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Unipart Goes digital

As revenue and profits rise, the international logistics group has turned its attention to new technologies

Written by: Lorna Dodson Photography by: Unipart

For the first time in history, technology is improving faster than people can use it. But according to Unipart Chairman and Group CEO John Neill, that’s a double edged sword.

“Brexit may have caused many companies to pause in their investments, but one of the greatest challenges that companies face today is the disruptive and dislocating pace of change that will come from the integration of intelligent technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, billions of sensors and massive low cost computing power” he said.

“During the past 30 years we have invested in developing our people to solve problems, eradicate waste and to develop innovative new products and services to meet the real and perceived needs of our customers.

“Now, combining that creativity and motivation with the best technologies available, we will be able to enter new markets and provide innovative products and services for existing markets at a pace that we could not have dreamed of 30 years ago,” he said.

The investment is paying off. Last year, Unipart grew its sales by nearly four percent to £747m. Profits grew to £27.5m and the company more than doubled its net cash balance to over £15m. Unipart was also rated one of the safest companies in the world and came top of the league tables for responsible businesses in the UK.

“2016 was a strong year for Unipart in which we continued with the development of our digital transformation across all parts of the Group.” said Neill.

“The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. For the first time in history, technology is changing faster than the human ability to adapt to it. We are devoting significant resources to equip our organisation to be among the leaders in our sector at embracing and deploying these technologies.”

One example of this investment was the acquisition of one of the UK’s leading technology companies, Instrumentel Ltd., which is a leader in the design and manufacture of telemetry systems.

Instrumentel has successfully applied sensors in F1 and other combustion engines enabling accurate data collection at extreme temperatures. The application of Instrumentel technology will help to drive the digital modernisation of railways. For instance, ‘real time’ monitoring and diagnostics for remote locations can bring cost savings and efficiencies through applications such as predictive maintenance and energy metering.

Unipart also launched a new Digital Enterprise Management System providing a leading premium automotive manufacturer with a powerful sequencing and distribution centre management capability that has been deployed with speed and agility. This new system can now be rapidly customised for clients in multiple sectors.

Unipart is also extending the provision of its Retailer Inventory Management System to Jaguar Land Rover retailers in a number of key markets.

MetLase, a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and Unipart, has continued to innovate with its patented tooling techniques to create solutions to engineering problems. This has included creating “smart enabled tooling” which demonstrates MetLase’s Industry 4.0 capability to speed processes, reduce cycle time and provide predictive maintenance facilities.

The focus on new technologies also won new business in Unipart’s manufacturing operations, which produce high tech fuel systems in clean room conditions. Unipart secured a seven-year contract to supply engine components for Ford cars being produced in China creating around 40 new jobs in Coventry. Unipart is now one of only a small number of companies in Europe to produce gasoline fuel rails for Ford and other car manufacturers.
Last year, Unipart also established an Apple Authorised iPhone Repair Centre supporting Apple Service Providers in central London with same-day screen repair. The Unipart repair centre enables Apple Service Providers to provide authorised same-day service for their customers by facilitating repairs using express courier service.

At the same London address, Unipart also opened an Apple Authorised Service Provider. The London Unipart Apple Service Provider offers repair and diagnostics service for the whole range of Apple products for walk-in and pre-booked customers.

John Neill said that the Group’s achievements were due to the continued focus on driving mastery of The Unipart Way at every level of the business. “With The Unipart Way, we have one of the best business systems in the world for continuous improvement and innovation. We’ve also made a strategic commitment to enabling all our people to be the best at what they do through a programme that we call Gate to Great,” he said.

“That combination of deep knowledge and expertise in continuous improvement, coupled with highly skilled, highly motivated people who have access to the world’s best technology, is a formula for growth during a time when every aspect of industry is being disrupted. The Unipart Way and our culture of customer service continue to deliver critical advantages in navigating uncertain times.”