60 second interview: Sponsored by Bloodhound SSC
Justin Cunningham speaks to Gary Livingstone, managing director, MiniTec
What is the history of the business?
I used to work for Time & Precision Industries, which was a distributor for MiniTec. When Time & Precision went out of business in 1995, I saw an opportunity and basically bought the rights to distribute MiniTec products in the UK.
How has MiniTec fared since the economic downturn kicked in?
Business has actually been quite good. We have managed to retain a pretty solid work flow and, in many cases, have actually improved output since last year. We have now got to the stage where we need to move to a new facility in order to meet the demand. It is a great position to be in, especially given the tough operating conditions the industrial sector has seen in the last 18 months. The German company which manufactures the aluminium profiles is about to move to a purpose built factory, five times the size of its current building. MiniTec as a company is doing very well.
What is the secret behind your success?
Our ability to seek out and find new applications and uses for MiniTec definitely puts us in a good position. We don't rely too much on any one sector, which has allowed us to keep in really good shape. An example of new uses is the Office Cube, which are put together using MiniTec aluminium profiles. This is basically a small flat pack office that can be set up in a warehouse, where you might have 50 of them side by side. Fully serviced, the approach is popular with small independent start ups and software developers. We use aluminium for most applications, but also produce a profile in stainless steel. This allows us to address the food and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as other areas where aluminium is less suitable. But it is fully interchangeable with aluminium profiles.
What is the MiniTec product range?
MiniTec is basically extruded aluminium profiles. These may seem quite simple, but a lot of thought and innovation has gone into getting them right and continually improving them. A key feature is that while the profile is always the same, they can be made in various diameters, so they can be fastened together easily and put together to form almost any structure or shape. I have it in the office, at home for multiple of uses. It is really the engineer's Meccano and is used in workstations, by machine builders, as conveyors, and on airport baggage handling systems.
So what examples are there of innovation in your products?
A lot of the success comes down to starting with profiles that are all interchangeable and which use the same standard fastener. The PowerLock fastener is unique: it needs no specific preparation, pre-machining or special tools. It uses a self tapping thread, is simple to fit, can be reused and, critically, saves time during assembly. It has a small clip that can be inserted in the profile at any point – rather than just fed in at the T-bar from the ends – and it is spring loaded, so it stays in one place rather than sliding up and down if the bar if it is not flat. The fastener reduces cost, engineering and assembly time significantly and is standard.
How crucial is innovation to your company and its business model?
We constantly expect improvements and we constantly expect ideas. The only thing that remains the same is the aluminium profile, as the T-slot allows every single profile to join together. We have to make sure we have like minded people and that is what it comes down to. We recently used small serrations on the PowerLock fastener to break through the anodising of the aluminium profile to make it conductive. The mindset of the company is to always try and save time and increase throughput. On an assembly, we know, we have been less than half the cost of competitive products, purely because of the speed and cost of the fasteners. It is very important to have a new flow of ideas coming into the business and we regularly take on apprentices. Whoever joins has to spend three months on the shop floor. After that time, they need to come up with at least one time saving idea. That is the company's mindset – you have got to be thinking about saving time and making improvements.
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