Invest in the best


Mike Richardson hears how an ongoing commitment to investment in the latest machine tools and processes at subcontract manufacturer, Columbia Precision is now being amply reflected in its production efficiency gains.

If you think the cost of the latest state-of-the-art machine tools and production processes are expensive then try the cost of ignorance. Aerospace subcontractors battling for work in an already busy manufacturing supply chain are looking to gain any kind of competitive edge. Ensuring they have the right tools for the right job is as good a place to start than any and that means investing in the best.

Investment of several million dollars into modern plant and human resources to remain at the forefront of precision engineering capabilities has been in Columbia Precision’s commitment in meeting engineering requirements.

Based in two neighbouring manufacturing facilities in Birmingham, Columbia’s willingness to pay a premium price to enable the procurement of the best possible machine tools is reflected in the production efficiencies and continuous investment in advanced machining that allows its skilled team to deliver premium quality, accurate and on-time solutions to customers.

“In a demanding and ever-changing world, Columbia is committed to ongoing investment into NPI, new technologies and training to meet engineering and customer requirements,” begins Columbia’s operations director, Ted Yarnall. “This enables us to cater for existing and new client requirements, whilst still competing with low cost economies. Our high yield, high quality machining techniques allow us to tender competitive prices for the most challenging of production contracts and also help us grow our reputation for the quality of our manufactured components.”

Columbia Precision
Columbia’s new Studer S33 twin spindle CNC grinder

Recent acquisitions to the company has seen the arrival of two Matsuura machines, a MAM72-35V 32 pallet and MAM72-63V 6 pallet, both being 5-axis prismatic CNC machines that run lights-out, a Mazak Megaturn Nexus 900M and the most recent investment being a Studer S33 twin spindle CNC grinder.

Columbia Special Processes, a division of Columbia Precision, holds and conforms to all leading industry accreditations including AS9100 Rev C, ISO9001, SC21 and Nadcap, all controlled by in-house, level 3 Technicians.

“We will be using our attendance at this year’s Farnborough Airshow to promote this new machining capacity as well as our existing specific skill sets, unmanned state-of-the-art manufacturing to provide to customers looking for a wide variety of machined components,” states Columbia Precision’s managing director, Neil Holmes. “Columbia is a forward-thinking company that is always prepared to invest in the needs of its customers.”

Offshore versus re-shore

Against a backdrop of fierce low cost overseas manufacturing competition, Columbia Precision firmly believes that it can manufacture certain components more cost-effectively than them being sent overseas. However, there are fixed preconceptions and mind-sets to overcome. The fact and the act of moving production offshore to low cost economies has become ingrained in the psyche of many large aerospace organisations that simply go through the motions of shipping their components across the oceans.

Columbia Precision
Neil Holmes, managing director of Columbia Precision

Any company looking to offshore production of its parts needs to look at trade-offs involved. For example, in addition to potentially unreliable quality issues, the component price point needs to be carefully assessed so that any potential shipment delays, cultural differences and language difficulties are all built into what could initially look like an attractive low cost.

It’s been Columbia’s personal experience that customers are now more aware that the UK can compete with low cost economies. The company remains confident that it can compete with offshore competition and maximise the return from the overall life of an aircraft programme. This in turn creates the confidence to invest in value-added processes, such as its NDT plant and heat treatment furnace. Ultimately, the company has secured more work that would have normally gone offshore.

Perhaps aerospace OEMs and tier 1s will now reconsider their low cost economy manufacturing strategies, and look to re-shore instead of offshoring their components in future? Columbia continues to try and re-educate its potential new customers by asking them to at least be given the opportunity to quote for the job, and whilst it may not always be as competitive, the customer could get a pleasant surprise.

“I’m sure that geographically, many OEM/tier 1 companies would rather keep their part manufacture in the UK, but sometimes other forces can dictate that the part goes offshore,” Holmes concludes. “What are the key advantages for keeping the work local? No time differences, zero or minimal shipping costs, no language barriers, and if there are problems, UK-based manufacturers are in the right place to react quickly. Customers ignore these advantages at their peril.”

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