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A World Of Opportunity
TR Fastenings Ltd, Headquartered in Uckfield, UK, celebrated its 40th Anniversary last month. Will Lowry visited the company to find out how it has developed from a buying and selling operation initially set up in an old convent - to a global fastenings manufacturer that supplies 150 million components to customers worldwide every day.
Established in 1973 TR Fastenings (TR) began by focusing on delivering high service levels to the customer. “Right from the start our aim was to get the product to the customer as soon as possible. The business was about receiving an enquiry, identifying where the sources of supply might be and getting the product to the customer quickly,” explains Malcolm Diamond MBE, Executive Chairman at TR Fastenings. “Being able to offer a service level that wasn't available anywhere else at the time was why we had such a strong appeal. It became the foundation on which TR has been built – to provide consistent high service levels.”
Being able to get products to customers quicker than its competitors saw TR go from strength to strength in the early years.
The company started to manufacture its own range of threaded sheet metal fasteners in Uckfield, which it still does today, and also established a variety of sub-contractors within Europe who manufactured a range of products to TR’s design. However, by the mid 1970s the prices for manufacturing standard products such as nuts had become inflated in Europe. TR therefore decided to source products from Asia – specifically Taiwan and Japan. “With the help of an inspection company we started importing cold form nuts and nylon insert nuts, which at the time was quite a unique thing to do,” mentions Geoff Budd, Managing Director at TR Fastenings.
An important development in the 1980s was a specific contract with a large electronics business.
“We embarked on a programme that was dubbed ‘partnership sourcing’ in collaboration with a specialised fastener manufacturer,” comments Geoff. “The programme saw us work together to produce some fairly large diameter stainless steel bolts, that had to be hot forged, cleaned and electro-polished. The products had to be perfectly clean because they were being used in an application within a Class 100 clean room.”
The electronics customer wanted to develop a zero defect/nil overdue concept, which led to TR Fastenings further developing its service concept and introducing Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI).
“We adopted VMI as a philosophy and put into place the necessary processes to make sure that we could supply the correct products as and when the customer needed them,” says Geoff. “VMI enabled us to build stronger connections with the customer and was a significant step in continuing to offer even more advanced service levels to all our high volume assembly customers.”
Glenda Roberts, Group Sales Director at TR Fastenings adds: “After introducing VMI our relationships with all our key electronics companies boomed. They had been so used to having to store large amounts of stock, but now we were offering them a service that was a lean and efficient JIT supply chain.”
The introduction of VMI saw a marked increase in growth both in sales and profits for TR Fastenings, leading to the company floating on the London Stock Exchange in 1994. “There was fantastic growth within the electronics industry and we also decided to move into the telecommunications industry, which again saw our sales grow considerably,” says Geoff.
In the 1990s the markets developed again, with it becoming essential for TR to be able to pursue customers globally. “We recognised that principal companies had started to get out of manufacturing themselves and started to sub-contract the complete construction to third parties,” comments Geoff. “There was a huge migration of manufacturing business to Eastern Europe and Asia. This meant that if we wanted to continue supplying the customer we would have to be based near the sub-contractors.”
This resulted in a series of acquisitions over a number of years including companies in Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, as well as companies in Singapore and Malaysia.
In total TR Fastenings now has seven global manufacturing centres in Asia and the UK, as well as providing supply logistics to over 500 multinational customer assembly sites around the world. “One of our key strengths is being able to follow businesses globally,” states Glenda. “We have facilities in key developing markets around the world and our ability to produce high quality parts and safety critical high strength parts puts us in a uniquely competitive position.”
Glenda continues: “An example of this is the emergence of the ASEAN region, which is becoming more important. The fact we have manufacturing based in the ASEAN region is giving us a vital commercial advantage, as customers can benefit from the same quality that is traditionally provided in Europe locally.”
A significant development for TR was during the recession of 2008/9 when it decided to re-shape the business with a greater emphasis put on sales to the automotive industry. “Focusing on the automotive industry was the right decision because it spearheaded our recovery out of recession,” states Glenda Roberts. “We were in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude, and we had to put a lot of training and new processes in, because servicing electronics is mainly about responding efficiently to rapid product life cycle changes , but servicing automotive is far more demanding in terms of customised designs, applications and testing, often with safety critical implications.”
Through the acquisition of Malaysian based Power Steel and Electro-Plating Works Sdn Bhd 18 months ago, TR is now in a position to have a holistic approach to the automotive industry. TR can supply every type of fastener needed for a car. “Recently we have been particularly focusing on the interior of cars and the fasteners and C-Parts needed,” says Geoff. “Another interesting development is the increase in demand for weight reduction. This has led to us receiving a lot of interest in our wide range of plastic fasteners, and just recently we have acquired the manaufacturing licence for Moretorq drive recesses in screws and bolts that effectively reduces the component weight by 25%”
TR is always looking to see how and where it can develop the services and products that it is able to offer its customers either through product development or through targeted acquisitions.
This is underlined by TR’s recent agreement with Phillips Screw Company to manufacture the complete range of Phillips drive systems. This new agreement is in addition to the number of other licences owned by TR Fastenings such as Pozidriv® for the UK, Pozi® in the EU and the MAThread® and TORX® licences.
“We are always working on what new products we can introduce to help further expand our range, as well as being prepared for any strategic acquisitions that enable us to take advantage of certain geographies or get us into different industries,” explains Malcolm Diamond. “When we make acquisitions we do, where possible, like the management to stay on at the business. This means there is continuity and enables us to work with them on focusing on the right product lines and support services for that company.”
This commitment to working together is something that runs through the core of TR Fastenings.
“We encourage both individual personal and team development within TR, we have an on-going senior manager programme where every site manager is brought together and they go through all aspects of the business. The benefit of this is that it is a method of achieving standardisation and encouraging open communication and networking internally, both in the UK and globally,” says Geoff.
“Having a global customer base and global sales teams means that it is essential to discuss best practice, sourcing information, and targeting markets,” continues Glenda. “As a business we focus on getting the priorities right and delivering a high service to the customer. We brand ourselves as the clear alternative because a lot of other companies are wrapped up in their brand, and brands attract a premium price. We give customers a high quality product at an attractive commercial price.”
In the last 40 years TR Fastenings has developed into a global tier one supplier to a host of industries including the demanding electronics and automotive sectors. Over 1,000 employees work across its manufacturing and distribution sites situated around the globe, with the company also offering Vendor Managed Inventory, in-house engineering support and full design, a vast range of fastening and C-part products, as well as application service and support for customers.
So what's next for TR Fastenings?
“It really is a case of more of the same,” states Malcolm Diamond. “We are looking for further organic growth, to develop our VMI and product range, as well as to consatantly pursue strategic acquisitions that fit our very selective profile. Our strapline is a ‘World of Opportunity’, and at TR that is definitely the case.”
1973: Company founded in Uckfield, East Sussex, by Mike Timms and Mike Roberts.
1976: Manufacture of threaded sheet metal fasteners commences in Uckfield.
1980s: Rapid expansion of company, with distribution sites established across UK, along with self-locking nut factory and a factory for turned parts and cold heading of screws.
1994: TR Fastenings floats on the London Stock Exchange and is listed as Trifast PLC.
1990s: Growth and profitability grow dramatically year on year, driven by TR Fastenings’ expertise in component logistics management directly on to the assembly lines of mainly multinational electronics customers. Company also invests heavily in Asia – with fastener manufacturing acquisitions in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan together with a distribution centre based in Shanghai, and distribution acquisitions in NW UK, S Ireland, Norway, USA and Sweden.
2000s: TR Fastenings rides the storms of the Dotcom boom and crash, acquires Serco Ryan, a large UK fastener distributor in 2005, and by late 2009 has moved back into profit as the first stage of a three-year recovery plan put together by the new Board introduced in March 2009. The growth of financial performance and strength has continued consistently since, resulting in the ability to acquire the high-quality Malaysian-based manufacturer Power Steel in late 2011. This recent addition has broadened TR’s capacity in larger diameter cold-formed components that particularly meet the demands of the automotive sector, which now accounts for 30% of TR’s global revenue.
2013: As TR Fastenings celebrates its 40th Anniversary in June 2013, the company continues from strength to strength, thanks to its dedicated and skilled management and staff, who now amount to 1,300 personnel working in 21 divisions across 15 countries within the three main global continents of Europe, Asia and the USA.