£4 million boost for Shropshire Caterpillar plant
The last few years have offered mixed fortunes for one of Shropshire's best-known manufacturers.
Years of recession bore their brunt on Caterpillar, which has its huge remanufacturing facility in Shrewsbury's Lancaster Road.
Now, it is gearing up for a landmark year both for its own operation and for the history of its home in the town.
Last year, it was announced that Caterpillar was to benefit from a £4 million injection of finance into its Shrewsbury operation from its parent company in America.
It comes after the company saw its remanufacturing operation stabilise and return to growth, and marks a double celebration for the famous manufacturer, as it coincides with the 100th anniversary of its site in Lancaster Road first being used for heavy engineering.
From working on railway engines in its early days, the site is now used as a remanufacturing plant for Caterpillar models used in defence and heavy industry.
The global engineering giant employs 350 people at the town plant, where it reconditions engines for military and off-road vehicles such as BAE's armoured Terrier.
"We have seen sales growth improve this year," said managing director Matt Bulley. "Looking at the sensitivities of what volume we have secured and what we see industry doing in remanufacturing, I think we are fairly confident that the volumes and workforce we have are fairly stable.
"We have seen sales growth improve, and while I'm always mindful about making predictions, based on what we see in the industry and in remanufacturing, we are fairly confident that the volumes we have and the workforce we have is stable, and if there's going to be movement it's likely to be upwards."
He added: "This is the biggest investment here for more than 20 years, and comes as we are celebrating 100 years of manufacturing and engineering on this site.
"The investment is in Mazak, five-axis machines, and offers us flexibility on our components. We are not a high-volume business like an automotive supplier, so flexibility in machines is very important. It will allow us to be responsive to a high level of quality for customers, and to improve our costs.
"The investment is based on a requirement identified by a customer in Sweden, when looking at some of our ageing existing machine tools. It helps us in securing our work, and gives us more reliability and flexibility.
"The two machines will allow us to operate from the defence side, but also mining, construction and power generation."
In total, Caterpillar employs more than 125,000 people around the world, and has total revenue of more than £65 billion.
But Mr Bulley said each base needs to prove its worth, and that sentiment was on an upwards curve in Shrewsbury.
The feeling on the factory floor appears to be increasingly positive. Inside its huge Reman 2 building at Lancaster Road is a classic example of the modern face of heavy manufacturing – clean, but with the unmistakable pulse and hum of large machinery filling the air.
Walking the shop floor and meeting staff gives the impression of a rising sense of buoyancy in the business, but Mr Bulley insists there remains a distance to run.
"There's still people feeling a bit pensive, and I wouldn't declare victory yet," he said. "People are all about whether they will have a job this time next year, will they be able to look after their family. The investment signals that our leadership has strong faith in being able to do that.
"Ultimately it's down to the skills and expertise that we have here, but every challenge we have thrown at our staff in the last year, they have stepped up and delivered."
He added: "We have had huge improvements in processes and quality, and that's all down to having a large and extremely skilled workforce.
"Because of the nature of manufacturing it's very hard to automate some of the skills we have here.
We have an apprentice programme and graduate scheme.
"It's important to keep the new lifeblood coming through."
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