Out and About with  Fläkt Woods

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Published: 08 September 2015


Fläkt Woods factory, Colchester - acr journalInside the Fläkt Woods factory, Colchester
Will Hawkins visits the air movement specialist,  Fläkt Woods, at its factory in Colchester to hear how the business is developing.

I met Ian Morehouse, the UK Managing Director, Operational Marketing Managers, James Griffiths and Andy Cardy who gave me a detailed insight into how they are adapting to a competitive market.

Fläkt Woods has been in Colchester since 1909 producing fans. It now turns over £66 million in the UK, with around 350 employees, and makes about 7,000 fans a month. The global business specialises in two market sectors, namely 'air comfort' and 'fire safety'. Their solutions go into all types of buildings including offices, factories, shops, schools, power plants and hospitals. One fact about Fläkt Woods is that about 85,000 buildings in the UK contains one of their fire safety or ventilation fans.

Fläkt Woods' old factory - acr journal
Fläkt Woods' old factory in Colchester
Fläkt Woods new factory UK - acr journal
Fläkt Woods' new factory
Fläkt Woods fans - acr journalFläkt Woods fans ready to ship
Their products include air handling units, chilled beams, axial fans, chillers and high temperature fans. In the UK, their specialisation is making non-residential and tunnel axial fans, car park safety systems, OEM and industrial fans. Their customers include contractors, consultants and end users (building owners).

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) make up about £17 million of their UK business. These include some of the brand leaders in chillers, power generation and plant. 

Fläkt Woods is an impressive business, not least because of its transformation in recent years. Since moving to its new factory the business has improved its efficiency and flexibility in a purpose-built unit smaller than its previous site. One measure of its efficiency is the time it takes to walk along the entire production line. It now takes around 75% less time to 'walk the line' than at its previous site. That means its air movement products have less distance to travel while being made. In turn, they have more time to make more products.

So what? 

Fläkt Woods JMv and JM fans - acr journal
Fläkt Woods JMv (top) and JM fans
That efficiency means Fläkt Woods is more responsive to its customers. As a result, orders for custom air movement solutions are an increasing part of their business. Their flexibility means they can often turn solutions around in two weeks. In a competitive market, speed, quality and flexibility are important.

It is not just Fläkt Woods' production capabilities which have brought it success. It's no good being able to deliver an air movement solution if it's inefficient. Ian Morehouse was keen to highlight three of their core values which they apply to all their solutions, namely being environmentally friendliness, economy and applied expertise.

A recent development is the release of their new 'JMv' high efficiency fan. Recent EU legislation (ErP) is driving manufacturers and end users to become more energy efficient. Fläkt Woods is meeting the challenge with new motors (a combination of AC, PM or EC motors), new impellers and variable speed drives (VSD). The measure of success is the combined Fan and Motor Efficiency Grade (FMEG). 

Design and development

To make the new design possible, Fläkt Woods' management team gave the design engineers a 'blank piece of paper' to come up with a new solution that would deliver 'high efficiency at a low price'. Using the design team's strength in computational fluid dynamics (CFD), they arrived at a prototype which they believed could provide them with the efficiency they needed.

Using the same motor used with the JMv fan predecessor, the JM, the new fan has 79% total efficiency compared to 70% efficiency with the JM. The FMEG results for the JMv and JM, respectively, are 65 (79% x 82%) and 57 (70% x 82%). The ErP N grade for the JMv is 58. The JM N grade is 50. Impressive results. 

What does that mean for end users?

The JMv fan can reduce energy costs by up to 24% on running costs. That builds up to high savings not just in money but in carbon emissions too. The JMv fan range is focused on smaller fans for their portfolio. The JM is still a competitive fan for solutions which need large impellers. 

Production values

Checking components in the Fläkt Woods factory - acr journalChecking components in the Fläkt Woods factory
Walking around the factory with Steve Riddleston, the Fläkt Woods manufacturing manager, he showed how the engineers make the fans and test their products. It is easy to claim that you make high quality products and how your team pays attention to the detail of each unit they make. How do you show it in reality?

Firstly, Steve showed us one of his manufacturing team who scans components for imperfections as they enter the factory. It was not a cursory glance at each one. He scans them using a specialised machine which produces an x-ray image of each item. While there, there was a metal component which clearly had a screw embedded into it which should not have been there. Of course, the operator rejected it.

Next, at another part of the production line, one of the manufacturing team was removing parts from a sheet of metal which had just been through a metal hole punching machine. Ian Morehouse noticed that the team member was not removing the 'punched' items in the best way to save time. Steve noted it and promised to rectify the problem.

It is this relentless focus on efficiency and quality which separates Fläkt Woods from just being 'another manufacturer'. The team has these values in its blood. 

Where next for Fläkt Woods?

Ian Morehouse talked about their move into developing more freezer applications for the catering industry in the processing sector as a development. The company is working on industrial machine cooling solutions with clients too.

The diversity of markets includes producing fan for wind tunnels, ground-based free fall centres, nuclear power stations and submarines.

Recognising that you cannot rely on always hire people with the right skills, Fläkt Woods has a program to develop internal talent. They back their employees to get further education such as gaining HNC or HND qualifications, as well as Bachelor programs.

Visiting Fläkt Woods is a fascinating event. If you ever thought that British manufacturing was a thing of the past, think again. This company shows you that it is alive, well and developing.
Fläkt Woods management - acr journal
Fläkt Woods UK management team. Ian Morehouse (2nd from right), Andy Cardy (right)