Things have certainly changed a lot since my first visit to Autobox Ltd back in 1994! I was less than six months into the job when I visited the Leighton Buzzard factory owned by the then owner of Autobox, Peter Thompson, with my father, Michael. Fast forward over twenty years and things have moved on monumentally - new owners, change of name, technological developments aplenty and an overflowing order book.
After a rather turbulent transition through the early 2000s, things took a turn for the better following the appointment of Barry Tabor as an interim Managing Director in 2006. But that was short lived, as the global economy fell into the abyss of the recession and Autobox was no safer than any other manufacturing business at the time. Some rather shambolic moves by the owners at the time left the company in disarray and Tabor took the gamble (quite literally) to acquire the company from the administrators. Tough times lay ahead for the new owner, but Tabor was not afraid of the challenge. The rest - as they say - is history.
His first major move was the acquisition of Andrew & Suter, the manufacturer of speciality gluers, who were based not too far from Autobox; that was March 2013. "The impact of this acquisition was immediate," recounts Tabor. "We benefited greatly from the addition of some very skilled and knowledgeable engineers and management; there is no doubt that some of our success today can be directly attributed to the guys who joined us from Andrew & Suter."
With this acquired skill set, Autobox set about redesigning some of its equipment, as well as adding new components such as flexo print units for its range of short run boxmaking equipment. It was during this aggressive growth phase that Tabor took the opportunity to re-brand the company and offer up a name that was more encompassing; 2015 saw the roll-out of the name British Converting Solutions Ltd (BCS). "We just felt that Autobox was more fitting for the name of the founding machine, not the name of a company that was reaching for new horizons," said Tabor.
"We wanted a name that reflected our roots, yet also described a range of products that are more 'main stream' than a simple boxmaker; today, our portfolio of printers, boxmakers and gluers really are sheet plant workhorses, not just for short runs."
With the expanded portfolio now including short run boxmaking equipment and gluers, as well as a raft of new developments, pressure started to be felt in the factory. "We were getting too big for our premises and this started to impact on lead times," continues Tabor. This is when he made the decision to start looking at factory options. Some time and research resulted in finding a new 20,000 sq ft home, not far from Luton. "We moved everyone into the larger facility in early 2017 and haven't really looked back."
But when your sub-suppliers start to let you down, things can get tricky! "We were sub-contracting the machining of all our side frames, shafts and specialist components," he says. "But when they got under pressure, we sometimes got shuffled down the queue - this was not ideal, so we made a bid to buy the business and within a matter of weeks, we had all the machining equipment and the operators all moved into our new factory. It now means we are vertically integrated and our lead times have reduced dramatically, which can only be a good thing for our customers."
Adding the machining business then put more pressure on space within the new factory. "The area we had been using for stock of parts was now allocated to the machining department, meaning yet again, we were running short of space," he said. "In the last month or so, we took another step, by creating a new assembly site in Tamworth. With around 10,000 sq ft of factory space there, we have recruited more engineers and transferred assembly of our Boxer machines to the new site. Opened in early January, we have 10 people there full time, with senior management team members bridging across our sites."
Sales Cures All Evils
"Thanks to an expanding network of direct sales offices and sales agents around the world, we really started to change the dynamic of the business," elaborates Tabor. "Pre-2008, we were exporting about 25% of our production. Today, that figure now stands at over 80%, something that we are really proud of; and something that was recognised within the UK by Her Majesty, The Queen. We were delighted to be awarded the Queen's Award for Export in 2016."
With sales offices in Poland, Hungary, the US, Mexico, Australia, France, Germany and Romania, BCS employs over 60 people and is producing over 100 machines per year, destined for all major markets around the globe. Central to the engineering success of the business, however, is its people. "As a UK manufacturer during the very turbulent Brexit negotiations, we are mindful of our engineers and operatives, as many of them come from Europe," notes Tabor. "We are actively recruiting apprentices every year and at any one time, we have at least 10 young apprentices in our team; this will safeguard our future for sure. We really value the input of fresh and energetic minds in our business, both on the shop floor and in the field."
The range of machinery is broader today than at any time; R&D ensures a full roster of corrugated equipment - HiPak, MultiCut, MultiNova, Boxer, ProGluer, ProMelt, FlexoPrint, DigitalPrint, AutoFeed, AutoStack...the list goes on. "We have been growing at a rate of over 25% per year for the last few years," concludes Tabor. "We'd like to keep up those impressive growth numbers and the best way to do that is with continuous R&D, investment in people and dedicated sales teams."
A REPORT BY DANIEL BRUNTON
Click here to read the full issue of IPBI – January 2018
“Our AutoBox line already is making us more money than we get from a US$2.5m Flexo!”