Made in the Midlands

There is a real buzz in the air at Zero Cases UK’s 25,000ft² facility in the heart of West Bromwich. New contracts have generated a real sense of optimism on the shopfloor and this, when combined with a new-look management team, has provided a solid platform for a strong sales push and continued investment in product development and personnel training.

It is a favourable position for the specialist in deep drawn aluminium cases, but not one that its experienced plant manager takes for granted. Mike Dimmack is manufacturing through and through. A varied career that has touched virtually every engineering discipline imagineable has given him enough lessons to know that things change quickly and you are only as good as your last month.

This pragmatic approach is combined with an insatiable appetite for improvement, whether that is in terms of process efficiency, more turnover, or better still, greater margins. “The end result is one of our best years, with turnover increasing substantially month on month. Not a bad achievement considering the challenging trading environment.”

Employing 22 experienced and committed Black Country people at its factory in Dartmouth Road, Zero has evolved its operations to provide more value added services to its client base, which features the medical sector, security and defence, telecommunications firms and a number of 1st tier aerospace companies. Its expertise in developing bespoke aluminium cases has also seen it secure new contracts with the MoD, supplying products that are used in arenas across the world.

“That has been a major growth area for us in the last twelve months,” explained Mike, who away from work is an avid supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers. “Our ability to provide rapid turnaround and technically advanced products has proven a big draw and some of our cases are already being used when transporting crucial communications equipment and medical supplies to armed forces throughout the world.

“Whilst we can produce in large volumes, bespoke is certainly the way forward. Getting involved at the design stage can make a major a difference to the functionality of the product, as well as contributing to driving costs down.”

Flexibility is key to the Zero business philosophy. It currently manufactures match box size cases and is equally at home producing cases 15m long.

It also has over 2,300 sizes available to meet customer requirements when needed from its standard catalogue.
Typically, they are used to protect anything that is fragile and this includes sensitive computer hardware, electrical equipment and state-of-the-art parts for aircraft. The cases have also carried human organs for transplant patients and the latest F1 components, with 30% exported to France, Germany and Sweden.

“We’re working towards a five-year plan that will hopefully see sales rise 50% by 2015 and further increases thereafter,” pointed out Maurice Morsia, who has been recently recruited as European sales director for the business. “Moving up the food chain was the first step and this has been followed with investment in the skills of our staff, the latest computer aided design software and the use of simulation packages such as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) – highlighting our use of cutting edge technology to engineer solutions for our customers.”

Already excellent manufacturing performance has got even better and cost downs have been achieved across the board. Most impressive of all though is a reduction in lead times from 6-8 to 3-4 weeks.

Transatlantic relationship

The name Zero hasn’t always been a part of the manufacturing community in the Black Country. Originally Samuel Groves + Co, the company was taken over in 1983 by US-based Zero Manufacturing, a global specialist in protective enclosures. Whilst both parties share technical expertise, manufacturing and marketing strategies, Mike is keen to reaffirm that Zero Cases UK stands on its own two feet.

“The group has been extremely supportive, but we are autonomous and have the freedom to drive our own future and support the corporative objectives and aspirations. This means we can act quickly, respond to market changes and develop new products that complement the group portfolio.

“Whilst Anglo -American relationships are a bit frosty after the recent oil spill in the Gulf, I’m pleased to say our relationship with the States has never been stronger,” he joked.

Zero, which is being supported by Business link and the Manufacturing Advisory Service-West Midlands, has pledged its support to ‘Business Report’s Made in the Midlands’ campaign.

Zero have also worked extensively with the Lean Academy at City of Wolverhampton College. Lean Academy Team Leader Richard Herbert commented: “The initiative at Zero Cases is just one of the many currently being undertaken by Lean Academy. The Lean Academy offered Zero support for them to under go change programmes by supporting both continuous improvement activities and the relevant up skilling of their staff to ensure that the activities are both successful and sustainable.

It is a commitment that Mike takes extremely serious. A Black Country man born and bred, he firmly believes that the region still leads the world when it comes to innovation and manufacturing excellence. “If we don’t believe we’re the best in the world who will?” pointed out Mike. “There have been a lot of casualties, we can’t deny that. But what we now have in the West Midlands is some of the leanest and most advanced manufacturers that can and are contributing to very competitive supply chain networks.”

He concluded: “The campaign is a great way to showcase what we and other companies are doing, leading the rest of the world in innovation and expert manufacturing.”

Adrian Symonds at Protex Fasteners added on their involvement in the continued success: “One particular design of theirs required them to obtain a strong recessed handle that could be fitted to their case. Protex understood Zero cases requirement, and after some development, were able to offer a glass filled nylon handle grip. This was compatible with the paint process used by Zero Cases and this solution by Protex allowed Zero Cases to paint the handle in their desired finish.”

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