Bowyer Engineering’s expansion plans have seen the arrival of two large 5-axis CNC machines, one twin-pallet horizontal CNC machine and a small mill-turn machine.
In a Q&A session, Bowyer Engineering’s new sales director, Bob Burggy outlines how a new philosophy on future direction will see the company become an even more exciting place to be part of in the future.
Bowyer Engineering was founded in Clerkenwell in 1946 when the company initially worked in the provision of tooling and equipment for the telecommunications industry. In 1969 Bowyer Engineering, by now specialising in volume machining, re-located to a new greenfield site in Andover as part of a London ‘overspill’ agreement.
The company continued to evolve by establishing working relationships with other companies and began to develop and construct automated special purpose machines for use in diverse high-tech industries following a chance opportunity to design and build robotic welding fixtures for a specialist supplier. By 1995 it was rapidly running out of space for new CNC machines and office space and a 400m2 extension was built as well as a mezzanine.
Bowyer Engineering has gained a reputation as solution providers for part or complete projects, and can evolve into new areas as and when required. Following-on from the success of the special purpose machines, and taking advantage of opportunities whenever they arise, the company diversified into instrumentation in the 1980s, subsequently expanding into NDT support in the early 2000s with the provision of EDM notching facilities.
A complete internal rebuild of the premises (then 50 years old) was started in 2018, resulting in 50% more office space and re-planned machining and assembly space. In addition, further expansion has continued with replacement of older equipment in 2020, when two large 5-axis CNC machines, one twin-pallet horizontal CNC machine and a small mill-turn machine were added.
Bowyer Engineering manufactures and repairs instrumentation for gas turbine development and test programmes.
Q) What are the types of performance demands placed on your company by today’s aero customers?
Firstly, reaction time. We can respond much faster to the changes and demands of the major customers we are supporting. As our authorisation loop is shorter, we can make quick decisions and pull the trigger faster on urgent needs for projects.
Secondly, relationships across the business. We pride ourselves at supporting and working with different sections throughout many of our larger company customers. This creates a working partnership and assists the customer to build bridges across inter-departmental resource.
Q) Do you see tier suppliers gravitating towards more military contract work now that some of the civil work has dried up for the foreseeable future?
This has not been the case for us yet. We support niche areas within the civil aviation industry that need to continue. There was an initial 3-6 months dip, as our customer base assessed their situation. Now they have identified the key projects within their business and need to proceed. Military aviation opportunities are still very welcome, and we are well versed in dealing with enquiries from this sector.
Q) Tell me more about the kind of aerospace component contract work you are involved in?
We develop, manufacture and repair on-wing engine inspection and test equipment. We undertake the development in conjunction with the customer, so they do not need to employ a whole department and keep them on standby for when urgent inspection equipment is required. It’s a sensitive area for our customers, so it’s difficult to be specific. Our kits are used on-wing after a specific number of engine cycles to confirm certain components will reach the scheduled service interval.
Q) Is there a particular success story you can briefly talk about?
Our success story has been the support of the Trent 1000 engine, reacting fast for the customer, and getting a support solution together and providing the logistics to get the solution out across the world.
During the pandemic, like a lot of engineering businesses, we’ve stepped up to support ventilator manufacture. MRT Castings, who manufacture several components for ventilators, had a 500% increase in demand. In supporting the cause to defeat the virus during the initial lockdown, we were more than happy to turn 50% of our machine shop over to help. We still have our staff and plant supporting this demand and expect to do this till early this year.
Q) What are your thoughts on the disruptive technology of additive manufacturing?
We’ve always embraced new technology. We see additive manufacturing as an addition to the solution portfolio rather than a competitor. During the early introduction on DMLS, we supported 3D printing companies with the finish machining of components and still support them with overspill for complex projects. The technology still struggles with sufficiently round holes and threads requiring finish machining. In the areas where we work, fully machined components are still the preferred option for pressure rakes and the intricate inspection equipment we manufacture. We conduct 3D printing in-house for trial development parts. We would typically print two or three variants before we machine a development part.
Q) Do you find the current UK manufacturing industry an easy industry in which to do business and keep pace with changing trends?
Generally yes. The changes in ISO, AS9100 and SABRe have been at a pace we can see coming and deal with as they happen. EC legislation for shipping and export has been the biggest challenge, but we have invested and trained our staff, so we feel we are currently keeping pace with the changes.
Q) What differentiates your company from the competition – why should a customer use you over your nearest rival?
Our ability to provide a complete solution. We’re not just a machine shop, an instrumentation and assembly shop, design house or project manage sub-contract services. We can provide a combination of any of these services, which makes us a one-stop shop solution provider. Doing as much as possible in-house enables a high level of control of the services to deliver the projects on time.
Q) Having recently joined the company, what are your aims and ambitions – does the company have a clear vision ahead?
Growth is an important vision for the future; both the expansion of the existing customer base and diversification into new markets are important for Bowyer. Success in the specialised sectors of the aerospace industry has curtailed the move into new markets. However, Bowyer has recently made significant investment in the facility with new plant of the latest technology, expansion and improvements to the workplace maintaining excellent welfare for the workforce.
This, together with new philosophy from senior members of the management on future direction, means Bowyer Engineering will be an even more exciting place to be part of in the future. As sales director, I look forward to adding my experience and networking links to the plan; there is a fantastic sales, project and design team in place ready for the tasks ahead.
Work has started on the way in which we promote the company and the image it portrays. We have enlisted the assistance of local marketing experts to ensure that we are optimising the impact we have on the marketplace. A new look Bowyer is on the cards, but this will come in small steps for a bright and fresher future.