For two years Paul Clews has been the managing director at Alpha Manufacturing, starting out his career in the mid 90s as an apprentice.  Now, with over two decades of experience under his belt, with many of those years spent as a manufacturing manager, Paul’s vision for the future success of Alpha Manufacturing is focused on automation and identifying ways to continuously improve the customer experience.  While the industry buzzword ‘automation’ conjures up images of sterile, people-free environments, Paul has a different vision – one that retains the most valuable asset Alpha Manufacturing has – its people – interwoven with a solid investment strategy that will see the business invest £8m in the next five years on new technology and machinery.

In this feature we talk to Paul Clews about how Alpha Manufacturing is responding to the opportunity presented by Industry 4.0, the industry automation standard, and Lee Moakes, managing director of TRUMPF, an Alpha Manufacturing strategic partner.

As the world of manufacturing moves towards Industry 4.0, Paul Clews’ real passion lies in how the business adapts to improve the customer experience, he shares these thoughts: “Our vision is to be the most advanced sheet metal manufacturing business in the UK, that was our vision back in 1989, and it remains our vision today.  The part of that statement that has changed in the last 32 years is the interpretation of the word ‘advanced’ and how this translates into modern methods of manufacturing.  However we measure ‘advanced’ the customer promise remains unchanged – to understand their product needs, design a value-engineered solution and repeat production to world-class standards every single time.  Today, as we understand the complexities of Industry 4.0 and what this means for our production capabilities, we must be able to articulate these benefits clearly to the customer.”

Lee Moakes adds: “Alpha Manufacturing exemplifies everything fantastic about great British manufacturing and through a culture of invest to succeed, the business is on a significant growth trajectory.  At TRUMPF, through our TruConnect proposition, we are supporting businesses exactly like Alpha Manufacturing working towards Industry 4.0.  Yet, as Paul points out, adapting this industry standard to the needs of the business while simultaneously educating the customer on the tangible benefits can be a challenge.”

Paul continues: “In our business the customer comes first, and every investment decision we make is directly driven by us anticipating customer-need.  If you take Industry 4.0 in its purest form, this is effectively handing over every element of manufacturing and production to our customer, eliminating all human interaction at every level through the process.  From placing orders, to pulling down stock to engineering new solutions – Industry 4.0 is so connected it completely does away with the vast majority of human intervention.  For this business, while we are continuously adapting our process towards a better-connected smart factory, achieving Industry 4.0, or at the very least working towards it, will also take a seismic shift in the behaviour of our customers, who rely heavily on our agile, flexible working methods.”

“In its simplest form Industry 4.0 is like ordering a pizza via an app,” explains Lee.  “You place the order, you watch it being prepared and a bot tells you that it’s being baked and delivered – the only human interaction between customer and supplier is the brief exchange with the delivery driver leaving it on your step!  Much like pizza ordering, Industry 4.0 assumes very little can and will go wrong and information is seamlessly exchanged between material management and information flow.  Paul makes some really valid points, ultimately Industry 4.0 is a concept not an ultimate destination and Alpha Manufacturing is in fact way ahead of many manufacturing businesses in the development of a smart factory.  By focusing on productivity, intelligently storing and controlling material flow with the use of STOPA and using advanced machining capability with a broad range of TRUMPF equipment, Alpha Manufacturing is already making great headway towards Industry 4.0.”

“It’s interesting exchanging ideas with Lee because he brings the perspective of many hundreds of manufacturing businesses to this debate.  At Alpha Manufacturing our primary concern is always the customer and we recognise that through investment we will continue to deliver world-class manufacturing capability.  Whether we’re calling it smart factory, Industry 4.0 or whatever new manufacturing concept is around the corner – our commitment remains the same – to invest hard, service well and go above and beyond our customers’ expectations.  Those are the values that will drive our continued success.”

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