Above: JJS’ investment programme in 2018 included the purchase of a £270,000 selective soldering solution – and a new floor to accommodate it.
INVESTING FOR GROWTH IN PEOPLE, PROPERTY, PLANT AND PRODUCTION
ELECTRONICS MANUFACTURING SERVICES (EMS) PARTNER JJS MANUFACTURING HAS BEEN CHAMPIONING THE GROWTH OF UK OEMS FOR MORE THAN 35 YEARS WITH ITS RANGE OF BESPOKE, END-TO-END OUTSOURCED MANUFACTURING SOLUTIONS.
Currently, JJS ranks as one of the country’s largest EMS providers, and in 2018 the company maintained its record of sustainable and continuous growth with a 23% increase in turnover on the previous year.
As the New Year begins, the company is on track to increase turnover again this year. And as JJS’s Director of Marketing, Neil Sharp, explains, the ‘Road to £100 Million’ strategy which the company is working towards remains in reach within the next three to five years. “It is an aggressive goal,” says Sharp, “but one we believe is realistic in terms of the existing clients and projects we have and also the new business opportunities we expect to win.”
So what’s the secret to this company’s sustained upward trajectory at a time when so many UK manufacturers appear to have struggled to remain profitable?
As Sharp explains, “it’s about continued investment in facilities, automation and technology; an ongoing commitment to environmental responsibility; and, perhaps most importantly of all, fostering workforce engagement through the development, elevation and celebration of our people.”
INVESTMENT IN EQUIPMENT
2018 was marked by some significant investments in JJS’s plant and equipment. The purchase of an additional £130,000 X-ray system has helped aid PCBA inspection and process control, while the installation of a new epoxy resin floor back in October 2018 signalled the start of a £150,000 refurbishment project at the company’s Lutterworth site.
The new floor set the scene for the delivery of a £270,000 selective soldering solution which is facilitating further automation of JJS’s PCBA production and brings the Lutterworth site closer to its goal of becoming the PCBA ‘Centre of Excellence’.
Another significant investment in 2018 was the purchase of improved production planning and scheduling software. Says Sharp: “As we continue to grow and take responsibility for increasingly larger and more complex manufacturing projects, we need a production planning & scheduling solution that enables good communication, provides clear visibility on current order status and ‘also what if’ scenarios to all interested parties across multiple sites.”
INVESTMENT IN FACILITIES
In October 2018 JJS secured the purchase of its fourth site. The new manufacturing facility is located directly opposite their current site in Chomutov, Czech Republic, and provides them with an additional 13,000 sq ft of production and office space, with the opportunity to expand on this further should the need arise.
Commenting on the decision Sharp explains “Over the past 12-18 months we have seen a significant uplift from our existing customers for our electronic and electro-mechanical services. We have seen the three sites we operate from (Bedford, Lutterworth and Chomutov) continue to ‘fill up’ and whilst we still have capacity within each, we felt it was the right time to invest in additional space. We remain committed to growing the business and we believe this latest investment provides a clear signal to our clients, both existing and new, that we are serious about growing alongside them.”
INVESTMENT IN PEOPLE
As of the end of 2018, the combined staff over JJS’s four sites surpassed the 430 mark, including the addition of 40 new employees in the last 12 months alone.
A significant appointment for 2018 was the recruitment of JJS’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Simon Scott who brings with him formidable expertise in global manufacturing operations, contract manufacturing and cutting-edge industrial technologies. The company also appointed Sarah-Jayne Jones, Director of Purchasing, who will continue to lead the procurement team and evolve the supply chain strategy.
TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT
The company has continued in its mission to address the UK skills gap by offering a range of apprenticeship, graduate and placement schemes as a way to bring new engineering and commercial skills into the business.
An undoubted key to its success is a commitment to ‘growing its own talent’ and ‘promoting from within’ through the elevation of existing staff into key roles.
Says Sharp: “Several of our former engineering apprentices now work on large and complex projects that are worth millions of pounds. Some of them have had the opportunity to travel the UK and Europe and work alongside our customers during the installation stage of a project. During their time onsite, they effectively become ‘the face’ of JJS and are therefore representing the company at all times. There’s clearly a huge amount of trust here on our part, and from their own personal development perspective they get to travel, work on a variety of complex projects and connect with new people.”
“Several of our former engineering apprentices now work on large and complex projects that are worth millions of pounds”
JJS’s graduate programme feeds into the commercial side of the business, specifically customer account management and purchasing. One of its past graduates, Simon Pitfield, who joined the company seven years ago, has since moved to the Czech Republic and taken over responsibility for JJS’s Czech Account Management team and also the company’s largest customer account.
As Sharp explains: “The provision of the right educational opportunities has enabled our trainees to get their teeth into tangible projects where they have full ownership and accountability. It is a testament to the schemes as to how our apprentices, placement students and graduates have developed.”
Internally, the company remains committed to upskilling its staff with the launch of the JJS Training Academy in 2018. The Academy aims to educate and empower staff across a range of subjects, through the provision of external training, internal speaker sessions and practical skills workshops that range from leadership and management training through to soldering, wiring and crimping skills.
“Flexibility really is key to our survival. The Academy is a way to encourage all our staff to get involved, to continue to expand their knowledge and to create an even more flexible workforce internally,” says Sharp.
An important part of JJS’s ethos is to retain the culture and feel of a family-run business, even as it continues to grow.
Says Sharp: “We are mindful of the fact that the company is going through a period of ambitious and aggressive growth, and it’s important to us to keep sight of our mission, vision and values.”
To help promote this the company holds monthly listening days where all staff have the opportunity to sit down with a main board director and air any questions, views or concerns. It also operates a process improvement scheme whereby staff are encouraged to raise ideas, however big or small, many of which have already helped reduce waste, save time and cut costs.
“We’re here to help, we’re interested in our staff and we genuinely care for them. We have found that these activities can have a positive effect on staff engagement and support our goal of continuous process improvement as a company.”
ISO 14001 remains a constant focus for JJS as it strives for increased environmental responsibility. In 2018 the company conducted a review of the use of single-use plastics across all its sites. As part of its first phase of action, it has committed to stop buying bottled water, plastic water cooler cups and plastic spoons.
Its second phase is now focused on a review of all its packaging processes. “The aim is to analyse what’s coming in and going out of the company to help our customers make better use of the packaging they receive from us. As part of this strategy, we’ve already replaced the JJS Manufacturing branded boxes with plain cardboard boxes so they can be reused long after they leave us. It’s all about making small sustainable steps which will help to make an impact in the long-term.”
While it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon of the latest technological advances, JJS remains mindful of only investing in new technology when it justifies a business need.
As Sharp explains: “What we’re not doing is investing in new equipment ‘just because…’ “As an example, we’ve recently conducted a thorough review of the potential applications of robotics within the company. Having taken into consideration the highly complex and widely varying needs of our clients, we’ve come to the conclusion that investment in robotics isn’t justified right now.”
“We’re by no means shying away from new technology. But we always want to make sure that we’re making the right decisions for our clients and the company.”
As 2018 drew to a close, the company was pushing ahead with its plans for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit result. “A no-deal Brexit is inevitably going to reduce the movement of goods and materials, which will affect the supply chains of all our customers and will require unique strategies for each client,” says Sharp.
“We’re grateful to be in a position where we’re able to benefit from ‘the best of both worlds’, and in 2019, we’ll be looking closely at how we can support our customers’ supply chains.