Rock The Cast Bar
The growing European support for the manufacturing sector is a solid foundation that secures UCB's position in the economy
Writers Emily Jarvis
Project Manager Serge Utting
United Cast Bar (UCB) are one of the world's largest manufacturers of continuous cast iron bars, to this date holding the record for the largest bar, measuring in at 665mm in diameter. Moreover, they produce the broadest range and size of any continuous cast iron bar and supply to a wide array of blue chip companies.
A cast iron bar (Unibar) can be produced in a multitude of forms to meet customer design requirements. It is commonly used in general engineering applications, but primarily in hydraulic, fluid power and pneumatic equipment.
United Cast Bar was formed in 1998 from a merger of 3 companies: Eurocast Bar Limited (UK), Starkey's Technicast Limited (UK) and Cast Profil SA (Spain); fusing together a wealth of technical expertise and knowledge for the production of cast iron bar, along with a strong distribution network across Europe. In 2001, the 'Unibar' brand of products were launched to establish best industry practice and standards of quality, consistency and customer service that exceeded market demands, and to provide the best technical and commercial support.
Delivering Cost Effective Solutions
As in most industries, the global market collapse of 2009 affected United Cast Bar. Following investment in melting capacity in their UK facility in 2007, the Group was able to rationalise their production base without any loss of total capacity – consolidating production into the two production facilities they operate today: United Cast Bar (UK) in Chesterfield, UK and Cast Profil in Zaragoza, northern Spain. "In so doing, we are able to produce more material through single site operations, delivering timely and cost effective solutions whilst 3 lower manufacturing costs overall. As a result, we have been able to remain profitable with a lower break even," explains James Brand, Managing Director of United Cast Bar (UK).
With a network comprising of 8 wholly owned distributors spread across the globe, the company have a route to market that differentiates them from their competitors, as Brand cites: "By having our own distribution network, we have our own shop window in almost every country across Europe along with a new platform in South Korea. This enables us to offer quick and efficient service, whilst remaining economically viable."
United Cast Bar's strategy of global reach with a local presence enables the local engineering workshop to purchase whatever quantity of unibar material they require locally, rather than having to import from external manufacturing companies.
"We keep our warehouses stocked with good volumes at all times. Additionally, each warehouse doubles as a workshop whereby we can tailor a product for a client, rather than just selling them the raw material as a commodity. For example, we can start giving raw materials a nearer shape to what the customer actually wants," highlights Brand, keen to demonstrate that UCB are a one-stop-shop for your unibar cast iron needs.
Over the last year, UCB have invested heavily in upgrading their melting and liquid metal handling capability at their facility in Spain. In the UK, the company have invested in further process developments - increasing their internal capacity for heat treatment, reorganising their product flow, improving their logistics and stock areas and expanding their warehouse. "Additionally, we will be modernising our production lines and bringing some automation to the production casting process, to ensure the longevity of equipment and that we are able to achieve scalability."
There is a growing competition for unibar in Europe, but Brand believes that it is nothing United Cast Bar can't overcome: "Competition in Europe is as fierce as ever as we begin to see growth after the recession – we still hold a 60 percent market share in the EU. However, our advantage is that we don't just focus on Europe; we travel to all four corners of the world and see ourselves as a contender in the global market."
"We have partners whom we work with all the way from South America to Australasia, with strong ambitions to open further facilities in the Middle East and South East Asia. Some of our regular customers are in Australia and New Zealand, so you really get the idea we want to build global relationships and business," adds Brand.
Through improving plants and equipment, Brand hopes this will future proof the Group and strengthen business development growth: "Looking further into the future, we will look to new applications, products and markets for further avenues for growth, targeting 8-10 percent growth year on year." Combining this long term vision with UCB's current modernisation and expansion plans will secure their position with a market leading product.
UCB are always keen to assist and develop the local community. Brand discussed with us the various activities that the company are involved in and why: "As you can imagine, the metal's manufacturing sector can sometimes carry a negative and industrialised image. We are trying to change this within the local community in Chesterfield; breaking down those barriers to the stereotypes our industry carries in the hopes to drive the business forward, whilst simultaneously helping the public form a better understanding of what we do. I don't believe in closing our doors to the local communities in which we operate."
With support from the local government, UCB are on their way to breaking down these barriers, proud to be one of the best at what they do. As a consequence, Brand sits on the local council project called Destination Chesterfield, as a representative for the manufacturing industry in Chesterfield, and there is a second reason for this: "Metallurgy skills are not something the youth of today make a conscious career decision to move into. Therefore, we want to inspire people to get excited about our industry by bringing them in and changing the perceptions of what we do."
UCB ensure all their staff receive the option for in-house training, with some management even going on to complete studies at university. "In an ideal world, I believe that if all the UK foundries club together, we can share resources and grow the interest in our profession," emphasises Brand. It is this philosophical and future proof thinking that secured Chesterfield's win as Derbyshire Times Team of the Year in 2013. Brand further comments: "I am very proud to be involved with this team of people in the UK and across Europe – they work very hard, succeed in difficult conditions and have some fun along the way, making working life a very enjoyable experience. It is a pleasure to be involved with them all."
The growing European support for the manufacturing sector is a solid foundation that secures the UCB's position in the economy. With an attitude to stay ahead of the market in terms of both quality and product range, UCB will continue to build on their achievements, both industrially and in the community in order to future proof themselves in an ever competitive market.