Thursday 21 February 2013

Torotrak expands business links

 Within a couple of months, the employees of Motorsport Components Ltd will move premises and become part of Lancashire-based Torotrak plc which earlier this month acquired the business with its modest annualised turnover of £214,000 for £175,000.

The five-man business has worked closely in the past with the variable drive innovator, machining various precision components including cases, shafts and actuator assemblies.

Now the team will form the nucleus of a ‘new’ in-house manufacturing unit geared to short-run manufacture of completed assemblies such as MKERS – mechanical kinetic energy recovery systems – of the type that could be fitted to urban bus fleets.

Torotrak will maintain MCL’s key customer relationships. However, the precision machining and fabrication services will support the prototype and low-volume manufacturing requirements of Torotrak’s programmes and will be a catalysts for growth in this area.

The acquisition of MCL fits in with the plans of new chief executive officer Jeremy Deering, who sees a changing role for Torotrak as it becomes more proactive in developing its continuously variable transmission business.

In parallel with the acquisition of MCL, Torotrak has signed a collaborative agreement with Tata Steel UK Ltd., MIRA Ltd., and Productive Ltd to join a new government-backed initiative known as The Proving Factory. This will give access to shared quality processes, equipment and facilities capable of providing manufacturing capacity of up to 20,000 finished components a year.

The Proving Factory, operating initially from a site in Rotherham and later from a second, as yet to be named site, in Coventry, will take at least two years to be fully up and running with its full complement of 250 employees.

The Proving Factory’s first project will, in effect be Torotrak’s V-Charge; this is a toroidal-based supercharger that offers CO2 reduction through engine downsizing without compromise in driveability. Supporters of The Proving Factory project include JaguarLandRover and Schaeffler.

Productiv’s role will be to industrialise automotive technologies using lead partners Tata Steel and MIRA as well as the Manufacturing Technology Centre, itself part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Readers of this newsletter will be aware that Dick Elsy, Torotrak’s former CEO, moved across recently to head up Catapult. 

Also participating in The Proving Factory scheme is Flybrid Automotive Ltd., of Silverstone, a partner with Torotrak in a number of vehicle-based mechanical KERS projects.

In the meantime, because it will take some time for The Proving Factory to get off the ground, Torotrak will be able to take advantage of its acquisition of MCL to advance a number of its own programmes. For the first time the team will be focused on specific projects which will have their own demanding timescales.

Hitherto associated more with the machining of components, the MCL team will become integrated into a new pilot production cell unit at Leyland that will be able to machine and assemble complete variable drive systems.

Whereas The Proving Factory will effectively replicate Tier 1 manufacturing capability up to a maximum capacity of 20,000 units per annum, Torotrak’s cell build will focus on higher-value, lower-volume units with much higher margins.

Following various in-depth studies, including product and market validation, Torotrak is edging closer to seeing its products in fleet trial buses to build up operating experience. In these parallel hybrid applications the mechanical KERS unit will be installed to work alongside the existing transmission.

The principal object is to feed KERS progressively into the market, both to gain product experience and allow operators to sample for the first time the benefits of this type of energy-saving technology.

Meanwhile, Torotrak continues to appoint new personnel to blend with its established intellectual expertise. Late last year, Gary Wilson joined Torotrak from Delphi Diesel Systems Aftermarket as group director – engineering and programme delivery. Wilson previously worked at Roush Technologies and Rover Group where he specialised in powertrain development.