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Acal launches custom services centre, aims to support NPI process

Acal BFI has opened a new custom services centre at its Wokingham facility in a bid to help smooth the transition from design through to prototyping and NPI. The concept developed as Acal found more engineers are concentrating on core designs and importing more standard building blocks, as well as ancillary services.

As a distributor, Acal found that it could increasingly add expertise beyond component supply. Managing director Marc Lafferty commented: "We have had this custom service capability for a long time, but it is something that has existed in different parts of our business and we have sort of played with it. I think the difference between then and now is that we have brought that capability together, put it under one roof and that has allowed us to provide a flexible, focused capability for our customers."

These services currently include connector assembly, micro system assembly and configuration, power assembly, specialist fibre optic and mixed mode cable assembly, EMC testing, kitting and mechanical assembly. However, it is a list of services that Lafferty anticipates will evolve in time.

"We have set the standard in terms of what we want to do – we have set our stall out," Lafferty continued. "I think we have the opportunity to take on more projects and to put new skills into that area, so it is really being driven by market need. If we have a number of customers coming to us for some slightly different solutions, then we would certainly look putting that capability in. It is a case of using what we have as a baseline and seeing what our customers need in the future so we can flex our capability to provide what they need."

Part of that capability comes from capacity, as Lafferty believes that it could take on four times as many projects as it currently does. But he stresses that the initiative is not about volume manufacture. Product runs would typically in be in tens or hundreds – low thousands at a push – but it not aimed at moving into the volume manufacture space occupied by some of its customers.

Neither does the opening of the custom service centre indicate a move away from distribution. "We are trying to position ourselves as a solutions provider and a partner for our customers. We can present this custom service capability alongside distribution; it is complementary to our strategy, but it doesn't underpin it. It is not driving our strategy, we are not a custom service house, we are a solutions provider and customr services becomes an important part of being able to do that."

The project has taken a year to complete and the centre now employs 49 people, all of whom completed professional qualifications in Business Improvement Techniques (LEAN). The 750m2 centre is capable of producing around 300,000 units per annum.

Investment in such a facility clearly shows that Acal BFI sees continued potential in UK electronics sector. "The fact that we have identified this as an opportunity reinforces the fact that we have been supporting British manufacturing and industrial businesses for nearly 50 years and will continue to do so. We know there are some very successful businesses out there; we work with many of them and will try and adapt our proposition so that we really can be a good partner. If and when the electronics sector does start to grow, we hope to be in a good position to support that growth."

Tim Fryer

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