New era and site for climate control specialist
Eberspächer UK, one of the main names when it comes to fuel operated heating, air conditioning and climate control systems for PCVs, has moved into a new headquarters and manufacturing site. Readers may already be familiar with the move. We announced that the relocation was planned in 2013, when Rob Orchard visited their previous site. It is a major milestone for the Ringwood, Hampshire, based company, representing an investment of £6.5m, the largest in its history. Chris Peat met with MD, Vince Lee, at its new facility to find out what this move will mean for the British arm of this German owned company.
Vince became MD in 2011 and he immediately tasked himself with the job of consolidating Eberspächer UK’s premises into one site. He has now achieved this, with the new headquarters three times the size of the previous facility. The new two storey building is 5,276 square metres in area and consolidates its three existing sites in the Ringwood area into one. Vince said one of the big advantages of having all of its operations under one roof is that communication and logistics have improved. This can only help enhance its offerings to customers, he said.
Vince said, ‘It was important for us to remain close to where it all began nearly 40 years ago. This record investment reflects our commitment to our New Forest roots and to raising the profile of Eberspächer within the UK. We plan that with the building’s extra production capacity, additional workforce and state-of-the-art equipment, we will continue to grow and become a bigger part of the Eberspächer group’s operations worldwide.’
The relocation did not see the company move far, only about one and a half miles down the road, within the same town because of the desire to keep the skilled workforce the company has trained and developed over the years.
Moving out and moving up
Located in the small town of Ringwood, on the verge of the New Forest, Eberspächer UK’s new building occupies a site formerly owned by Wellworthy, the well known piston manufacturer. Environmental standards of today are higher than they once were and the location had residual waste issues. It was because of this that the site had to be completely decontaminated before the current building Eberspächer now inhabits was built, with a new layer of soil added.
Vince and a small team took responsibility for the design of the brand new facility. From start to finish, the planning and building project took two years. It was a massive step forward for the company and one not without difficulties. One of the first challenges was locating a site in the same area the size it was looking for. As anyone that has moved home will know, one difficulty is getting a buyer for your old site. Making it hard to sell was its unusual mix of office and manufacturing space, with the balance at 20%/80% respectively. However, a buyer was found. Something it has continued from the older site is the fact it owns the facility, it is not leased.
Planning permission was another concern, as was the fact it was the first development on a new site. Because of this, it meant there was a lot to organise in the way of road access, gas, electricity, telecommunications and water. However, it was not all hardships, the final building came in just under the £6.5m budget and was completed in time, although the latter may have had something to do with conditions in the building contract that involved a steep penalty price per week the project was overdue.
Vince said there had been a vast amount of considerations to make. For instance, the canteen area had its walls altered in order to make room for a more visually impressive reception area. The first impression visitors get of the company on entering the building should be one that conveys its products’ high quality and premium nature. Another design feature Vince was adamant needed putting in place was a window from the offices to the workshop. This was important, he said, as it provides a link between the two aspects of the business, both manufacturing and administrative. He believes it is important all staff know they are working on and for the same thing.
Once the building was complete, the hard work was not over. The move into the new headquarters meant there was no Christmas shut down period, with all staff, including Vince, mucking in to relocate equipment and stock to the new site over the festive season. The move was planned for this time to ensure minimal disruption to its customers.
Eberspächer’s new home will also be one of the most energy efficient buildings in the region. With its ‘A’ rating, the headquarters ranks above average for new buildings, a level achieved thanks to the inclusion of a number of features, such as eco-friendly LED lighting and enhanced insulation materials. There is not a light switch in the building, with all lights turning on when movement is sensed in rooms and switching off when there is none.
Vince said, ‘Our new headquarters has been designed for efficiency and to minimise its impact on the environment. In addition to lower energy costs and efficiency gains, the new building has allowed the closure of two small satellite storage facilities in the area, which will deliver further cost savings.’
This is not the first time Eberspächer UK has moved. The company was originally based in Brockenhurst, in the heart of the New Forest. The first UK arm of the German manufacturer was set up in 1977 in a small converted unit previously used as a film studio. Vince soon joined the firm, taking up his first role in 1980. The company left there in 1989 and came to Ringwood. After about five years, the business experienced growth and had to increase the size of this building accordingly. Eventually, growth meant it ran out of space again and a separate building was also taken on to cope. This was another 10,000 square foot site in nearby Three Legged Cross. Not only has it grown in terms of buildings, staff numbers have also increased over the years. It started with a handful of employees and has now grown to a workforce of 85.
Consolidating on to one site does not mean an end to growth plans. On the contrary, the business is planning a major expansion of its UK sales and manufacturing operations. It was built with 30% additional floor space to grow into and the plot itself has another 20% extra to expand into if needs be. The move into the new building will also create employment opportunities, with Eberspächer UK expecting to increase its workforce by some 15% over the next 12 months. New recruits are expected to join its design/development, manufacturing, sales and warehousing activities. During my visit, a new sales person was being given a tour of the site.
One area in particular Vince said he would like to focus on is sales to the bus and coach industry, saying, ‘We are not as big as we would like to be in this market’. The company already holds a vast sway over the smaller end of the sector, with many minibus converters across the country proving good customers. However, it is now aiming to achieve a more dominant position in the larger PCV market.
In terms of the coach market, Eberspächer recently acquired Sutrak from Carrier, whose climate control units are ideal for these vehicles. Prior to the takeover, these products were supplied directly from the German headquarters, but they are now available from the UK branch. Vince believes this change will mean customers in this country will be better served, as it allows them access to his company’s UK based engineering team for support.
The new building is expected to help achieve the growth goals. It will provide the company with more manufacturing capacity, both for its existing air conditioning and climate control units as well as the production of a new range of evaporators and condensers. These products will not only be sold in this country, but also in Eberspächer UK’s worldwide export markets, which are expected to double in value over the next three years. Aiding them in this is its heavy focus on R&D, with a team of 12 employed in this area.
Eberspächer UK’s new facility will also house a state-of-the-art climatic chamber, boasting a temperature range of minus 30 degrees Celsius to plus 60 degrees Celsius. This will facilitate the development of new evaporators and condensers that will be entering the company’s product portfolio in the coming months, enabling it to test new product designs. It was already in build when I visited.
Vince said, ‘Eberspächer UK has a proud history of developing and manufacturing air conditioning and climate control products from our headquarters in Ringwood. With the creation of our brand new facility, we have an unprecedented opportunity to increase production, reach a greater number of customers, and bring the latest technologies and innovations available in the industry to life.’
Vince said Eberspächer UK is completely ‘flexible’. Whenever there is the chance to build its own solutions, it will do. Its team of CAD designers help the company do this. I spoke to one of these computer designers, who said he mostly works on standard designs from the German HQ, modifying them to fit into new applications, although completely custom designs can be produced too.
Looking ahead, something else Eberspächer UK wishes to be more involved in is cooling and heating systems for electric vehicles. Its first foray into electric cooling and heating was with Tesla, for whom they designed a system for their electric car. The system not only controlled the cabin but also the battery which is cooled or heated for optimum performance. Its parent company took over Catem 12 years ago, a well known name in manufacturing this pure electric heating technology. Eberspächer products are used on electric buses, including Optare’s and ADL’s offerings. Vince said he can see that the growth of electric and hybrid buses is something that is going to happen.
Another future technology being explored is fuel-cell powered auxiliary power units (APUs). These systems convert diesel into electricity efficiently for powering onboard equipment, taking the load off the engine or generator. This is in development with a major global CV manufacturer presently. Vince said it would be an ideal device for use on coaches and buses, which often have a great deal of electronic equipment onboard.
Whilst focusing on the future, Vince will not lose sight of offering a good service presently. He said around 90% of his products are installed by the company’s team of installation technicians. This, he said, ensures quality is maintained. Any subcontractors the company uses must be ‘either perfect at doing it, or they are not doing it at all’. All installations are guaranteed for three years. The best materials are always used, Vince claims. This is the case for all its products, which other than bus and coach includes applications for marine, truck, ambulance, CV and military vehicles.
It is this focus on quality that Vince believes attracts customers and has been one of the main drivers behind the growth that has lead to the new headquarters.
Vince said staff feedback of the new headquarters has been ‘excellent’. Even though the team only moved there in January this year, the benefits have already started to become apparent, with communication being ‘so good, it’s unbelievable’ and the ‘cross-pollination of ideas’ created as part of that becoming apparent. Visiting the site, it certainly seems clear that the growth Eberspacher UK’s plans are very achievable.