MGN Insight – Productivity & efficiency through quality people and processes

CMR is a business based in Wallsend that has been quietly growing and developing a strong global reputation for over 30 years.

It has unique expertise in wiring systems, sensors, controls and other electronic instrumentation and achieved turnover in the UK of £24m last year and is well on course to reach £30m this year.

Neil Wilkinson talks to MGN

Neil Wilkinson, MD of CMR Group

CMR started life in the marine industry which is why the group’s global headquarters is in Marseille. Back in 1984, the company’s Wallsend operation was just a small unit when Neil Wilkinson joined as an apprentice. 34 years on, Neil is CMR’s global head of the OEM engine side of the business.

Neil explained that the company grew quite slowly in the early years and by 2001 was turning over around £2m. But then things started to change, as Neil explained: “We had begun to get into some new markets at around that time, having traditionally been involved in the big-engine world supplying companies like Mirrlees Blackstone. We started to get into the high-speed market such as Perkins Engines and Cummins Engines, the big end of the market and this really took the business into a new direction.”

At that stage, CMR was involved in what Neil describes as “the full chain” – the sensors, the wiring and the panel which included their electronic components. But then the industry changed to focus much more on emissions. “All the emission drivers for the automotive world now mean more sensors, more wiring and more electronics to meet those regulations.”

The products that CMR produces in the North East today mainly go to OEMs elsewhere in the UK. There are 85 employees based in Wallsend, of which around 12 work on production. “The bulk of what we do here is on the product design”, Neil said. “We make product prototypes here but the production intent is carried out at other CMR locations in other countries. This means we are very flexible and we can supply customers from where in the world it makes sense to supply them.

“Our customers are driving cost down and they need us to be a low-cost manufacturer. So we stabilise the products here, we do several prototypes and then we’ll manufacture in countries like Tunisia and China. The manufactured products are then delivered back here before being shipped to the customer from here. We are the feed to the customer, so we need to manage minimum stock levels and finished goods.”

CMR’s productivity measurements include the work that is done in other locations around the world. There are people in Tunisia and in China that are working solely on the company’s products in the North East. Growth has come from markets around the world picking up.

From Wallsend CMR supplies into the US, China, India and Singapore, while the company’s global project business for engines operating out of Marseilles. Being customer-facing Neil and his team focus on managing delivery expectations. “Customers can be demanding on delivery, and their forecasts are constantly changing. So it’s about managing the logistics.”

Neil explained the company’s strategy in the UK is to create strong jobs in the UK with the support of the global group. “We’re globalising our R&D capabilities; we have a team in the US who are creating designs, as well as here, and we also have some staff embedded within our customers.

“With China becoming more expensive in terms of manufacturing it is having to focus much more on efficiency in productivity. But our productivity success isn’t about machinery, it’s about our people, their quality and expertise. We operate in quite complex areas of engineering and therefore attract people who want to work on interesting projects.”

CMR’s biggest investments over the last few years have been in ERP (enterprise resource planning) software and the streamlining of its processes. “We have been working to globalise our design software and have invested in this area. This is a project we began around twelve months ago and aim to have all our global locations working on the same database so we have a seamless system. This is a big change for us but an entirely necessary one.”

And what plans are in the short-to medium-term? “One area we’re targeting for future business here in the North East is Ballast Water Systems for the marine sector”, Neil answered. “There is new legislation coming in on this and we’ve been working with some OEMs for the last few years and are developing control panels and prototypes and we think this will take off in about 18 months or two years. We think there is big potential for us in this.”

He added: “For the group as a whole we’re looking to increase things on the project side and there’s investment being put into this now. One of the big potential markets for us is the fracking industry which is obviously big in the US and is now starting in China too. Mining has also picked up again in the last 12-18 months. Power generation and data centres are the other big areas for us at the moment and we’re also supplying sensors into the nuclear industry.”

Neil Wilkinson is leading the quiet revolution of systems, processes and people in the North East and at other CMR locations around the world. And, with this far more cohesive global structure, the company is well set to safeguard jobs and to continue its upward growth trajectory.