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Nimble sourcing approach reaps global benefits

Sticking to the guidelines, strength and depth in the supply chain, and teamwork in the literal and digital sense, have been important factors in ensuring supply remains intact during a complex twelve months, says the chairman of a leading global foundry supply company. Known for his candid views, Mark Fenyes CEng FICME FIMMM, chairman of Omega Sinto Foundry Machinery Ltd told Foundry Trade Journal that direct dialogue with the customers to reassure them the company was “open for business” and prepared for anything, combined with a flexible approach, had served the company well throughout the global pandemic crisis and general business uncertainties during Brexit trade deal negotiations.

Speaking about the past twelve months he said: “It’s been a steep learning curve to say the least!” He outlined the company’s response timeline in the wake of the Covid-19 predicament. “As per government guidelines we moved everyone who could work from home out of the office, and we enforced strict guidelines for those who still had to come in. Our aim was to keep going, and also to ‘protect’ the factory workforce, as we felt that any exposure in this area would have effectively shut us down. “With 70 per cent (around 50 people) now working remotely Microsoft ‘Teams’ was the communication tool of choice for both inward and outward meetings.” Being an equal opportunities employer, Omega Sinto was already well placed to respond to a change in the working day, Fenyes explains: “Flexible working times that were already in place were extended, especially with those employees who had children to look after and home school.

“The next stage was to make it clear to customers and suppliers alike that we were open for business, and although we couldn’t guarantee to hit delivery times if the workforce was affected by Covid, we would do everything in our power to strive for these dates.” Fenyes says he was particularly astounded to learn of companies closing their doors, despite every effort being made to encourage industry to adapt. “One of the areas that surprised us was the decision for some of our UK suppliers to shut down. When we questioned one main supplier to us they cited the government guidance as ‘not being clear’, however to us it was very clear; if you can work from home you do so, if you can’t, then you come to work and minimise the risk to yourself and others. Eventually these suppliers did come back, maybe with a little ‘encouragement’ from ourselves!  “The last thing we did was initiate a ‘Covid’ meeting once a week for senior management. This was to assess the situation and make any needed changes etc. given the changing landscape. Every Friday a pre-recorded message was sent out from our managing director, Mark Lewis, to all the employees letting them know what was happening and how the company was being affected. When eventually we did have to furlough some employees, it didn’t come as a shock and I have always maintained that the workforce should be made aware, both ‘good and bad’ what is going on. An informed workforce is much better at adapting, and we believe appreciates the openness.”

Despite the flexibility of the working environment, face to face contact with existing and potential customers is an important aspect of Omega Sinto’s daily practices and Fenyes is a firm believer in being visible to the customer. Travel restrictions and respecting the global effort to combat Covid has meant a more ‘stay at home’ approach, but Fenyes says this was imperative to reduce personal risk and help play a part in international collective efforts to defeat the virus.  “In terms of sales visits we took the opinion that the risk wasn’t worth trying to get on site, plus most customers had put on hold any projects and weren’t allowing visits anyway,” he says. “However, for our service and commissioning engineers the situation was different, and, again as per government guidelines, as the trips were deemed ‘essential’ we conducted our business of installation, commissioning and service where possible.” However, this was not without challenges. He recounts a particularly taxing situation: “Perhaps the hardest trip was made to the United States at the height of the pandemic. Our sister company in the USA had installed a very large project in Tennessee, however a specialist commissioning engineer was required from the UK to complete the project. At the time, there was a strict ban on anyone entering the country and the only way we got permission was by the customer lobbying their local government and eventually getting it signed off by the State to allow the visit. In other areas such as the Middle East, Asia, India etc. we are fortunate that we have local engineers in place, so this mitigated the travel issues to a large extent.”  

Clearly, one of the greatest challenges of the past year, and indeed at any time, is building strength in the supply chain. Whilst Omega Sinto is very much committed to manufacturing in the UK and supporting local needs, the company has an impressive global presence and customer base. Fenyes offered an insight into how the company is able to ensure stability of supply in a post-Brexit world? “We are a global company with five manufacturing sites around the world. Prior to even talk of Brexit we made sure that we always had several options for the supply chain that were based on many factors. Governments of several countries took the decision to close down their country almost completely at the height of the pandemic, and this affected not only our supply chain, but also some of our oversees manufacturing operations.  “Since the UK has left the EU we have seen a general increase in costs and lead times, however, it’s not clear how much of this has been affected by Covid rather than Brexit itself. Of course, if you listen to the majority of the mainstream media anything that is negative in this regard has to be down to Brexit!” He says there is, however, a medium-term solution to any current ‘teething’ issues, which he feels will be initiated by European companies. “My feeling is this cost and lead time increase is temporary and, once the Covid situation has subsided, if there are still issues surrounding supply, then I believe pressure will mount from within the European supplier base to ease regulations that are getting in the way of supplying one of their largest markets.”

Fenyes tells us that the perceived increase in bureaucracy is less problematic than predicted. “The only increase we have seen so far has been in the paperwork required for both sending and receiving shipments. For doing actual business and securing orders in both central and eastern Europe we see no difference, and our customers that are potential beneficiaries of EU grants are still in the position to place orders with us. Some other countries, which have a natural aversion to buying anything from the UK, can now use Brexit as an excuse, rather than a systemic aversion to the UK and its products.”  The past year has highlighted the risks associated with relying on supply from specific regions or lengthy distances. When questioned whether this recent warning had prompted the company to shorten supply chains, Fenyes alluded to fresh ideas in the pipeline. “As aforementioned, we have always been pretty nimble when it comes to sourcing and we try not to rely heavily on one product or supplier, however we have been looking for some time at the possibility to bring some items in house if it makes sense.” There has been a great deal to contend with in recent years with the combining of Omega and Sinto and the marriage of two leading brands, but Fenyes says the results are a wider breadth and greater resources. “We are getting into more geographical areas than we did before by piggy backing on the network of both commercial and manufacturing bases that Sino has across the world. Sinto is also strongly committed to Omega and its brand, and that will remain within the group as a strong identity.”

Despite a testing time for industry with the clear movement for electrification of vehicles and other OEM adaptations resulting in a change in demand, a constant drive towards lower costs, plus worldwide disruption generated by economic and political issues, along with a global pandemic, one could bemoan what we are coping with, but Fenyes says he is optimistic that collaborative working will solve many issues.   “In the last five years there has been a lot of turmoil in the sector,” he says. “Several large names, including our biggest competitor, went into bankruptcy, and out of that spawned many competitors with dubious credentials offering ‘look alike machines’ at knock down prices to enter the market. Of course, there will always be people that are swayed by the upfront cost, however the old saying ‘buy cheap but twice’ rings true. It’s my hope that the supply sector will further consolidate and that the cream of the suppliers will prosper and will be well positioned to provide excellent equipment and service to support this great industry.” Tough times call for a tough approach and Omega Sinto’s robust manufacturing foundation and adaptable supply base is proof that “open for business” means exactly that – whatever the conditions.

Contact: Omega Sinto Foundry Machinery Ltd, Morely Way, Woodston, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire PE2 7BW, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1733 232231, email: sales@ofml.net web: www.ofml.net