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Technology enhances design processes

Realising that the traditional approach to designing and manufacturing their products was no longer working for them, Chesterfield based manufacturer Penny Hydraulics decided to explore new design tools to enhance its design and manufacturing processes, which led to a boost in financial performance.

A family business

Founded in 1978, Penny Hydraulics is a family owned business based in Chesterfield which initially started out manufacturing garage equipment. It has since evolved and diversified its offering, producing lifting equipment including cranes, winches and goods lifts, as well as bespoke lifts. The company counts household names such as JD Wetherspoon, Balfour Beatty, BT, Royal Mail and The Royal Households as customers, as well as a number of other large enterprises across 22 countries, predominately based in Europe.

Finding a logical design solution

Around 10 years ago, the company decided to introduce 3D CAD into its processes after decades of drawing designs by hand and using 2D sketches. While CAD impacted their design department positively, Penny Hydraulics wanted to further improve the way it designed, made and sold its products. The engineering team often found that they were seen as a bottleneck to the rest of the business, purely because they didn’t use a standardised approach to engineering their products. Ultimately, this ad-hoc method slowed down the quoting process and meant that they couldn’t keep up with customer demand.

Realising this way of working was hindering the business, Jocelyn Cole, Goods Lift General Manager at Penny Hydraulics, wanted to find a more efficient way to operate. After searching for ‘design automation’ online, Cole discovered some of the design automation functionality within the Autodesk manufacturing solutions and sought advice from its Autodesk solution provider, to find out more information. The company initially began using this design automation functionality in 2013 in the production of its MezzLifts and began to roll it out across the rest of its goods lifts range, before introducing various techniques to its seven divisions. “I knew we had exhausted our capacity and knowledge to automate drawings, and realised the bottleneck at our design stage could potentially restrict our growth. It was very clear that we needed to adopt new technologies in order to future proof our business,” comments Cole.

Boosting productivity and revenue

Penny Hydraulics now standardises its designs for each product. The data for each product is stored in spec sheets – a single source of data – accessible to the design engineers when they’re putting together a new quote. As a result quotes that once took hours now take a matter of minutes, and full engineering drawings that once took half a day now take 15 minutes.

This core model can also be adapted per the customer’s specification, which could include customising the lift height, platform size and loading direction. Clarifying such changes at the design step reduces the likelihood of mistakes being made during the manufacturing process. Previously, workers on the shop floor often had to make on-the-spot design changes because they had no detailed drawings to follow. However, Penny Hydraulics has since changed the company culture so that all design changes are now clarified by the engineers pre-manufacturing.

Abandoning this ad-hoc approach has enabled Penny Hydraulics to increase its manufacturing capability by 40 per cent which translates into significant financial gains – it has increased its revenue by more than 150 percent from £80,000 a month to over £200,000, without increasing headcount.

Improving customer experience

Penny Hydraulics has also been able to improve its relationships with clients. As the product data is stored in a central location, all project stakeholders, from the designers, to sales team, architects and contractors, are able to collaborate much more easily, which gives Penny Hydraulics a competitive edge.

It also helps to reduce miscommunication between designers and customers. The sales team has access to an online configurator where they can find up-to-date manufacturing drawings and can request to make changes to project specs whilst they’re with the customer, which is then fed back to the engineers in real-time. The sales team can also download a PDF of the product 3D model to share with the client to confirm what the end product will look like.

With the rise of Building Information Modelling (BIM), more and more of Penny Hydraulics’ customers are also looking to have such data integration between the different stakeholders to help to improve their overall sales and production process, as well as helping with the installation of the lift.

Cole comments, “Boosting our productivity with the Autodesk solutions was relatively easy, and gives us competitive advantage. Inputting the data is simple and we can produce a 3D model of the design in one click. To see the product brought to life in such a way is a massive selling point to our customers.”

Supporting future growth

Penny Hydraulics plans to keep working to improve its design and manufacturing processes. While this design automation is already being used across 80 per cent of its processes, it’s looking to raise this to 95 per cent. The company is also going to run LEAN training to get the whole of the workforce involved in the streamlining of the business.

“We recently won an award for family business of the year and have been shortlisted for two further awards. A large part of our submissions was showcasing our commitment to innovation as a business through projects like this. We want to invest in the best technology to attract high calibre engineers and have also been working to promote STEM in our region,” comments Jessica Penny, General Manager for Sales, Penny Hydraulics. Going forward, Penny Hydraulics is looking to integrate costings and financial packages into its design software so that the team can automatically create a quote from a model using live project data. It also wants to integrate this process into its website, to add an extra dimension and personalised experience for its customers.

The manufacturer is also looking to deepen its relationship with Autodesk to help improve its Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). It currently uses different software packages across its products but having seen the benefits of having a single source of truth for product design data, the company also wants to use Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle to break down the silos on the shop floor too.

“Although we are a small business, we are growing rapidly and plan to expand our premises in order to keep up with customer demand. CAD has been the lynch pin for our business and we wouldn’t function without it. We believe that Autodesk’s portfolio and its move to a product innovation platform will be key to keeping the company streamlined on our Future of Making Things journey,” adds Penny.

Find out more about Penny Hydraulics lifting equipment here.

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