester. Once I graduated, I worked in technical support for a consultancy for a while, but I wanted to continue my education in engineering and manufacturing, to give myself the best start to my career in this area, which is why I pursued my Masters degree in Advanced Product Design.

“I found out about the Recruitment Open Day at Alpha Manufacturing through social media, and it came at the perfect time for me, having recently completed my Masters degree. I was so impressed with Alpha’s Apprenticeship Scheme, Higher Apprenticeships and training opportunities it seemed like a company that really invested in its employees.

“At the Open Day, I took a tour around Alpha’s facilities and was fascinated by the scale of the factory and the world-class machinery.  It’s exactly the kind of place I had dreamed of working, somewhere I can get stuck in and put my theory knowledge into practical experience, learning every part of the production process.  Meeting the wider team, including an interview with Operations Manager, Neal Lafford, was really interesting and after a nervous week waiting to hear news, I was absolutely thrilled to be offered the position of Quality Inspector with the goal of becoming a Production Engineer. My skills, knowledge of CAD design and modelling, made me the perfect fit for this area. I couldn’t believe it when I got the offer. It was a dream come true, to be offered the role I applied for with the scope to progress.

“The first month has been a whirlwind experience. I took part in a two-week induction, working on the factory floor operating machines, welding, polishing and getting some hands-on involvement of the journey in which parts go through in the production line. This week, I am finally in the Quality team and I’m already loving it. Through a combination of the knowledge learnt during my degrees and getting to know the manufacturing methods on my induction, this has helped me to get into the mindset of a Quality Inspector; being able to spot possible areas within the production of a component where issues may occur and working with the Production Engineers to find solutions.

“I already feel a part of something special here at Alpha and am looking forward to doing the best possible job I can do for the company.  My advice to anyone who is worried about applying for their dream job, just go for it! Never give up, as there may be the perfect opportunity out there for you, like this one at Alpha is to me. If you’re willing to work hard and get stuck in, then good things will happen. Follow your dreams!”

Are you looking for your dream job? Take a look at our available positions on our careers page.

Find out more about our Quality Team, meet Ben Austin and Peter Ricketts.

A Year in Review: How Pandemic Innovation is Here to Stay

For businesses, as with every aspect of day-to-day life, the COVID-19 pandemic brought many unavoidable challenges, the like of which had never been seen before. Yet, there were opportunities scattered amongst the trials, some of which as a business, Alpha Manufacturing was able to adapt and rise to within mere weeks.

As lockdown took force, Alpha Manufacturing kept essential work moving while still enforcing safety regulations by reducing to a skeleton shift on the factory floor, and with office staff working from home to safeguard our employees. As the situation developed, demand for COVID-19 protection products soared and we adapted our manufacturing approach rapidly to meet the surge in demand for our expertise and capability.

Within weeks of the first UK lockdown, the Commercial Team were approached by a retail display company who had an urgent demand for 3500 hand sanitization units for the leisure and hospitality sector. We were able to quickly set up production lines to manufacture and assemble 450 units per day. Since this initial project, Alpha has built a relationship with this customer, collaborating to develop the design of a second-generation sanitizer and combined cleaning unit at a rate of 150 per day.  The end-client is a leading UK supermarket with c.7000 stores nationwide.

Another customer win during the UK lockdown was a Staffordshire-based internal partition screen supplier who was struggling to meet the surge in demand for their products. An initial requirement of 1250 COVID screens were produced at a rate of 300 per week and again, the relationship has developed since, with further screens produced by Alpha for various purposes including NHS testing stations.

We maintained a supply to those customers connected to healthcare and when required, quickly implemented robust safe working practices so that we could quickly up-scale operations in line with our customers’ demand.  We are an agile business and there is no better illustration of this than our ability to ‘gear-up’ and switch our focus towards supporting new partnerships while maintaining momentum and supply certainty with our existing customers.

A year later, and we are still working hard on multiple orders of the COVID safety products for these customers and new ones, with new orders coming in all the time. Working closely with our customers, we have designed and developed updated versions of the product with our in-house team of innovators.

Commercial Director, Robin Eley heads up the team who are the first point of contact for our customers: “The events of the past year haveRob Eley allowed us to forge even stronger relationships with new and existing customers, supporting with urgent requests to keep essential services moving, such as hand sanitisers and vehicle partition screens.

“During this time, our team worked tirelessly to design, produce and deliver these critical items for our customers. Throughout the whole process, we worked hand in hand with our customers, making sure the products were to the top quality they could be, even whilst working with the reduced staff and with supply chain issues brought about by the pandemic.

“Now, a year on, after building strong relationships through this difficult period, we are still the trusted partner for our customers. Every day we receive orders for the COVID safety products first produced last year, from new and loyal customers.”

Alpha Manufacturing on Track to Exceed Ambitious Environmental Targets

Being the most environmentally efficient business in the sheet metal manufacturing industry is at the core of Alpha Manufacturing’s strategy, leading the industry towards greener and more sustainable practices.  Sharing a 35-acre site with sister company Bri-Stor Systems and Atlas Coating and work beginning on the new, 65,000 sq. ft state-of-the-art Alpha Manufacturing Chemical Technologies site in Stafford, Alpha is already exceeding its 5-year targets to reduce energy consumption, waste to landfill and increase recyclable waste.

Darren BatesWe spoke with Bri-Stor Group Health, Safety and Environmental Manager Darren Bates, to find out more about how the business has achieved this success.

Tell us more about environmental strategy and why it’s so important.

“The 14001 epitomises how important having a stringent environmental policy in place is to businesses. We know our targets are ambitious, but achievable, and we’re a company ready to make a mark in the manufacturing industry for our sustainability goals.

“Our 5-year environmental strategy consists of three key areas: Reduction of electricity and energy consumption, reduction of general waste produced and therefore waste to landfill, and increase our recycling waste rate. One year in to this plan, we are exceeding our goals through innovative and proactive approaches.

The strategy will allow us to futureproof our business and be the catalyst of change in our industry.”

How have you managed to reduce energy consumption across Alpha?

“As a large site, with 24/7 manufacturing capability, reducing energy consumption has always been a top priority for our company. Recently,Solar Panels our factory underwent a large project to make a big dent in our average energy consumption, futureproof our business and reach our 5-year targets. By strategically converting all lighting on premises to CEMA LED Lighting, we have reduced our kWh production by nearly half a million. The kWh of energy saved is equivalent to 36,344,455 smartphones charged! This has resulted in us already beating our yearly kWh electricity target by over 13%, which is an annual CO2 saving of 107.76 tonnes, equivalent to 270,822 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.

“This is not the only energy saving innovation we have planned either. A project is under way to have switched completely to solar power in the next four years. The installation of solar will see our 3,570.5 square meters of our facility installed with 1960 roof-mounted solar panels. This will produce a kWh energy saving of around 733,043 per year, with the eventual aim to be entirely self-sufficient in our energy usage within six years.”

Across the Bri-Stor Group, we were previously producing 200 tonnes of waste per year, how has the plan allowed us to reduce the amount of tonnage wasted and by how much has it reduced this by?

“Having switched to three bailers and one mini-compactor to decrease the amount of waste that goes to landfill, we have now reduced our carbon footprint by 75%.

“As a business, we are now classed as a ‘zero to landfill’ company, working with leading waste management company Veolia, who themselves stopped using landfill around 18months ago, as our waste is now processed into Reuse Derived Fuel (RDF). The RDF process replaces fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil. Filtration is used to produce as much lower CO2 than regular methods, meaning it is cleaner and less harmful to the environment.”

Alpha manufacturingHow significant is recycling to Alpha and how have we increased the amount of waste material we recycle?

“Intrinsically linked with the goal of reducing general waste is the increase in recyclable waste. With an excess in quality materials, making sure these are recycled and not wasted, is key to our strategy.

“The bailers are used to mass recycle our waste materials such as all cardboard and plastic. The implementation of this equipment, along with building a workplace culture around reusing and recycling, has meant that we are on track to beat our ambitious target of 55 tonnes of recycling by the end of 2021.”

In summary, what is the future of the environmental strategy for Alpha?

“These initiatives across the three strategic areas, have meant that in 2021, we are already not only on track to meet our environmental targets but in some areas beating these already, and our hope is that we will have exceeded our ambitious targets by the end of the year. This will also have a big impact on the entire 5-year plan, which we hope will mean we can keep excelling in implementing our environmental strategy and innovations, to be one of the most ‘green manufacturers’ in the industry.”

Alpha Manufacturing Team Continues to Grow with Appointment of New Commercial Manager, Michael Whitfield

Having worked for JCB for 15 years, most recently in the Global Major Accounts department as General Manager, Michael Whitfield has joined Alpha to support recent business growth and continue to drive the company forward.

Michael Whitfield

Michael’s new role will see him working with Commercial Director, Robin Eley and Technical Sales Engineer, Corey Hammond, building relationships with new and existing customers and supporting the continuing growth of the business.

Michael’s appointment comes at an exciting time for Alpha, as the company is experiencing unprecedented demand for its services with the opening of two new sites this year; Alpha Integrated Solutions and Alpha Manufacturing Chemical Technologies, a brand new 35,000 sq ft facility in Beacon Park, Stafford in collaboration with global brand INEOS Electrochemical Solutions.

On his new role, Michael said: “As someone who is passionate about the engineering and manufacturing industry, I’ve been following the evolution of Alpha Manufacturing, and the whole Bri-Stor Group for a long time, and have always been impressed. Something that really stands out is the way Alpha values its staff, and has such strong relationships with its customers.

“I have no doubt Alpha has an exciting future ahead as it continues to grow and I look forward to being part of that journey.”

Living locally to Hixon, Michael lives with his wife and two young children. The family are active in the local community and although having young children occupies much of his time, Michael enjoys keeping fit through running and playing football with friends as well as embarking on DIY projects at home.

Welcome to the Alpha Team Michael, and good luck in your new role.

Jonathan Holyhead Celebrates 30 Year Career with Bri-Stor Group

Jonathan Holyhead, Bri-Stor Group Finance Director, celebrates thirty years with the business this month (July 2021) and has been an instrumental part in the company’s significant growth and achievements during that time.  Joining the business in his late teens, Jonathan has accomplished many great things in his career so far, and is excited for the next chapter in Bri-Stor Group’s expansion plans.

Commenting on Jonathan’s contribution to the business, Bri-Stor Group CEO Martin Smith, says: “Jonathan is the very essence of this business and is a loyal, trusted advisor to the Bri-Stor Group.  In the time that Jonathan has been in the Group we have grown significantly and added new divisions to the business, new premises and grown our workforce ten-fold.  Combined, all of these things have presented opportunity and risk and with Jonathan’s fierce control of our financial status, we have been able to deliver controlled and measured growth.

“I am personally, delighted to congratulate Jonathan on this significant achievement.  His support and commitment during the pandemic has been unwavering and there’s no doubt, with Jonathan’s skills we remain strong and in a position to continue investing in the Group’s continued success.”

In response, Jonathan adds these words: “As Martin explains, the business has delivered incredible growth in the last thirty years and I am delighted to be part of the success story.  Working alongside the senior leadership team has been rewarding in itself and there’s no question, my own professional development has been down to the company’s investment in me.  As we look towards even greater growth and prosperity, I am excited for the next chapter of my career and achieving the next milestone.”

Addressing the skills gap through quality on the job education and professional development

The Bri-Stor Group, which includes Bri-Stor Systems, Alpha Manufacturing, Atlas Coating and Hex Signs & Graphics, has been recognising and developing young talent since the business started trading over 35 years ago. In that time, the number of apprentices on our accredited scheme has increased year-on-year, this year seeing the formal launch of the higher apprenticeship programme, with a large proportion of the workforce progressing their career supported by company-funded professional and educational development.

The manufacturing and engineering industry are facing an ever-growing skills gap, and with this in mind, working on a model that creates quality vocational work options helps to encourage young skilled workers of the future into positions that fill this gap long-term.

Bri-Stor Group Apprenticeship Manager, William Davies-Hill explains how the Bri-Stor Group Apprenticeship Scheme works to benefit both the apprentice and the business: “As a company that actively plans ahead, it is imperative that we ensure that our workforce of the future has the correct competencies and expertise. The best approach for this is to acknowledge the importance of developing individuals through the means of our apprenticeship programme.

“Apprenticeships are a collaboration between; the person who is striving to better themselves by gaining qualifications in various sectors of work, the training provider who has a pivotal function in their development and the employer who must ensure that both the financial and time investment spent in development meets your initial targets.

“To ensure that this is all tied together correctly, a company must work to make sure their vocational work options offer training that works to enhance skills the individual already possess, so that the apprentice is fully engaged and submersed in their chosen apprenticeship. Positive influence and strong role models who are willing to invest in the apprentice’s are the key to the gold standard apprenticeship program we offer.”

Quality skills training doesn’t stop at apprenticeships, as Group HR Manager Karen Barnacle explains: “Many of our Senior Leadership team across the Group, including our Managing Directors in Bri-Stor Systems and Alpha Manufacturing, started their careers as apprentices, or in entry level roles, and have been supported to grow their skills and progress. Offering educational and professional development options to employees ensures a wider knowledge base and resource in the business, therefore helping to close the skills gap. Young people offer businesses a unique opportunity to adapt and grow with their workforce and should be seen as an asset to any company.”

Stronger Together – more than just words

Stronger Together has been the binding value that underpins the Bri-Stor Group for decades, yet in light of the pandemic, the Group’s purpose resonates stronger than ever with colleagues and customers alike.  In this feature we talk to Bri-Stor Systems’ Managing Director Simon Webb and Alpha Manufacturing Managing Director Paul Clews about the strength of the Group and the value this brings to customers.

“Alpha Manufacturing is the secret weapon in the Group”, explains Paul Clews.  “By name association people think of Bri-Stor Systems as the lead business, but never before have the two companies been so intertwined.  Bri-Stor Systems is an important customer for Alpha, no question, but from an operational, innovation and cultural position, the strength of our two businesses combined is a powerful mix.”

Establishing Alpha Integrated Solutions in May this year and now launching Chemical Technologies, Alpha’s new 35,000 sq. ft manufacturing facility in Stafford, the sheet metal manufacturing business goes from strength-to-strength despite the widespread economic volatility in the market.  While Alpha Manufacturing responds as the production and manufacturing arm to its sister-company Bri-Stor Systems, the van conversion business continues to lead the industry servicing most of the UK’s nationwide fleets, as Simon Webb explains: “We’re operating in challenging times and our close collaboration with our colleagues in Alpha has never been so important.  Alongside the other two businesses in the Group – Hex Signs & Graphics and Atlas Coating – we share the same 30acre site in Hixon which brings about huge operational efficiencies.  Our racking and van conversion solutions simply pass through a 50 metre tunnel completely eliminating any costly logistics and supply chain bottlenecks.  That isn’t something we’ve ever taken for granted, but now more than ever, it’s an invaluable asset.”

The R&D and innovation efficiencies amongst the Group companies are also profound and while the term ‘one stop shop’ is a frequently used expression, it completely sums up the Bri-Stor Group, as Simon continues: “Whether we’re converting a van for a nationwide fleet or a one-off vehicle for a local sole trader, we have the capacity to design and innovate solutions overnight.  A great illustration of this point is the recent TRIM-IT contract.  Channel 4 viewers will have seen the challenge we faced to work with the customer to design an entirely new interior for the vehicle in a short time frame and this was only made possible by the close relationship we have with our colleagues in Alpha.  In real terms, TRIM-IT is just one example, but in truth, every single customer benefits from the skill and expertise of our prototype and R&D teams across the Group.”

While the Group businesses have their own set of unique customers supported by separate leadership and operational teams, the skill-share opportunity across the business brings tremendous benefits as Paul explains: “The Bri-Stor Group started almost 40 years ago and still remains a family-owned business, led by CEO Martin Smith.  One of the strongest values of the Group is the investment in people and this is delivered through our People Programme and Apprenticeship Scheme.  While these are structured programmes that support the development of individual people, from the customer’s perspective they can be reassured that the very best talent is working on their project.  We are so geographically connected as a business, the transfer of knowledge, skills and capability easily translates across the Group.  We have a strong long-service culture in the business and many Bri-Stor Group colleagues have worked across both firms – we actively encourage that progression and with almost four decades of experience under our belts, this formula brings huge advantages to the manufacturing and production process.”

Working out of a state-of-the-art facility in Hixon, Staffordshire, the Group has a strong investment plan in place, reflected in the development of a new manufacturing facility on the edge of Stafford and the £8m spend on new equipment and technology in Alpha Manufacturing and Bri-Stor Systems.  Simon picks up the story: “We’ve talked about the operational and people advantages of Bri-Stor Group, but having strong backing from the company’s owner enables us to continually reinvest across the Group.  We operate a relatively flat management structure and this allows us to make decisions quickly and make change happen.  Alpha is continuously investing in equipment and premises for expansion, while in Bri-Stor Systems we’ve just implemented a significant upgrade to our software system that brings tremendous operational capability.  We are constantly implementing ways to improve our performance and output and while these are measures the customer will never actually see in physical terms, the quality and innovation that sits behind our product speaks for itself.

Leading the Bri-Stor Group for the last 15 years as CEO, Martin Smith is committed to a strong investment strategy and believes that the firm’s reputation as a customer-centric business is what keeps the Group at the forefront of the markets they serve, he adds: “Recently Paul Clews has spoken about the merits of Industry 4.0 and the need to work towards higher levels of automation and its entirely within this spirit that we continue to invest.  Whether it’s in greater degrees of automation, software development or our People Programme and the launch of our Higher Apprenticeship scheme, the entire Group has thrived for almost 40 years by constantly reinvesting.  As we launch our new Alpha Manufacturing division, Chemical Technologies, it takes us into a new market which is incredibly exciting for the entire Group and testament to the strength of our reputation and the talent of our teams.  Never before have I been more proud of my colleagues flying the Bri-Stor Group flag every single day.”

Alpha Manufacturing & INEOS Electrochemical Solutions collaborate to develop state-of-the-art production facility at Beacon Park, Stafford

Leading sheet metal manufacturing business, Alpha Manufacturing, part of the Bri-Stor Group, is significantly ramping up its precision engineering capability with the construction of a brand new 35,000 sq. ft state-of-the-art production facility at Beacon Park, Stafford.  The new site will create up to 50 jobs, which includes roles for Apprentices and Higher Apprentices, and is part of Alpha Manufacturing’s wider strategic plans which includes the creation of 100 new Staffordshire-based jobs in the next five years.

The new facility is designed and built to facilitate the manufacture of components for INEOS Electrochemical Solutions.  Operating as Alpha Manufacturing Chemical Technologies, this development further builds on the launch earlier this year of Alpha Integrated Solutions – a dedicated fabrication facility adjacent to Alpha’s 85,000 sq. ft principal facility in Hixon.

Operating a 24/7 shift-pattern, the team based at Beacon Park will join over 500 other local people working in the Bri-Stor Group at Hixon.  Commenting on this important development, Paul Clews, Managing Director, Alpha Manufacturing says: “This is a fantastic moment for Alpha Manufacturing as we further enhance our commitment to the economic prosperity of Stafford.  We are proud of our Staffordshire heritage and we are delighted that through collaboration with INEOS Electrochemical Solutions, Stafford Borough Council and our development partner ISE, we are able to continue investing in the area, creating jobs and contributing to the region’s reputation as a world-class centre of manufacturing excellence.  There’s no question, we need to invest, invest, invest to ensure we create a secure and resilient future economy.”

The new facility has been designed to accommodate high-precision engineering and manufacturing processes that support the production of components used in electrolysers that produce chlor-alkali products.  Commenting on the development, Terry Healy, Business Unit Manager, INEOS Electrochemical Solutions says: “This development is the culmination of many months of planning and we are delighted to be working with Alpha Manufacturing – a business entirely committed to the delivery of world-class engineering standards.  Our drive, ambition and commitment to this facility is equally matched and we welcome the opportunity of working with the Alpha team to bring new skills and expertise to Stafford.”

Theo Clarke, MP for Stafford welcomes Alpha Manufacturing to Beacon Park and as part of her Pledges for Stafford is keen to support businesses creating high quality jobs in engineering, she comments: “It was great to welcome Alpha Manufacturing to Beacon Park in Stafford. Alpha Manufacturing’s commitment to opening a new facility during the coronavirus pandemic shows the wonderful business opportunities Stafford has to offer.  I was also delighted to meet with one of Alpha Manufacturing’s apprentices who I had previously given an award to when she was attending Stafford College. This demonstrates how Alpha Manufacturing’s new premises in Stafford will help create high quality local jobs and drive prosperity throughout Staffordshire.”

Recruitment of jobs will begin in the Spring 2022 and opportunities will be posted online and on Alpha Manufacturing’s social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

A day in the life of Helen, Assembly Team Leader at Alpha Integrated Solutions

Helen Cassar started working for Alpha as an Assembly Technician, and after working in a variety of roles throughout the business, is now leading a team at our new division, Alpha Integrated Solutions. Helen tells us about her time at Alpha so far and a day in her new team.

“I started working for Alpha as an Assembly Technician in September 2019 and immediately loved the fast-paced nature of the role. At that time, I was working in one of our dedicated assembly areas focused on one particular customer, assembling the various components that had come through each stage of the production process, and fitting them to the upmost quality, ready to be packaged and delivered.

When the pandemic hit, I was unfortunately furloughed for a couple of months, like much of the rest of the industry and country at that time. I was so glad when I could get back to work, and it didn’t take me long to get settled in as we were busier than ever supporting our customers by supplying much needed products. One of the most popular items was hand sanitiser units, that we made for a number of large brands. I was working specifically on hand sanitiser units for a global beverage company, and there was such a nice atmosphere in the team, knowing that the products we were making were helping to keep so many people safe. Although the work was incredibly fast-paced, it really did feel like we were a part of something bigger; plus, the busier the better for me!

In the last few months, I progressed to lead the team in the production of other hand sanitiser units for large supermarket chains. More recently, I’ve been given the responsibility of leading a team at our new division, Alpha Integrated Solutions where I’ve played an integral part in setting up the new site ready for the assembly of many different customer products. It’s so exciting to see it up and running.

I get to work for 5.45 in the morning and start the day off with a nice cup of coffee . My team consists of four other colleagues, who are all brilliant! We take a look at the work on for that day, and we have a morning meeting to assign tasks and make sure we’re are all working as a team.

After that I get to work; I work alongside the guys in the morning and early afternoon. I like to make sure they have everything they need, such as enough tools for the job that day.

At the moment we are working on a recurring order for one of our long-standing customers. When you work on a large order like this, you learn so much about each company and really invest in making their products the best they can be.

I like to be on the shop floor and getting stuck in with all the manual work, which could be using the pallet truck to move work around or getting products ready for despatch.

Every day is different for me now at the Integrated Solutions division. I face lots of different unexpected challenges on a day-to-day basis, which is great for me physically and mentally. And it’ll be really exciting to see how this important part of Alpha Manufacturing grows over the coming months.”

 

Fibre Lasers vs CO2 Lasers: A Comparison

There are two main kinds of lasers used in industry; fibre and gas, the latter which mainly use Carbon Dioxide (CO2). In recent years due to increased cutting speeds and lower running costs, the most popular lasers are fibre. Alpha Production Manager Sean Mccoll, compares the two lasers advantages and disadvantages as well as explaining the sector shift towards fibre.

How does a fibre laser work?

The fibre receives the light source from the resonator (light amplifier) of the laser cutting machine and delivers it to the cutting head which is controlled by the CNC (Computerized Numerical Control; a computerized manufacturing process in which pre-programmed software and code controls the movement of production equipment). In the cutting head, the laser is emitted from the end of the fibre optic cable and refocused through a series of focal lenses into a near perfect dot on the material’s surface. Purged with cutting gases such as nitrogen dioxide and oxygen around the laser, the material to be machined is quickly vaporized in the intense heat and blown away as particles of dust.

How does a CO2 laser work?

Once the CO2 resonator has created enough light, the beam is delivered via a process of reflection and refocusing down an intricate path called a ‘beam path delivery system’. This is then purged with inert gas to keep the path pure, clean and free from any dust that would interfere with the delivery of the full intensity of the laser. Once the laser is reflected to the cutting head, it is refocused and emitted in the same manner as the fibre laser, through a series of lenses and a shield of high velocity cutting gases to purge the machined path.

Advantages of fibre lasers:

No moving parts or mirrors

The fact that it has no moving parts means that your fibre laser is ready to get working from the get-go. And, should it be accidently knocked, none of the parts will come out of alignment which could result in costly production down time.

Lower maintenance costs

Fibre lasers are extremely robust, meaning maintenance costs are dramatically lower, as are operational costs and with ‘fit and forget’ technology there is no maintenance cycle or servicing to worry about.

Electrical efficiency

Fibre lasers are much more efficient when it comes to electricity use, meaning lower running costs and a more environmentally friendly machine. For example, a 3 kW fibre laser uses only a third of the power of that of a comparable CO2 laser.

Advantages and disadvantages of CO2 lasers:

Advantages of CO2 lasers

CO2 lasers work better with thicker materials. Fibre lasers can work with thicker materials, but generally a CO2 laser will leave a surface finish that is smoother.

Disadvantages of CO2 lasers

They are sensitive machines that require alignment, so should this get knocked out of place, usually an expert is required to fix it, resulting in long periods of down time when the laser is not being productive.

This also means they need more regular servicing, and the costs of this maintenance are higher. Alongside this, more power is needed, resulting in higher electrical costs. CO2 lasers also perform slower when cutting thin materials, and aren’t able to work with reflective metals to an exacting standard.

The Bottom Line

CO2 Laser vs Fibre Laser Technology is an argument that is slowly fading from our industry. As fibre laser technology continues to evolve, and with the move towards industry 4.0 smart factory goals, engineers and manufacturers have discovered ways to match the performance of CO2 lasers with fibre. Here at Alpha Manufacturing, the installation of two fibre lasers in the past 5 years, has been critical to the growth of the business. The lower running costs as well as the increased cutting speeds have allowed us to be more responsive to customer demands and played a key part in attracting new business while strengthening relationships with existing customers.

Find out more about our laser cutting solutions here.