Blazing a trail for engineering innovation

Blazing a trail for engineering innovation

As the head of Cartwright’s engineering and design team, Lionel Curtis has guided his department to create a continuous flow of new products from the Altrincham-based body and trailer manufacturer that have underpinned the company’s growth over the past three years. The popular Cartwright technical director also finds time in his busy diary to chair the SMMT’s Trailer and Bodywork Committee – a role he has been re-elected to take on for a third two-year term. He has also been recently appointed to the SMMT’s Engineering Committee. Here he discusses product plans in the pipeline at Cartwright as well as giving his own views about the state of the trailer market in the UK and Europe.
 
 
Lionel Curtis is naturally delighted that Cartwright has more than doubled turnover and volumes in the past three years, but he is quick to point out that the company’s unprecedented recent growth is a team effort across the company whilst at the same time representing a continuous challenge for his engineering team.
 
He explained: “The company’s continued growth is about keeping up with the challenge for us all in engineering because we’ve got to be even more efficient and competitive in order to consistently improve.
 
“At the end of the day, it’s the engineer who determines what the product costs as he is responsible for creating the product. Customers have always been demanding and they have a right to be. They are spending a lot of money and want a lot in return for it. Everybody is now extending the life of their kit, it’s an ongoing challenge.”
 
Lionel was headhunted from another established trailer manufacturer, Gray & Adams, shortly after Group Managing Director Mark Cartwright took over the reins of the company in the spring of 2014.
 
He has since increased the size of the engineering and design department, bringing in fresh talent to add to the existing team of experienced engineers, including engineers with both UK and European trailer manufacturing experience.
 
The Altrincham-based department has been behind a continuing flow of exciting new products as the company targets existing as well as new markets including the refrigeration sector and urban deliveries.
 
Lionel said: “I think without any doubt the quality of our products has improved beyond recognition. As an example, following our recent launch of Streetwise, customers were telling us ‘This quality is way above the standard we would expect from a curtainside and box van manufacturer’.”
 
The increasing size of Cartwright’s stands at the CV Show over the past two years is a measure of the growing number of new products coming out of the company’s engineering and design department, which now numbers 20 staff.
 
Currently Lionel and his team are looking at ‘lightweighting’ for a major trailer export order for an international retail giant, with the company making its own light weight panels and reducing the weight for reasons of cost efficiency – the team are delighted that the trailer has passed EN XL rated load securing tests with flying colours.
 
Reducing weight is an ongoing challenge and currently Lionel’s engineering team is engaged in another light-weighting exercise for a double-deck fridge.  Cartwright’s straight-frame fridge is already lighter than any other UK built fridge trailer but for this latest project he is seeking to take a ton out of the trailer.
 
His busy team is also developing a solution to improve airflow within double deck trailers and are modifying an existing trailer, keeping a watchful eye on productivity, regularly identifying measures which can be taken to improve throughput. 
 
“We are doing a lot to improve productivity throughput, including our parts. We will always build bespoke product as part of our offer to our customers and we will build bespoke trailers with existing components from the parts bin – which has long been the case in the automotive industry,” he said.
 
“We invested considerably in the curtainsider two or three years ago and we are using as much of that technology across the business as possible today.
 
“We can be doing an order for over 100 box vans or 10 different one-offs with different specifications without any major disruption in the production line. Such is our agility – it’s a feature of what we do.  Indeed, innovation is not just in my back yard. It is across the whole business.” 
 
The productivity and efficiency of the engineering department is constantly improving with the implementation of new systems and processes that Lionel has introduced progressively at the factory.
 
“I think we have set the engineers free to produce creative ideas – but obviously we have to temper that as we are in a market that is still very price driven – so you have got to design to the cost rather than design to a specification.
 
As regards his views on the state of the current trailer industry sector, Lionel said: “The market is getting more challenging compared to three years ago.
 
“However, on the positive side we are now seeing more export opportunities open up, but of course, exports to worldwide markets present many other challenges in terms of dimensions, approvals, different climates.”
 
Looking forward to the next 12 months, Curtis commented: “I am still very keen on improving urban delivery – the Streetwise concept is still a relatively new idea. It has created a lot of interest and has brought people through the gates who otherwise may not have come before.”
 
“People look at the Streetwise urban delivery product and say ‘I get this straight away.’ Those who benefit from it can immediately see the advantages. A lot of the 3PL companies are looking at replacing their bigger rigids with urban trailers for two reasons. Firstly, they can get more into a tractor rather than a 26-tonne rigid but it is giving them greater flexibility of use of their tractor unit. 
 
“Tractor units have gone up in price since Euro 6 and they are having to sweat the asset. So, if they can spend slightly less on buying a trailer than a truck and body, and then stick an existing tractor unit under it because they are trunking at night and are parked up during the day, then when you put something like a Streetwise behind it - then you are saving two minutes every time you are not lifting the tail-lift if you are dropping 30 cages off – that’s an hour you have saved. Suddenly you benefit from more efficiency.”
 
He continued: “This year will probably be the last time we have such big numbers. There could even be a dip in the UK next year. But Europe looks as if it’s now growing and UK manufacturers are looking to export more products.
 
“Political uncertainty has an effect but it is working in favour of manufacturing in the UK. It affects the exchange rate and makes us more competitive with the European manufacturers. Being able to bring so much in and doing so much on site here is a real advantage.”
 
He added: “Indeed, we are starting to see the benefits of the investments we made in the panel presses and elsewhere in the factory. We made a big investment in the fridge market and we are building more double decks and it is really going well. We would expect our share in the fridge market to grow.”