Technology consultancy and precision-manufacturing specialist Prodrive is nearly doubling the size of the workforce at its composites plant in Milton Keynes.
The recruitment drive will see Prodrive take on a further 80 people over the next year, taking employment at its manufacturing operations to around 200.
The expansion comes off the back of new contracts from the automotive, aerospace and defence sectors. These include the supply of cosmetic and large structural components for a new European supercar and highly specialist applications such as components for a space telescope. Prodrive has already increased the factory’s floor area to more than 3,000 m2.
Ian Handscombe, composites manager at Prodrive, said: “We are making big investments to increase the efficiency of what are, essentially, craft processes but we still need our people to have very high skill levels.
“Our training programme is based on capturing the skills of the best people in the industry and transferring them to newcomers to our business. Our recruits will have the chance to work alongside some of the world’s foremost experts in producing composite components for super cars and Formula One.”
To help increase efficiency, Prodrive is making investments in process automation and other systems that allow their craftsmen to focus their time on high value-adding activities. Using a new £500,000 five-axis milling machine, it now takes just 20 minutes to trim a large post-mould component that previously took four hours by hand. A new numerically-controlled machine allows automated cutting of thicker pre-preg material (up to 2mm) to reduce the number of layers required.
“This is one of the enablers for the manufacture of body-in-white components,” said Handscombe. “It’s more efficient and gives us a surface that is ready for painting.”
Other equipment purchases at the Milton Keynes site include two additional high-specification autoclaves, together worth around £1 million. The larger unit accepts parts up to 2m diameter by 4.3m long. Both allow substantial panels to be manufactured in one piece; and with temperatures of 350oC and pressures of 200psi now available, the manufacture of advanced thermoplastic composites becomes a possibility, with much faster cycle times and easier recycling
“We expect world demand for composites in automotive alone to be worth around £5.5 billion by 2020,” said Handscombe, “with increasing volumes also coming from sectors such as aerospace, defence and marine where weight reduction is becoming increasingly critical.”