Knowledge Transfer Partnership to drive Black Country car parts firm’s success

Car parts firm Metal Assemblies is entering into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Aston Business School in a bid to increase efficiencies and drive higher profits.

The West Bromwich-based company is an automotive stamping and assembly supplier to car giants such as Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan, and it wants the KTP to help it create a “step change” in its operations.

The KTP scheme helps businesses in the UK to innovate and grow, by bringing in new skills and the latest academic thinking to deliver a specific, strategic innovation project.

Iain Collis, managing director at Metal Assemblies, talked about the KTP in the latest episode of a podcast series called ‘Aston means business: SMEs adapting to COVID-19 challenges’, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.

Mr Collis said:

We came across KTP a little bit by accident, but within half an hour of that first meeting with Aston we were sold, simply because they have such a breadth of experience in terms of dealing with business and manufacturing.

The ideas they had were in tandem with exactly what we were thinking. What impressed us was that basically they were going to embed themselves into the business and make sure that the knowledge gained was transferred to us.

Mr Collis said Metal Assemblies, founded nearly 70 years ago, was a traditional manufacturing business that was now equipped with modern robots and data systems.

But he explained:

What none of those things do very well is talk to each other, so we still rely an awful lot on manual data mining. Somebody literally has to go through things and work out patterns and trends, and that is very labour intensive.

And it means the business is slow to react sometimes or it goes off in the wrong direction because we don’t interpret the data properly.

Mr Collis spoke about how the Metal Assemblies initially cut its 150-strong workforce to around 90 due to COVID-19, but since emerging from the lockdown it had already restored capacity to about 80 per cent.

He said the company had won a lot of new business over the last 12 months with new production starting next year. The KTP, set to start on the 1 January 2021, will cost an initial £200,000 over two years, with two-thirds covered by Innovate UK and the rest funded by Metal Assemblies.

Mr Collis said they wanted Aston’s assistance on introducing “fourth generation industry” to the business “to create an environment where the machines talk to each other and let us know what is going on without an awful lot of human intervention.

It will be hardware solutions and software solutions, but also the systems that we use and the training of the staff until they understand how the systems work, so it really is a business-wide change, a step change.

If we don’t go down this route, the alternative would be for us to have to put more machines in place, (which) is very capital intensive. We need to improve the effectiveness of our equipment (with) technology to make us more efficient and make better decisions.

Prof Ben Clegg, head of Aston Business School’s Operations and Information Management Department, was also interviewed for the podcast. He explained that Aston would bring new ideas, new tools and data management methods to the KTP project.

He said:

We thrive on the challenge of bringing wider academic knowledge and practice into companies and organisations to create impact. More broadly, we will act as a change catalyst and bring objectivity into the company … to make them work more efficiently, more productively.

Prof Clegg added that the benefits were two-way, with academics involved in the project learning about practical experiences, in this case from the automotive industry, which they use to teach students.

▪ Episode 10 of ‘Aston means business: SMEs adapting to COVID-19 challenges’ can be found at https://www2.aston.ac.uk/aston-business-school/podcast.