Rapid Industrial Fasteners’ expansion into production has seen it grow its capabilities quickly, so that it can now make virtually any fastener. Torque Magazine speaks with Managing Director Richard White & Operations Director Jason Hayfield – who have close to 50 years’ combined experience in the fastener trade – about growth, expansion and the importance of doing what you say, when you say...
It is two and half years since Rapid Industrial Fasteners first set up its manufacturing business, focusing on specials, in addition to its already established distribution arm.
Since Torque Magazine last paid Rapid Industrial Fasteners a visit, also in Covid‐19 times, business has been positive, explains Managing Director Richard White: “It’s been excellent, partly due to the expansion of our business and our capacity, but also the climate that we find ourselves in.
“Some of our bigger customers have been overbuying to ensure that they have got stocks in place for the coming months. We’ve also seen decent development with new accounts.”
RAPID PROGRESS FOR RAPID INDUSTRIAL FASTENERS
Expansion in capacity has come about with a range of new equipment installed in the past 12 months, including new thread rolling machines, a 35‐ton broaching machine, CNC machines and a sizeable investment in quality and inspection equipment. In fact, despite the production side being relatively new, the firm is already ahead of longer established manufacturing rivals, it says. Thanks to new machines, the products Rapid can produce is accordingly far broader, now including the likes of 12‐point flange bolts in stainless steel.
“We can make virtually any fastener now,” explains Operations Director Jason Hayfield. “Thread rolling has been going well for us, the broaching machine means we can work quicker and more accurately. We are expanding capacity, up to M64 in diameter and 600mm in length – that’s a significant expansion for us.”
In addition to regular fastener grades B7, 8.8,10.9,12.9,14.9, the firm has also seen increased work in stainless steel and alloys including Duplex, Super Duplex and Inconel, in products like resin anchors, in standard and bespoke lengths.
“We’ve really invested heavily in expanding our inspection equipment. We are doing more testing of our own materials and improving traceability. Some customers will want 5% hardness on products, for example, this gives us the opportunity to control it.
“Inspection equipment helps us pick up any problems at an early stage, rather than wait until a job is 95% complete. We have quality right from the start, all the way through. Nothing will ever go out the door that isn’t right – it will get caught straight away.”
The firm has invested in people as well as machines, says Hayfield: “We’ve got new staff in the machine shop, one with 20‐years’ experience so he’s bringing a lot of knowledge with him.”
Having grown capacity so quickly over the past 12 months, Rapid is already looking at expanding its site after just two and a half years, as well as bringing the two sides of its business – manufacturing and distribution – under one roof, albeit sectioned off.
COSTS, CONTAINERS AND HOLDING YOUR NERVE
Rapid has not been immune to the current challenges rocking the fastener world. However, it has found ways to mitigate them. White explains: “In terms of raw material, we put a lot of stock into place, both standardised and also some more exotic alloys. In terms of our costings, the manufacturing cost is optimised now so we are stable in those terms.
“Throughout last year we increased our purchasing. We really benefited from high stocks of galvanised products, like all‐thread, bolting, nuts, washers... We kept faith, held our nerve and continued to invest in the business.”
Hayfield adds: “Obviously material increases are unavoidable. But with specials manufacture, a lot of the proportion of the cost is the actual workmanship. We are in a position where we take on a lot of rush jobs and we are able to get started really quickly. The additional machinery is helping us.”
With customers in Northern Ireland and Europe, Rapid has contended with that other significant disruptor of recent years – Brexit. “It did have some initial impact. Like most, we didn’t know exactly how it was going to work, but we backed our customers and some of our European customers have now consolidated business with us because of how quickly we can turn work around.”
Rapid has experienced delays on incoming goods, particularly from Germany and the Netherlands, and those dreaded container prices have impacted too, although Rapid has been better placed than some. “For the ocean crossing alone, depending from where, containers are costing US$12,500, whereas they were less than US$3,000 in October last year. On a standard low value fastener product, that is painful. Where we have been lucky is our business of bringing specials in. This has helped us to absorb some of the increases on the commercial product. An average fastener container might be US$28,000, well ours are US$50,000. It splits the increase across higher cost product, so that’s been fortunate. It is testament to the diversity of business we have.”
Shipbuilding and defence are among the sectors that are filling the order books of Rapid Industrial Fasteners, with interesting project work on diverse projects like submarines and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.
“We continue to maintain diversity in the client base,” says White. “We’re not reliant on one sector.”
FASTER MACHINES AND CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS
It’s hard to accurately gauge how much Covid has impacted the manufacturing business. Rapid has picked up some work where other companies have sadly closed down. Being flexible and responsive has been key to thriving during the pandemic, says White: “We’ve adapted quickly to everything that has changed, whether that’s been restrictions or whatever. We continue to have that reliability and integrity to do what we say, when we say it. We work really hard to maintain lead times. Our customers can trust us.”
Looking ahead, Rapid plans more investment. This time in machines that are even quicker. Hot forging is an area of interest and potential expansion too.
White says: “That is the next stage now – bringing in machines that are even faster. We have embraced stage one of our development and we are firmly established. We are now looking at developing a good nucleus of customers and adding a few new faces, those who we can develop business with. We are not looking to become a shop where we have 100s of customers who give us one order a year – we look to develop relationships.
“As we complete each stage of the business, we look to add something else. Our mentality is for continuous improvement. For customers that work with us, we’d like them to consider us an extension of their facilities.”
Two and a half years on, does the duo believe the move to enter specials manufacturing was worthwhile?
“It has definitely paid off,” says Hayfield. “It’s given us more control as a company. We’ve increased turnover, it’s added value to the business.”
White adds: “In an ever changing world it is important to be diverse. As we’ve seen in the last year, things can change very quickly. That diversity is a strength. It has been a journey... to establish any business it has been a challenge. But we’ve seen everything come together above and beyond what we expected.
“It’s a vibrant manufacturing place and a working machine shop. At the end of the day, we are proud of the depth we’ve got in it after just two and a half years.
“Customers are looking for reliability and integrity. We offer a high level of service – we don’t just take the order on and hand you over to an inexperienced office clerk. You have access to us if you are a regular customer. #“We’ve been highlighting our training modules for the next six months, to further enhance the skills we have got. If we want to be progressive as a business, we have to have progressive staff.
“Any customers who work with us can come on that journey with us. They can benefit from our progression as a manufacturer.”