MGN Insight – One in a million

To manufacture one million robotic products in just 11 years is an achievement for any company. To be on course to double this number within the next few years is truly astonishing.   Husqvarna UK, based in Newton Aycliffe are members of the Manufacturing Growth Network (MGN) and share details of the amazing growth recorded of late, achieving a top ten position within the latest MGN league tables for Exports.

Although still producing its well-known Flymo hand-held hover mowers, Husqvarna’s core business – and the source of much of its growth – is in producing robotic lawnmowers. These work by using a boundary wire that is installed within the working area of the device, and the product is then programmed to cut to any time of day or any number of times during a given week.

Caraline Robinson is Husqvarna UK’s Manufacturing Director, and she explained some of the reasons why these robotic lawnmowers are proving so successful, particularly to overseas markets. She said: “The idea is that the cut grass acts like a fertiliser which improves the quality of the lawn as the nutrients are going back into the ground. The products are designed for people who are short of time. This is the future when it comes to lawn care.”

Caraline Robinson, Manufacturing Director, Husqvarna UK

And there’s a lot of connectivity with these products, such as apps to monitor how efficiently they are working and better control the product and its performance.

Until recently these products have been manufactured purely for the domestic market but the company has now launched two new models for the commercial lawn and garden user. Golf courses and other sports facilities for example are potential users of these products.

All the ongoing product development and design work of the robotic lawnmowers is done in Sweden but there is a core team here at Newton Aycliffe, which is growing as the R&D is growing, whose task is to industrialise the products.

The UK market for the robotic lawnmowers is still very small but about 98 per cent of what they produce in Newton Aycliffe is exported to overseas markets, as Caraline Robinson explained: “Our biggest market is in Germany but other key markets for us are in Scandinavia, Austria and Switzerland. And because of the sheer scale of growth of the robotic products the company has transferred knowledge to a sister site in the Czech Republic that produces one of the ranges and we have been very proactive in training them on this. “
Sales and marketing for exports is handled by the Husqvarna headquarters in Sweden and is also handled in individual countries as well.

The Newton Aycliffe site is regarded as what Caraline describes as Husqvarna’s “Mother Plant” and is responsible for the introduction of all new products. It is also responsible for increasing the knowledge and ability of the sites where these products are manufactured. “We have the expertise of how to make them, so the plan is that we grow alongside other plants,” she explained.

In addition to the robotic lawnmowers, Husqvarna UK is also a second-tier supplier to its automotive customers. It supplies plastic components and it also has its own injection moulding shop. This part of the business has grown to a turnover of £13m a year.

There are 242 permanent people employed at the Newton Aycliffe site that are directly involved in manufacturing, while there are another 150 who are involved in non-manufacturing areas such as finance, sales and marketing. However, because of the seasonality of the products it manufactures, Husqvarna UK uses a lot of temporary labour. And at its peak times, during March and April, they have 750 temporary employees.

Employing this number of people naturally brings challenges for Caraline and the senior management team. “As we continue to grow, we can’t expect just to double our temporary workforce. So we’ve started to invest heavily in automation which will give us the ability to continue to grow. We will still have lots of manual jobs in the future and we’ll be taking some of the temporary employees onto the permanent staff this year, with 50 permanent jobs being created which is great news.

For us now, it’s all about looking at how we can build internal capacity for the growth we can see in the future. We’re investing in new moulding machines and equipment. We have five lines at the moment but we expect this to increase to about nine lines in the future. And we’ve gained more space on the site and this area will be used for the manufacture of all our non-robotic products. So this is becoming quite an important site now and the investment should give our people a lot of confidence in the longevity of the site.”

There are around a dozen people on the company’s Apprenticeship scheme and they will be recruiting another dozen over the next three years. Many of these are in technical roles it has re-recruited back into the business some people who have recently retired to act as trainers. “These are people with massive amounts of skill who have been recruited o9n a part-time basis to train the apprentices and to upskill some other members of staff.”

Sustainability is another key element for Husqvarna UK and is very focused on its sustainability targets, as Caraline Robinson points out: “We have 100 per cent green electricity, bought from a Danish company from which all the power is certified as being generated by wind. And alongside our quality health and safety certification we also have an energy management certification. We have an energy management team who do energy audits around the site, and we have zero waste to landfill as well.”

With this clear focus on detail, it’s no surprise Husqvarna UK’s growth is set to continue long into the future, along with the fast flow of lawnmowers leaving the site.

For information on the current technical and engineering vacancies at Husqvarna UK please visit our Husqvarna microsite.

The Manufacturing Growth Network (MGN) is a quarterly publication sponsored by NRG, EY, Square One Law, Lloyds Bank and EEF and published in Insider Media.  MGN is completely FREE for North East manufacturing businesses to join – for further information on how your business can get involved please contact Julie Mordue, client relationship manager, NRG.