Episode cover art


Episode 2 Season 2020

Fail-Fast Digital Manufacturing with William Bridgman (Warren Services)

Length: 61 minutes

Easy, low-cost steps you can take to digitize without disrupting your operation. UK Top 100 manufacturing veteran William Bridgman shares his story and how to fail fast with small experiments plus leveraging digital skills of young apprentices.




Guest(s)

William Bridgman
Chairman
– Warren Services

Host(s)

Chad Perry

Published

21 January 2020

References

www.warrenservices.co.uk



Read the Transcript



[General intro omitted.]

Chad Perry:

Today we’re speaking with William Bridgman, chairman of Warren Services, a family-owned, manufacturing business out of Thetford, United Kingdom. Will is a veteran entrepreneur, going on 20 years in the industry, and he was recently honored as one of the UK’s top 100 most influential leaders who is shaping the future of manufacturing, not only through his efforts to digitally transform his own company, but more importantly to get out there and to share his experiences so that other manufacturers can benefit from those as well. That’s what we’re going to be looking at today with Will talking about his own journey, how he got started and what he’s learned along the way, including some really easy, low cost things that you can do today, without disrupting your operation. Will, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and Warren Services so that we have some context around what it is that you’ve been trying to accomplish in the business?

William Bridgman:

Yeah. Good morning, Chad. I’m William Bridgman, chairman of Warren Services. Warren Services is a family engineering business in rural Norfolk. We have a varied client portfolio of companies from the UK and the rest of the world. We make machines or high-level sub assemblies and automation systems. We do quite a bit of work in outside construction, so we make balcony systems for high-rise, residential buildings in the UK. We make charging infrastructure for robots. We make some agricultural equipment for our local market, but the business will take on any challenge that is given to us. Sometimes we take on jobs because they seem like a fun project to do, not always the most cost effective way of choosing your work.

Chad Perry:

That’s really the services part of Warren Services, is you are the go-to manufacturing, I wouldn’t necessarily use, would you use the word outsource or…

William Bridgman:

I would use in the UK sort of frame of we’re a subcontract machine builder. We started off 30 years ago as a milling and turning shop then we’ve progressed over the years to milling and turning and fabricating to then building machines for other people to wiring, testing machines, to doing the electrical control on machines, and now we even do mechanical design for some of our customers as well. We can offer all of those services in one hit to our customers. We’ve got, from laser cutting, high pressure cutting, welding and fabricating, CNC machining, we have our own paint facility so shop blasting, wet painting, powder coating and a big electromechanical assembly department with our own factory test facility.

Chad Perry:

So you’re providing engineering services, on top of the actual execution of the physical build?

William Bridgman:

Yeah, more and more we’re moving that way. We want to move up the value chain.

Chad Perry:

Now we met at Digital Manufacturing Week at a conference in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, and we had a chance to briefly talk about some of the problems facing small businesses with regard to adopting technology, and if I could sum it up I would really be echoing the Manufacturers’ 2019 Annual Report, which was released earlier this year, where they talk a lot about the benefits of going digital. We all know that, the benefits are huge, but there are also major barriers to adoption, and we’re particularly seeing that where larger businesses are making substantial investments, they’re moving forward, they’re moving the dial in this, but small business owners sometimes don’t even understand the terminology associated with this revolution, and even when they do and they want to move forward and embrace it, they’re facing a lot of complexity and almost insurmountable cost. You’ve been a leader in this respect, and I think you’ve got a lot to say about it.

Chad Perry:

Maybe let’s start with if you could tell me where did it all began for you? Where did the digital journey, and what compelled you to start going down this road?

William Bridgman:

When I entered the business near on 20 years ago, we had made a start. Very unusually for a probably, no more than [inaudible 00:04:30] for that time, we had a full ERP system. It was a originally put in as a [inaudible 00:04:37] system, then it transferred to a Windows space system. When I entered the business, that had already been done so my mother and father had already had a vision. I think possibly my mother had had the vision of making sure everything was systemized and was recorded. There was a foundation. Even though my Ma and Pa wouldn’t say they were technically tact, they had already thought that that collection of data was valid, rather than running from spreadsheets and paper documents. But I came back into the business and realized that we had boxes and crates of old documents, and files and filing cabinets, and drawings, old blue prints that were ripped and stuck together with [inaudible 00:05:24] tape. I start to think why can’t we just digitize this data?

William Bridgman:

Our first starting point on that side was we started to scan all of our documentation into a filing system, and request better quality drawings that we could hold digitally, and still print out, but we weren’t keeping the actual, paper documents. In that time we had to seek permission from HMRC, which is the tax people in the UK, to not keep any of our old invoices and some of that paperwork, and we even used to have to have a special VAC person come because the normal VAC people would be used to dealing with lots of paperwork. Well we didn’t have any paperwork. That’s really where it all started.

Chad Perry:

Just to clarify here, when you say ERP, you mean an enterprise resource planning software, which typically I know you can cover a lot of business functionality with a software package like that, but what specifically was that doing for you at the time that you came into the business?

William Bridgman:

That basically ran the backend of the business. So every part was curated on that system, every order we took in, every order we placed, every delivery we did. Every invoice we sent was all that back office, transactional type stuff was done by our MRP, stroke ERP. It’s an overused acronym. It just does the backend side of the business. We’re also using a separates accounts package which was SAGE. We were taking data from our ERP and doing our secondary accounting through a SAGE package which was obviously computer-based as well.

Chad Perry:

Now you mentioned that you guys were trying to scan in, you had all these paper-based documents and you wanted to get those scanned in, but I’m curious aside from obviously you’re interested in technology, you’re kind of more of a progressive guy when it comes to just being into that stuff for the sake of being into technology, but what were the actual problems? Was having those paper documents, at that time, was that causing you, was that a pain point or was it just something that you saw that that’s where the industry was moving and you wanted to stay ahead of the competitive curve?

William Bridgman:

We just wanted to save money. We wanted to be more efficient. It wasn’t really abut the technology. We did it because we wanted to make the business better so we could use the resource we had in a more efficient way. What we would traditionally do was creating a job, then we go through a filing cabinet, find a drawing, pull it out, put it in a job pack, where by putting our drawings onto a digital system we were able to work with our ERP vendor so when the job card was printed out, it automatically printed the drawing on the back. We completely alleviated the need for that person creating those jobs to go and search for the drawings. We knew we had the right drawing every time. It was a quality thing as well. It was an efficiency and quality, because as long as you’ve got the drawings in the right place the first time, every time you made that job, you had the right drawing.

William Bridgman:

It was nothing to do with technology. Yeah, I do like to make sure we’re up to date, but really it was about saving money and making a more consistent system, something that we could rely on.

Chad Perry:

I’m curious, what kind of time savings you actually saw from that because if you were an ERP vendor or if you were a small business owner and you were evaluating something that would arguably be a substantial investment for your company, in terms of time and money to get this thing up and running, what kind of time savings are you looking at for something like going and getting the drawing?

William Bridgman:

I would’ve said that at that time it could’ve been, we could’ve been spending maybe 20% of our time or in that office function of finding those drawings, making sure that we had the right drawings, getting it in the pack, that would be quite a considerable time saving of 20%, but also it was relatively low cost. We already had the ERP system so it was just about adding a little bit of functionality to something that was already there. I don’t believe we came up with the idea. We worked with the vendor, and I don’t think we paid any money for it because they saw the value in adding it to their system, and making their system better. By working with our digital and software partners we were able to shape the product. It took time, but not necessarily any hard cash.

Chad Perry:

When was this?

William Bridgman:

Probably 16 years ago.

Chad Perry:

Okay. Wow! You were already in the 2000s.

William Bridgman:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitely. And that was sort of part of the start of the journey.

Chad Perry:

What came next? It sounds like you were already convinced beforehand that you were going on this digital journey, whether your realized it or not, what was next?

William Bridgman:

Next I would say and I’m reaching back into the [inaudible 00:11:05] It was probably the shop floor data collection. Traditionally we collected up some sort of rough information from the operators of how long they spent on each job, but we were able to add some functionality to our, actually the ERP system allows the job cart to have a barcode and the operators to clock on and off of the job so that we didn’t need the paper anymore. The data was automatically fed back into the system. We could use that for looking at profitability of individual jobs and customers.

Chad Perry:

If I can try to use some manufacturing terms here it sounds like, especially if you’re moving between a lot of different jobs fairly quickly, so you’ve got set-up time in there, which you’re reducing by being able to shorten the time that it takes you to get the drawing, shorten the time that it takes you to log onto the job, so to speak or log into the work center. Then is there anything related to, perhaps the cycle time that that effected?

William Bridgman:

Well it just gave you an idea of where to look because you get to the end of the month, and you can say, “We’ve made money or we haven’t made money, but why?” By having that data connected to each job we can say, “That’s the big problem. That’s the problem right there.” The system was already allocating the materials automatically so we could then automatically collect the labor time, and in our business labor is the most expensive component, still today. It is bigger than the material cost. The material cost has increased [inaudible 00:12:46] because manufacturing methods have become more efficient so the material becomes a greater proportion, but it’s still, labor is where the biggest part of the value is, and knowing where we were winning and where we were losing, and using that data to make decisions or question how long things were taking added real value to the business.

Chad Perry:

You’re talking about getting savings in terms of efficiency on a job-to-job basis, but now you’re talking about really more visibility into the business so that you can continue on this cycle of improvement and increasing productivity.

William Bridgman:

Yeah. Just make the productivity improvements in the right area, and even to the extent where actually we can’t do that job for that price because we can now clearly see this is the material, this is the labor hours, unless we can charge more money for that, there’s no point doing that work. We’ve had difficult conversations with a number of our customers where we try and work together to then engineer a lower cost solution that matches their expectation, but sometimes you just have to say, “This is not the right work for us.”

Chad Perry:

That’s huge because if you’re a low margin business, and you don’t have visibility into what’s going on, you could be potentially taking unprofitable work, right?

William Bridgman:

It could be 10% of your business is losing you all your money. If you just remove that and didn’t do that work anymore, you’d be much more profitable. You might have to find some more work, but it also allows you to see where you’re making a good margin. Where you might have some propriety expertise. A certain type of material or certain type of worker, and giving you the ability to make a decision about growing that side of the business, and maybe stopping doing another part or maybe saying, “Actually I need to make an investment in equipment to increase the productivity of that area or training.” But it might just come down to it that you can’t operate at that cost space.

Chad Perry:

Yeah. That’s a theme that I feel like you see in a lot of self-improvement books and business books, where they’re not related to technology at all, but this idea that you want to essentially cut the losers and focus on the winners, and you may not be able to do that unless you have the right information. The technology is not only making you more efficient, in a lot of cases, but it’s giving you the information that you need to be able to become more efficient.

William Bridgman:

Yeah. That’s probably the biggest value. My MD, that runs the business day-to-day with me is, he just told one of our customers literally three days ago, “We need to charge this price.” We’ve worked with this customer for maybe six months. We’ve tried to make efficiencies within our manufacturing process, changing the design, working alongside them. We got to the point where we still can’t make the money we need to make so we need to charge this price, and they said, “We can’t afford that price.” So we draw a line in the sand, and then we recalibrate, they go somewhere else, and we hunt for the next future Warren partner.

Chad Perry:

Right, and everybody’s better off in the end.

William Bridgman:

Yeah. Because we wold be doing, we’d be a bit sort of we’re not making any money out of this, and we maybe putting them to the bottom of the queue because we’re not going to make any money of that so we just use that as a fill-in job, and that’s no way to work with a customer or with a partner. So I think it’s better sometimes just to fess up and say, “We can’t go anywhere here.” And amazingly, sometimes after a few months they come back and say, they’re actually happy to pay the new price because they’ve gone to a few other places and it’s gone badly so they’ve come back. Not always! Not always so definitely want to say that’s not always the way, but sometimes they do come back.

Chad Perry:

Right, and that’s the kind of customer you want, right? Somebody who’s eager to pay because they understand the value of what you provide so it’s a more even exchange?

William Bridgman:

Yeah. I think the more recent moves, the more qualified data will help us even more. What we’re striving to do now is we’re gathering the data of when this man starts the job and when he finishes the job. We try a number of times and failed to get the operators to put the setting time, and then when they started making the parts, and then how long the part actually took on the machine, but the operator is generally highly skilled and they’re worried about making the job, not recording the data so they would book on the job and book off it, but trying to get them to book the amount of setting time was impossible. The way our system worked was we allocate them a certain amount of time for setting, and we allocate a certain amount of time for running, but we never really knew if we were getting that right or not, and that is something we’re only just getting grips with now.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, you’re actually touching on a big problem across the board with adopting technology in general, is that a lot of times it’s not really about having the software or the hardware available because we’ve had a lot of software and hardware available for a long time. Really it’s about the behavior of the people who are using that software, and if you’ve got somebody who is highly skilled, as you said, and they’re all about being productive than they’re not going to want to mess with, they’re not going to want the intrusion of a tool that is not helping them in some way, from their perspective.

William Bridgman:

Yes. We said, actually it’s very difficult to get the data from the person so let’s get the data from the machine. We’ve done some trial projects, but I can’t talk about with certain vendors, but where they were removing reams of information, from more modern machines, unbelievable amounts of data, but we really, quickly realized actually we needed a lot less data. By just looking when the machine was running and when it wasn’t running, we could work out a lot of things. By putting a sensor onto the machine that just said, the machine’s running, the machine’s not, we can work out the set time, we can work out the run time, we can work out the load time, just from that one piece of data. If we’re looking at the machine and we can estimate the set-up time because we can see when the job was started, and we can see when parts start to be made, by looking at when the machine is on and when it’s off by looking at the start time. We can then actually work out very accurately what the set-up time was.

William Bridgman:

What we’re using that data to do moving forward, and this is in pilot at the moment, is to make sure that we’re getting our estimation of cycle time and set-up time correct so that we can more effectively quote and be more profitable before we start the job, and when we start making the job that we can more effectively plan and de-stress our amount of factory process because we don’t know exactly how long everything’s going to take at the moment, it makes it quite stressful because you’re juggling, juggling work all the time, and it puts a lot of pressure on the people in the factory. Where if we knew exactly how long it was going to take for certain, exactly how long it’s going to take to run, we could have a plan which was easier to manage, and actually make us more flexible. Because we do a lot of very short lead time jobs. If we can plan what we’ve already got and then see where we can insert these jobs where we’ve only got one or two days to do them, we can hopefully de-stress the business.

Chad Perry:

Really you’re talking about making more efficient use of your existing assets?

William Bridgman:

Well yeah. Just knowing more about, in a little bit more detail about the job. At the moment with the operators clocking, we can see if we’ve made money on the job or not. We can’t work out whether if the setting time was correct or the running time so then when it goes wrong, why did it go wrong? Was it because it took twice as long to set or was it the cycle time? By gathering this data directly from the machine in a very, very low cost way, we can then hone our estimation skills, which will then make lots of this in the business a lot simpler.

Chad Perry:

Now you mentioned modern machines so I do want to draw a distinction here because I think that a lot of small business owners are starting from a place of potentially a fully manual business, paper process or maybe they’re somewhere in between. Maybe they even have an ERP, but what you’re talking about, what you’ve done is start from a relatively good condition of strength in having some modern machines, having a place to put this data. If we were to simplify this down and boil this down, what would you do as a small business owner if you didn’t necessarily have the modern machines or if you had simpler machines? Is there some way that you could get some of this information or some of this benefit without doing everything you’ve done?

William Bridgman:

Yes. There’s one really, really easy, no-brainer solution to a lot of things. We’re now deploying 4K screens at every work station. Whether that’s the milling machine, a lathe, a welding station, assembly bay, we’ve piloted in a big assembly part of it is where we make the [inaudible 00:23:24] in the last year, and giving the operator direct access to the digital data. I.e, the model which most things are 3D modeled now, the 2D drawing, and any ancillary information. You can just do that from a simple file structure. You don’t need any infrastructure already. You just need, we’re using a low cost, 4K screen, I’ve got one next to me. An LG screen I think they’re 300 pounds, but a big 42 inch screen. Low cost computer on the backend, I think maybe 100 pounds, and some trolleys that we’ve manufactured ourself, that they go onto that allows that data to be consumed directly by the person on the shop floor. Rather than having to print the drawings out, having to print bigger drawings, having to convert the files. You just allow them access to that data at their workspaces.

William Bridgman:

I think that’s pretty simple. Any one could do. There’s different levels of security and access that you can apply, but in a really simple way just having that screen next to the machine that gives them, you’re making a complex milled component. Having access to the 3D that you can look at while you’re making a part, makes the interpretation of a 2D drawing so much simpler. Well when you’re welding a fabrication, if you’ve got access to the 3D and there’s a dimension missing, your operator can measure the dimension themselves. We run a night shift. We don’t come in in the morning anymore and the welding department said, “I couldn’t do this job because that data is missing.” Well they’ve looked at the 3D model and measured where their lugs get welded on, and they’ve welded it on.

Chad Perry:

Right. So they were able to overcome any kind of shortcomings that previously would’ve been a showstopper essentially?

William Bridgman:

Even to the extent of someone has printed a drawing out and not noticed that they printed it out a bit small so it’s got one of the dimensions you can’t read, where if they’ve got access to the digital file they can make it as big or small as they like, especially like I said, again when there’s not access, and it’s not always just at night. In the daytime if you’ve set a job on a machine and you’re like, I don’t realize I don’t have this dimension and you can’t get ahold of the customer, the machine is then stuck. Where if you’ve got that digital data available to the operator at point of consumption it makes it a lot easier.

William Bridgman:

I, we’ve got to being in the business, we’ve worked in the business for a long time, and I’ve thought I’m not sure how they’re going to go for this. Say the welders, welders are craftsman. They like welding big bits of metal together. It’s not an automotive process in our business, they’re craft people. I’m not sure how they’re going to take to this screen business. They love it because it puts the power back in their hands. It’s not, oh we haven’t got the information or we’re missing dimensions or we can’t see the drawing, the 2D is not very good so we can’t see what should be happening around the other side. They just deal with it themselves now. They seem to love it.

Chad Perry:

Right. I think that speaks to a larger concern that there is around technology, where there’s this concern that technology is replacing certain things, but I would actually argue, and what I’ve seen is and it sounds like what you’re seeing is that at this point technology is still very much about making people better at the things that they’re good at, that they want to be doing so the creative aspect of it. As you mentioned, putting the power back in the hands of the craftsman.

William Bridgman:

Yeah. I think it empowers them more. They’re not reliant on going to the office, waiting for an answer. If you work with a good customer who has good digital files, that means that that person can add more value. The whole point of this digital journey for us is, our people are our most valued asset. Any idiot can buy new machinery, any person can [inaudible 00:27:47] but we want to use the value of our people as much as possible so we want every person in the business, every minute they work adding engineering value that I can ideally sell to my customer.

Chad Perry:

Right. I remember when we were at the conference talking about this. What really struck me is that you were talking abut how your people had actually led this effort to modernize and to automate some of the more tedious stuff that they were doing. Essentially what they were doing is they were becoming more creative and taking out a lot of the routine work that really nobody wants to do.

William Bridgman:

There’s a lot of savings to be had within the office infrastructure of a manufacturing engineering business. We’ve embraced what they call RPA, which is robot process automation, which is like a robot would load a machine or weld a part, this robot is inside the computer carrying out mundane, repetitive tasks, which a human would’ve done previously. We are able to remove some of those repetitive tasks and allow our people to spend more time adding value.

Chad Perry:

Right, I think you’re making a huge distinction here, and this is what’s really exciting about this is. If I were talking to a small business owner who really didn’t have a lot of access cashflow or really didn’t have a lot to reinvest in a business, and they were saying, “Look, it’s nice that we can do all these things, that we can automate and robots and all these things. You go to the conferences, the shows and there are these really nice robots, but I don’t have the money to invest in multimillion dollar machinery, I’m just a small business.” And it sounds like what you’re saying is well the good news is there’s actually a ton of savings to be had on just focusing on the business. The robots that you’re talking about using are very cheap, off the shelf computers.

William Bridgman:

Correct, yeah. Which actually they let you use for free while you’re setting them up. With software, unlike machines and the digital infrastructure, we as a business say we need everything to be browser-based so operating in an online environment so we can use low-cost computing, that we need it to be subscription, and that it has open and clean APIs. APIs are a way of joining different bits of technology together. We won’t buy anything now that doesn’t join together because everything on its own has a value, but when you put those things together it adds more value, and the subscription model I believe in is there’s very little upfront cost. You just pay as you use it, and if you like it, you carry on paying, and if you don’t like, you stop paying and you try something else. The barriers to entry are low. It’s more time.

Chad Perry:

You mentioned the APIs, I agree as a really critical aspect. In the work that I’ve done as a software engineer, a lot of that work has been around making sure that systems talk to each other. You’ll get, especially in larger businesses they’ll have these systems, they’ll have an ERP system, they may have sales automation or a customer relationship management, CRM system, they might have an e-commerce website, and the value that they’re getting out of those systems is multiplied by tying in together and making sure that the data flows, because this goes back to what you were saying about having the visibility into the business. So it sounds like you’ve embraced that and you’ve been able to successfully implement that in being able to find software that meets those requirements. Have you had any problems?

William Bridgman:

Yeah, all the time. It’s constantly we’re being challenged, but we’re learning as we go along. I think if people are listening to this and thinking I don’t know what to do. There’s lot of easy ways to dip your toe in, and the worst thing you can do is do nothing. It’s not like years ago when you had to spend 10000 pounds on a bit of CADD software. You can now pay 1000 pound a year subscription. The barrier [inaudible 00:32:30] It’s sometimes the fear of the unknown, and I think sometimes we talk about a digital skills gap or not enough digital skills. I personally don’t think that is a problem. We’re just asking the wrong people. Young people are digitally native. They just understand digital stuff. They’ve been brought up on it. If we trust some of this transformation to younger people within the business, they can sometimes solve problems that we never even knew we had. We just have to allow them the space to be able to look at the problems.

William Bridgman:

We have to spend the time explaining to them, because they haven’t got the experience in the manufacturing process and those things that come with doing engineering for a long time, but they are problem solvers in the digital space, and they solve problems very, very quickly. It’s just the asking for help.

Chad Perry:

Right, right, and that’s hugely valuable because like you said, I would even take that a step further that they’re not only digitally native, but the expectation is that if you’re a millennial or younger and you’re coming into a company, you expect things to be browser-based, you expect not to have these barriers to just basic stuff that you don’t deal with in your personal life because you grew up with a smartphone, you have apps and all of that stuff. My questions is because a lot of business owners are still they’re older generation, they’re risk-adverse, how do you, as a business owner, when you want to take some of these steps forward, how do you make sure that you’re not disrupting the business, but you’re still allowing the freedom to find those opportunities to make more money?

William Bridgman:

I think like the Smart Factory Expo in Liverpool, the manufacturer’s event that we met at, the space like that it opens your eyes, even to me who’s quite up with technology, it’s showing you what is there for the future, what other people are doing, [inaudible 00:34:48] learning from other people. We throw our doors open at Warren Services to visitors so we have different groups come see what we’re doing, we do different events. I’ve been doing some stuff for the NPC. I did some stuff for also [inaudible 00:35:03]

William Bridgman:

I think one thing that we’ve seen quite valuable with the companies it’s worked in is also that cover project called digital capitalist, where they take engineering undergraduates who have got an interest in digital. They’re all engineering students, but they’re interested in digital manufacturing in the future, and they brought them into businesses for up to two weeks to solve difficult digital problems. I’ve seen this work in a number of businesses, including Warren Services. And there’s some video case studies on also this website around [inaudible 00:35:43] who works with us, who’s now gone back to [inaudible 00:35:47] University, but will return to work with us moving forward.

William Bridgman:

I think sometimes manufacturing businesses are run by older people, and they may be scared sometimes to admit that they don’t know the answer. And actually this 20 year old person who’s got no real life, manufacturing experience might have the answer to the problem.

Chad Perry:

Right, but that’s actually an asset. If you look at it the right way.

William Bridgman:

It is for me. I want to employ people that make me look stupid. [inaudile 00:36:20] I think some people in leadership roles are fearful of, it’s my area to find a solution and solve the problems because I lead the business. Well it’s not really. Your job as a leader is to get a really good team of people around you to solve the problems for you.

Chad Perry:

Right, and it’s clear that if you’re opening your doors and opening up about what you’re doing digitally, that what you’re really projecting a mode of confidence that look, it’s not the technology that makes us competitive. It’s the fact that we’ve freed up our people and I’ve built this great team around me to solve problems so that they can therefore be free to be more creative, to serve the customer. Would you say that’s pretty accurate?

William Bridgman:

Yes. I think to be a point of differentiation moving forward where there’s a tool, lots of CADD systems. We use [inaudible 00:37:22] This is applying the dimensions and the tolerance into the model to then create a 2D drawing. That’s work you need your manufacturing partners to have this digital infrastructure to view these drawings, but that means that our clients can then free themselves of doing the 2D drawing. So we can hopefully make them more efficient, but we will actually separate ourselves because not everyone has got this infrastructure that have to deal with this fully digital way of working. We think that will, it’s a point of difference, it’s something else we can talk to our customers about, and it’s not about new machines. It’s not about new systems. It’s just about helping them to help us.

Chad Perry:

Right, and that really sounds like a mindset issue as well. This mindset of just looking for ways to improve and embracing the potential of younger generations, as well as the technology that they can bring in to facilitate that growth and productivity.

William Bridgman:

Yeah, I think it’s accepting that traditionally older members of staff trained younger members of staff, and that’s still true in the core engineering functions, where you need to have done it for quite a while to have seen these different problems. If you’re in the welding department and you’ve welded lots of things, and they’ve moved and stretched, that only comes with trying to serve quality engineers, but actually these young people who don’t have that skill, have additional skills so now we’re transitioning to a time where young are helping old and old are helping young, rather than just the older members staff training the younger.

William Bridgman:

It’s making a more collaborative environment.

Chad Perry:

I would summarize that as being, the capability of being more productive, in general. We are moving to a society where our businesses can be more productive because everyone has something to offer at every stage.

William Bridgman:

Yeah, and I think, but it’s just a mindset. It’s just about changing, it’s not the normal so we now need to make this the new normal, that everyone can learn from anyone the appropriate skills that they come with. People always say, we have lots of apprentices, we’ve had them for forever, ever since I can remember, and people say, “If I bring in apprentices into the business, it’s going to cost me a lot of money to train them.” I always think, I don’t believe that, I don’t think it’s true. Yeah, you’ve got to train them, but I think they start adding values in lots of different ways from day one, and this digital skill space is making that even more true. I believed it was true before that part of it because they’re young and they come with a different set of eyes, but I think they now come with an additional set of skills that we need them to share.

Chad Perry:

Right. You could actually put a pretty reasonable cost figure on that, as well. Because if you looked at, I think I saw that you guys had recently brought in a mechanical engineering apprentice. Was that right?

William Bridgman:

Yeah. We’ve got a number, we’ve probably got 10 apprentices in the business, at the moment, and obviously we’re only just over a hundred staff so that is a very percent. 50% of our staff are ex-apprentices or current apprentices. It’s not just young people. Our oldest apprentice is currently 39 doing an entire level apprenticeship.

Chad Perry:

If you bring in somebody like that, that has an engineering background. I studied aerospace engineering in university and I can tell you that for most engineering programs that I’ve seen, it is a fundamental requirement that you learn how to write code, and you may not be the world’s best programmer, but that mindset, as well as that hard skill comes with a lot of benefits, and especially when it comes to being able to understand how to tie software together or to understand what’s possible. You could potentially be getting tens of thousands of pounds worth of value from a young apprentice or of any age for that matter, but someone who has that engineering background, that you would otherwise have to pay a vendor for, not to mention that you wouldn’t necessarily know who to go to or you wouldn’t know if you’re getting any value out of that until after the fact.

William Bridgman:

Yeah. We believe, we try and do a lot of our things in-house because obviously we understand what we’re trying to achieve and it can take you as long to explain to a vendor what you’re trying to achieve, as to solve the problem ourself. We do have a number of collaborative partnerships. We work a lot with Auto Desk. We work with a local company that writes software, writes codes for us for specific applications. We know roughly now where to draw the line. We’ve become a lot better at developing ideas. We made a number of mistakes on this journey of writing [inaudible 00:43:03] that we didn’t properly specify and we were trying to make it perfect before we launched it, and actually we now understand Agile development, which actually makes things so much easier.

Chad Perry:

I’m laughing because I’ve been through this journey over the last 20 years. I’ve seen Agile come about, and man, there have been so, so many IT projects in the world that have died because the requirements were not properly specified. Moving back to this model of the Agile model is where we do one small thing at a time, and then you get a result, you see what happens with that, and then you move forward incrementally.

William Bridgman:

Yeah, I think that rough and dirty, just getting something working. Get a sensor on the shop floor. Get one screen. See how it works, so it doesn’t really work, make it better, but don’t spend like a year making a roll-out plan and then deploying it all in one weekend. I think that’s hard. [inaudible 00:44:12] Try it, break it, break it again. We make low volume, big machines, we can’t afford to fail fast in that part of our business because you’ve got one chance to do it and you’ve got to make sure it works. But with the digital stuff, you can fail fast. We’re not talking about spending loads of money. We’re talking about like doing little, simple things and trying stuff out. On subscription and free, I get free, 30 day trial. I think the forward thinking vendors are thinking that way.

William Bridgman:

Even with like the robotic stuff now, you can rent a robot. You can get a robot on trial. You can get a software robot. There’s lots of things. They start the journey in IT, if it doesn’t work, you can try something else.

Chad Perry:

It sounds like the lesson there is obviously don’t disrupt anything that is critical to your production, but find the areas that are least disruptive, and just try something.

William Bridgman:

Yes, definitely. Try. Don’t be sitting on the fence thinking I wish I would’ve done that a year ago because you will regret it. I’ve also learned don’t under resource it as well. We’re implementing something at the end of January, quite a big piece of work, and I’ve realized actually yeah, we need to put an extra resource into that for two months, just to make sure that it gets deployed exactly how we want it. We don’t want to skimp, but that’s further down the journey. That’s not something I would say start with. That’s we’re implementing a cloud-based PLN product, product [inaudible 00:45:57] A digitization tool that allows us to create digital processes within the business, all sorts of things.

Chad Perry:

Right. So I think that that’s a good place to start wrapping up. The question on my mind is I’ve got kind of two different scenarios in mind, and I would like to hear what your thoughts are on what a business owner, what’s like the one takeaway, the one thing that they should be thinking in these two scenarios? The first scenario is you’ve got a small business owner who is mostly manual. They probably don’t even have an ERP system. What do they need to be doing to take the next step? Then you’ve got a small business owner who may have an ERP system, but it’s not really a priority so they have some digital tools. What’s the next step for that business owner as well?

William Bridgman:

To be honest, I would say the simplest thing that I see to add the most value to both of those scenarios is giving access to the actual engineering data on the shop floor via the digital method, I.e., a screen. It was quite cheap, easy to implement, like one and then the other one. It’s not like you have to roll out everything. You can have a single file structure. Those drawings are probably filed somewhere in a computer system already so it’s just allowing the access from the shop floor to that folder, and making it read only so you can’t delete it by accident. It then starts a journey, as people on the shop floor like this, could we offer more things on, could you give me more information? I think it starts that discussion across the whole business. You can’t do this from the top. You’ve got to, in both scenarios, it’s got to be everyone understands why we’re doing this and what the benefits are.

Chad Perry:

What about the next step? You had mentioned earlier, you were talking about this feedback cycle where you get data back out of the machines so if you don’t necessarily have the most modern machines, is there a way to maybe get information basic information into a system or a spreadsheet that would give you that visibility so you can start making more money, free up cash flow?

William Bridgman:

Yeah. We looked around for a product, and we ordered some different bits off the internet to gather, because every machine, like our welding plant or a sharp blaster, has got something that tells you it’s working. On a welding machine, it might be we’re picking up a signal from the wire feeding. If the wire feed is not feeding no one’s welding. On the sharp blaster, there’s a pressure sensor that tells you it’s actually blasting. On a manual milling machine, you can tell when the spindles running. We then found some low-cost sensors to then just take that signal and put it up into the cloud. We actually couldn’t find something that would do exactly what we wanted so we actually developed our own hardware in-house. It works through a small electronic company to make a little, low-cost sensor that can take what I class these digital inputs on and off. The laser machine’s got a green light when it’s working, we just take that signal and then we send that to the cloud via WiFi, then it’s all available in a browser.

William Bridgman:

That’s a project we’re piloting ourselves, but we’ve actually opened that up to other SME manufacturing companies that want to gather its data. Then we’re merging that data with some information around what job has been made. The way we want to do that in the future is make the hardware very, very cheap so it’s very low-cost, and it’s a subscription model so the person pays ‘x’ amount per month for the data, and if they don’t see value in the data, they don’t pay anymore. It’s then on us to make that data valuable.

Chad Perry:

Right. Just to give you an idea, give our listeners an idea of how cheap some of these things can be. There are now these small, low cost computers that are, they’re really classified as hobby computers. The one is called a Raspberry Pie if you want to look that up, but a Raspberry Pie is less than 100 pounds. I think their cheapest model is something like 30 pounds, and these are full blown computers. A tech-savvy person, who knows a little bit of code or who can even download some of the open source software that’s available for these, can make these things become sensors. They can do complex logic. They can do a lot of things for a very, very low cost and a low barrier change rate.

William Bridgman:

Those projects work, we’re working on a project with Cambridge University [inaudible 00:50:48] on a project called Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring. That’s a project that we’re a partner in, which is using low cost devices, like Raspberry Pies, like [inaudible 00:51:03] Like Alexa, all these proprietary things, and trying to [inaudible 00:51:07] that makes it easy for people to take this up. I think over the next year there’ll be some interesting pilots come out of that project. [inaudible 00:51:17]

Chad Perry:

I believe that one is DigitalShoestring.net, and I’m not sure if it’s specific only to the UK, but I believe there are other initiatives like that going on in other areas, as well.

William Bridgman:

They are now sharing, they are now working on that project with some other companies as well, but I can’t tell you exactly which ones because I don’t know, but that information’s all available on the website.

Chad Perry:

Yeah. That’s what’s exciting about this is this truly is a revolution, and it’s a revolution in the sense that there is this swelling of, and this confluence is coming together of all of these capabilities, as well as the willingness and the effort to bring these things together, and it’s going to take a lot of work on the part of the industry to get this to a point where small business owners can adopt this because they just don’t have, nor should they need to have the massive budget or necessarily the skills in-house to do these really complex things that can now be done on subscription model, do a web browser or with a 100 pound sensor.

William Bridgman:

Yeah. I think the next five years it’s going to be very, very interesting. I think also could be very dangerous if people don’t, we say digitize or die. I think that the change and the efficiency is going to be, it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think people have got a start on this journey, otherwise, it’s like today, there’s not very many people manually turning and manually milling anything anymore because of the transition to CNCs. Even low volume stuff is made by CNC now. I think these transitional [inaudible 00:53:11] transition from manual to CNC we had to build a lot of CNC machines, a lot of factories that make CNC machines. With digital, the adoption can be so much quicker because software, there’s not a lot of hardware involved.

Chad Perry:

Right. Like you said, that’s what makes it really dangerous is it’s kind of a creepy thing because we have large businesses, the big businesses that can afford to bring in the Seaman’s or can afford their own teams, they are moving ahead with this, and some of them are doing some very interesting advanced things, and once those capabilities go mainstream, they’re going to go mainstream first to the companies that can afford them, that can invest a lot of money, and if you’re on the tail end of the market, if you’re a smaller business owner, and you’re not thinking about how to be more productive, than this could be a real problem for you. It may be that you wake up five years from now, maybe a lot of business owners are looking at retiring and they can just ignore it and transition out of the business, but if you’re looking at survival, if you’re looking at growth, you’ve got to move on this because you’re going to wake up in five to 10 years or sooner and have a problem.

William Bridgman:

I think this could make a much bigger impact than buying brand new machines or fully automated robots. I think this is a much bigger benefit, pound for pound. Every pound you spend you’re going to get more money back than if you bought a slightly newer, more efficient, faster machine because most of the time the machines aren’t being fully utilized so if we’ve got tools that can enable us to utilize them more, I think that’s going to bring the biggest benefit.

Chad Perry:

It sounds like the moral of the story is look at making your business as efficient as possible first, because that has the highest return on the investment, and then once you’re to your point where you can really take advantage of that efficiency, then maybe you can start looking at bigger investments in machines.

William Bridgman:

Correct. Do the low cost things first.

Chad Perry:

I was not surprised at all when we started talking. It sounds like you’re very tech-savvy and you’ve done a lot for your own business, but really I appreciate what you’re doing to get the message out there. What I want to close on is I want to find out for someone who either wants to work with you and take advantage of your services, or someone who wants to do what you’re doing. What is the best way for them to reach out to you?

William Bridgman:

Through LinkedIn or, on LinkedIn my email address is on there, as well. [inaudible 00:55:57] If there’s a number of people that show an interest we can run a small event, and show real, life what we’ve done and share those. We don’t try and hide anything. [inaudible 00:56:12] We’ve shared that with lots of people already, we’re happy to go let people have the 3D models for that. We want to make British manufacturing or manufacturing in general better and more efficient. LinkedIn is a good way to connect with me, and then we can go from there, see what people are interested in seeing.

Chad Perry:

Okay. That would be William Bridgman, Bridgman, B-R-I-D-G-M-A-N on LinkedIn.

William Bridgman:

No ‘E’, no ‘E’ in the Bridgman.

Chad Perry:

As far as your website goes that would be WarrenServices…

William Bridgman:

.Co.UK.

Chad Perry:

.Co.UK. Okay. Well, Will we really appreciate it. It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you.

William Bridgman:

Cool. Speak again.

Chad Perry:

All right. Thanks Will.

William Bridgman:

Cheers. Bye.

[General outro omitted.]