On 12 October 2011, B&R Industrial Automation held an Open Day at its new UK headquarters, just a short distance from the company's previous premises in Peterborough. Simon Goodwin, the General Manager, welcomed approximately 25 guests who were given guided tours of the new facilities. There were also presentations to provide an update on B&R's activities worldwide, and to introduce important new products.
Guests included Thomas Rienessl, B&R's International Sales Manager from Austria, 17 customers and seven members of the press. In addition, the UK subsidiary welcomed back John and Liz Crane, as it was John Crane who first established B&R's presence in the UK over 20 years ago.
B&R's new premises include a large open-plan office space, a workshop for developing customers' applications, a warehouse, meeting rooms and training areas. Indeed, a major benefit offered by the move to new offices is that the company has much better facilities for training, and will therefore be expanding this area of its business.
Worldwide B&R claims to be the fifth largest supplier of automation products to OEMs, and the second largest in Germany. Apart from 2009, the company has consistently grown by around 15 per cent per year, almost exclusively through organic growth rather than by acquisitions. Nevertheless, one acquisition in 2010, Mondial, creates new opportunities for B&R in the field of mobile machinery, and this acquisition is also notable in that Mondial was, itself, originally a spin-out company from B&R.
In 2011 B&R is expected to have a turnover of around EUR410 million, and currently manufactures approximately 150,000 controllers per year, 120,000 industrial PCs and operator panels, and 145,000 drive systems (mainly servos). Here in the UK, turnover in 2011 is targeted at £4.8 million.
Although some manufacturers of automation products have started to shift production to lower-cost regions of the world, B&R has retained production in Austria by installing state-of-the-art automation. This approach results in consistently high quality and also reduces labour content and, therefore, manufacturing costs.
Further support for UK customers is provided, if required, in the form of local stockholding of products, whether standard or customised. Limited stocks of other catalogue products are held in the warehouse in Peterborough, though most shipments are delivered directly from Austria to the customer - with next-day deliveries often being possible if time is of the essence.
Something else that was emphasised during the Open Day was that B&R designs and manufactures products for a long lifecycle. For example, the company can still support products that were delivered over 20 years ago, and customers today can expect current products to be supported for 10-15 years. However, this does not mean that B&R's product range is static; indeed, the opposite is true, with 400 development projects being undertaken during 2011, divided equally between hardware and software developments, and B&R prides itself on its innovative products and continually evolving product range. For example, the company has recently introduced new frequency inverters, preassembled gearmotors, stepper motors, safety products, and panel and PC products.
Small drives are also being launched. In common with all B&R motion products, the new Acopos Micro single- and multi-axis drives support PLCopen. To complement these miniature drives, B&R is offering small DC motor controllers and stepper drives (including units with IP67 protection for mounting on a machine close to the point of application of the motor).
New direct-mounted gearboxes simplify ordering and assembly operations. However, unlike conventional motor-gearbox combinations, the B&R units use a more compact direct-coupling arrangement that eliminates the need for one of the support bearings, resulting in a smaller, lighter assembly that is, therefore, better for applications in which the motor is mounted on moving equipment.
By the end of the Open Day, guests had received far more than an introduction to B&R. The company is clearly a market leader in terms of innovation as well as sales volumes, differentiating itself from its competitors through its fully integrated approach to automation - largely achieved through the Automation Studio programming environment - and by its exceptional standards of customer support.