Specialist UK robotics company Sewtec began life 120 years ago as the machine design department of the historic US sewing machine manufacturer, the Singer Corporation. Today it is a problem solver called on to devise bespoke robotics solutions for blue chip FMCG giants. Insights Success asked managing director, Mark Cook, about the impact of automation on the manufacturing sector and Sewtec’s ambitious strategy for growth in the coming years.
Automation has created a revolution in manufacturing over the past two decades, with many factory floors and production processes completely transformed. The impact of high-technology robotics has arguably been felt strongest in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, where high-speed conveyors, ‘pick and place’ arms and other applications complete processes faster and more accurately than manual labor.
The trend towards automation is only set to continue. According to management consultancy McKinsey & Company, up to 90 per cent of all ‘predictable physical’ processes in manufacturing, such as product creation, analysis and sorting, can be replaced by automation to the benefit of producers and consumers.
With many FMCG manufacturers now at a high level of automation maturity, these businesses are increasingly seeking out bespoke cutting-edge applications – rather than off-the-shelf installations – to solve their production process problems.
One company that has built a strong reputation as a trusted partner for FMCG manufacturers is specialist robotics company Sewtec, which designs and engineers automated manufacturing and packaging systems for global blue-chip clients in the confectionary, food, pharmaceutical, and personal care and tobacco industries.
Based in Dewsbury, England, the company is a market leader in turnkey solutions and specializes in producing bespoke automation solutions for precision engineering projects. More than 80 per cent of its sales are exports, with strong and growing sales in 17 markets across all six continents including the USA.
The company’s technical expertise, coupled with extensive knowledge of the markets it serves, enables it to provide solutions tailored to precise customer requirements. With a commitment to the highest levels of service and support, Sewtec continues to win and retain business worldwide.
The business has a proud past, but Sewtec’s focus is firmly on its future vision to become a world leader in solving complex business problems with automation, through a powerful combination of innovative technology, dedicated people and excellent customer service.
A Thread Back to Singer
Sewtec was originally founded in 1892 as the design and development department of historic US sewing machine manufacturer, the Singer Corporation. To this extent, the company has been involved in automation for 120 years.
Nearly a hundred years later, the company’s management chose to diversify, initially becoming involved in special purpose applications within the worldwide automotive industry. The company split from the sewing industry in 1982, with a focus on producing special purpose applications for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries such as confectionary, food, pharmaceutical, personal care and tobacco.
For the past 34 years, the company’s team has increasingly concentrated its skills and experience on designing, manufacturing and installing automation machinery within the process and packaging sectors.
Sewtec engineers have developed innovative solutions, ranging from relatively simple conveyor systems through to fully automatic, robotic product-handling applications. Much of the company’s work involves the design and development of innovation automation solutions, working with customers who know they can depend upon its absolute discretion in terms of commercial confidentiality.
Today, Sewtec employs more than 80 staff and is set to expand rapidly as part of a strategic growth plan masterminded by a new management team.
Engineering a New Direction
The latest evolution in Sewtec’s story came in August 2017, following a buyout of the company’s management team.
Sewtec’s new managing director, Mark Cook, who has more than 30 years’ experience in leadership roles across high-technology engineering and electronics businesses in Australia, France and the UK, is now leading an ambitious growth strategy.
Commenting on Sewtec’s growth strategy, Mark said: “Sewtec has a global reputation for solving highly complex problems, being a natural innovator and providing excellent customer experience. All this combined creates distinct competitive advantages for our customers.”
“We have devised a sustainable growth strategy that will allow the business to flourish further, while making sure that our employees remain engaged, satisfied and aligned with our vision. These are the strongest foundations upon which to build Sewtec and I look forward to further enhancing the company’s excellent reputation as we grow the business internationally.”
Mark holds a Masters of Science degree in digital systems and instrumentation from the University of Westminster and a diploma in company direction from the Institute of Directors. He leads Sewtec’s management team, which includes technical director Gary Day, controls director Karl Conqueror and sales director Paul Johnson.
Benefits of Bespoke Robotics
Most of Sewtec’s manufacturing customers face similar challenges and opportunities, regardless of whether they are a major global player or a small start-up, or if they operate in the confectionary and food industry or pharmaceuticals and personal care.
Manufacturers need to optimize the efficiency of their production process against a backdrop of rising raw material costs, labor skills gaps, increased regulation on traceability and innovative new entrants to the marketplace. Automation provides a significant opportunity to achieve this, as it provides manufacturers with high-speed solutions to maximize throughput and profits.
Sewtec’s bespoke approach brings even greater benefits to the industry, as customers receive tailored solutions to specific production problems. As the company specializes in devising and producing bespoke robotic, handling and conveyor systems to solve its customers’ problems, it has no off-the-shelf products.
The company’s innovative approach means that clients consistently increase production efficiency, minimize disruption and maximize profits, and resulting in its impressive record of repeat business and referrals.
Mark added: “As an agile and cost-competitive company, Sewtec offers savvy project managers a viable alternative to major global competitors. What sets Sewtec apart is its focus on fit-for-purpose rather than off-the-shelf technology, combined with outstanding client service that sees engineers follows a project from design through to installation. All of these factors position the company firmly as a growing challenger in the industry.”
Following a customer brief, Sewtec devises a bespoke solution from its dedicated research and development (R&D) department, and then produces a unique proof of concept to solve the customer’s problem.
The company’s core activities include mechanical manufacturing, mechanical assembly, electrical field wiring, electric panel build and software. It has produced highly effective solutions, from high-speed pick and place systems to palletising, liquid filling, product aligning, tamperevident labelling and box closing applications.
Sewtec invests significantly in innovation and technology. The company has a dedicated R&D department which is the nerve centre for innovative designs, confidential projects and new customer briefs, and leads on proof of concept activities and technical risk analysis for new projects. Through carefully controlling access to the department, Sewtec provides customers with exclusive solutions.
The company is committed to sustained investment in the quality of every machine or component it manufacturers and every service it provides. Internal quality management protocols are constantly monitored by an electronic tracking system, which is managed by a specialist team of engineers with many years’ experience. Sewtec is also registered as meeting the international ISO9001 quality standard, as well as environmental policy ISO14001.
The Future of Manufacturing
Sewtec’s ambition is to double turnover as the company initiates a growth plan following its successful management buyout. The company anticipates creating around 100 highly skilled jobs this year across its mechanical design, software, engineering and sales functions. This would see Sewtec more than double its existing workforce of 80 people.
Commenting on the growth plans, Sewtec managing director, Mark Cook, said: “We have had an excellent start to the year and intend to maintain our momentum.”
Actively implementing the first phase of our sustainable growth strategy, and the robust performance it has delivered so far, shows the enormous potential that Sewtec has to expand its reach and range of applications throughout the world. This is given further impetus by the increasing requirement globally for automation across all manufacturing and production processes.”