Despite the economic uncertainty and uncharted waters ahead, the mood at the UK’s Stainless Band, whose production is based in Bingley near Bradford in West Yorkshire, remains extremely positive. With a very international outlook, a serious commitment to its employees, and a willingness to continue to invest in the future, the company seems to have hit upon a recipe for continued success. With a sales office based in Rugeley in the West Midlands headed up by Roy Mason who has 30 years of experience in the industry, the company is ideally located for the main markets in the UK for stainless steel manufacturing.
Established in 2009 with an initial team of 10 people, Stainless Band has now grown to a company with a turnover approaching £8m, employing 35 people, and exporting its products all around the globe. “This has been achieved”, managing director Jonathan Hanson told Stainless Steel Focus during a recent visit by the Editor to the company, “by focusing on the team. “It is the team, and how we work together, that ensures we can give our customers the three things that we consider of paramount importance: quality, service and, of course, competitive pricing.
“This is why”, Hanson says, “we grow the company as a team, continually introducing new projects to improve efficiency, focusing on developing our employees, with a strong emphasis on training, and appointing new members of staff, which all contributes to the success of the company”.
10 slitting lines
What sets the company apart from many of its competitors, Hanson told us, is that it has a policy of continuously investing in new processes to ensure that it has everything it requires to meet all the needs of its customers.
Stainless Band now operates 10 slitting lines, allowing it to produce material from 3mm to 700mm wide in-house, and in thicknesses from 0.1mm to 4mm. Being able to offer this broad product range from in-house facilities means significant cost savings that the company can then pass on to its customers, Hanson says.
As just one example, the company operates a number of somewhat older slitting lines, which more than adequately supply what the market needs, and perform perfectly well, but a company cannot stand still. So, within the next three to four months a brand new 650mm wide, 0.4 to 4mm, slitting line will be commissioned which as well as increasing throughput and thereby reducing costs will mean that the company can offer larger coil sizes, yet again lowering costs for its customers.
This, and other projects underway, will mean additions to the workforce, on the shop floor, and also at management level. Hanson expects that at least five new people will be taken on over the next six months.
Stainless Band currently operates five updated edge dressing lines, allowing it to offer both small and large quantities of stainless strip with various edge conditions. These range from standard material with a maximum burr of 5mm of the material thickness, to bevelled edge used for spiral wound gasket production with 90° angles, to fully rounded edge and flat rolled edge, which as well as improving product performance also reduces the risk of Health and Safety issues when handling sharp materials and also better performance during production.
Oscillating wound for narrow strip
One item of equipment that Hanson particularly wanted to highlight was the company’s oscillating wound production facilities which incorporate a brand new welding machine. Stainless Band can supply narrow width strip with oscillated wound coils as large as 1,000kg in the dimension range 0.40mm to 3.00mm, and 10mm to 80mm wide. By offering this material for the construction and automotive sectors which are typical customers, machine output on pressing lines can be increased by 40%. In other words, the coil needs to be changed less frequently, thereby reducing downtime. Or indeed, as Hanson, puts it: “you put the coil on and the lines will run all day”. This oscillating winder alone represented an investment of around £70,000, with the whole line running to around £100,000 in total after the new welding unit from the USA was installed in April.
Precision strip is often used in the manufacture of spiral wound gaskets and other processes such as pressings. Stainless Band’s bobbin wound material is used extensively in the gasket sealing industry. Bobbins can be up to 15kg, speed up the changeovers, and reduce scrap loss.
The size capabilities at Stainless Band for spiral wound gasket production are:
Size capabilities for inner ring production are:
Temper rolling and flattening
For temper rolling and flattening, Stainless Band operates a 2-high rolling mill, which can produce temper rolled strip in the gauge range 0.60mm to 2.0mm in widths from 2.50mm to 120mm, in various hardness and tensile ranges. The in-house rolling facilities can flatten stainless steel strip to reduce cross camber or “D” section in the gauge range 1.00 to 3.00mm, and widths from 10mm to 110mm.
Stainless Band has the capacity to polish material in coil form or blanks, with material available in 120 to 320 grit finishes and thickness from 0.50mm to 3.00mm. The company can supply sheet and cut blanks in the thickness range 0.50mm to 5mm, up to a maximum of 1,500mm wide, with cut blanks in the thickness range 0.50mm to 3mm, widths 10mm to 600mm, and lengths from 100mm to 4,000mm.
Focusing on expansion and short delivery times
Delivery times are of the essence for its customers, with most of the company’s material shipped out within seven to ten days in quantities from 50kg to 2,500kg per shipment. As it has upgraded equipment and expanded capacity, the company has looked at the requirements of material movement within the storage, production and packing departments.
This is why Stainless Band is currently investing some £60,000 to improve racking, picking and storage, and other related aspects of the operation which are targeted specifically at improving material flow and storage. This project also involves the construction of a 320 sq metre extension to the company’s existing premises costing £180,000, mainly for goods outward, which is currently scheduled for completion by early July.
Asked about the likely impact of Brexit on Stainless Band, Hanson said that with the fall in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote, exports have increased by as much as 20%. However, he warned, it could be a whole new ball game if tariffs are introduced when we finally leave the EU, and no-one really knows what the outcome will be. On the whole, however, he remains very optimistic, stressing that the material the company supplies is in great demand, and so even with tariffs the export business is likely to remain buoyant.
More worrying, Hanson said, is the availability of skilled labour. Currently, more than 60% of the company’s workforce is from the EU, and so from his point of view it is important that Brexit does not affect the free movement of people. Stainless Band, he stresses, is very much a multicultural company, with a diverse workforce from Europe and beyond, working both on the shop floor and at management level. The team is multilingual with fluent English, Polish, Czech, German and Hindi speakers.
Wide range of products and markets
Stainless Band offers a broad product range of slit stainless steel coil from thickness 0.10mm to 4mm and width 3.5mm to 1,500mm. Stock of grades 304, 316, 316L, 321, and 301 as well as 430/409 are held, with other grades on request. The company always has around 800 tonnes of material in stock, with a value of around £1.5m. Its markets include automotive, petrochemical, electronic, and the pharmaceutical sector, and it has contracts with spring manufacturers, building suppliers, and general engineering companies. Commenting on some of the markets it supplies, Hanson told us that the building industry in the UK is buoyant, but while the petrochemical industry in the UK and the Middle East was quiet in 2016, orders were increasing in 2017 and look positive.
On the whole, he said, the UK and Europe are very strong, and particularly the distributor sector in Europe which the company tends to concentrate on. And by Europe, Hanson is referring in particular to the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, but also, of course, Germany.
Stainless Band currently supplies some 4,500 tonnes of slit coil per annum to various markets around the globe, with the UK accounting for around 60%, Europe for around 30%, and the USA/Canada and the Middle East for some 10%.
“Next year”, Hanson said, “following the completion of our expansion plans, tonnage is expected to reach some 5,000 tpy with turnover approaching the £9m level”.
Stainless Band: plant overview