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Editor: John Mortimer
Friday, 2 January 2015
Atlas Copco swallows Henrob of SPR fame
Atlas Copco has now acquired the shareholding of self-piercing rivet
(SPR) specialists Henrob Ltd of Flint in the UK.
More specifically, Atlas Copco U.K. Holding
Ltd., Atlas Copco North America LLC and Atlas Copco Asia Pacific Pty Ltd. have
acquired all the entities of self-pierce riveting specialist Henrob and its
main facilities in the US and the UK.
Atlas Copco claims the acquisition offers the
multinational an opportunity to expand in a fast-growing market segment, with
state-of-the art technology.
Henrob Ltd of Second Avenue, Deeside
Industrial Park, Flintshire, is a pioneer and market leader in self-pierce
riveting, a mechanical fastening process for joining two or more sheets of
material where welding is difficult, e.g. aluminum. The company, which is privately
owned, had revenues of $US162 million in a 12 months period ending June 2014
from about 400 employees. A spokesman for Atlas Copco told this newsletter the two companies agreed "not to disclose the price tag".
Atlas Copco notes that the
self-pierce riveting segment is expanding fast due to the growing use of
lightweight materials in the automotive and other industries, a trend driven by
increasingly stringent emission standards. Automakers are working hard to
improve fuel economy, and weight reduction using aluminum is an effective
measure in meeting these requirements.
“Henrob is a strategic fit in our
portfolio of adjacent fastening technologies for the automotive
industry,” claims Mats Rahmström, president of Atlas Copco’s industrial technique
business area. “It is a logical addition to our automotive body shop business.
Now we can serve customers with three assembly technologies: tightening,
adhesives and self-pierce riveting.”
He adds: “Henrob is a supplier to
some of the leading auto manufacturers in Europe and North America. Atlas
Copco’s global footprint will open up possibilities to serve customers in more
markets. Henrob will become a business line within the MVI Tools and Assembly
Systems division in the Industrial Technique business area. The brand will be
One man’s view. Henrob is typical of a
number is small British companies which pioneer new technology only to become
absorbed by a giant in the field.
Large multinational companies such as
Atlas Copco can afford to sit on the sidelines and quietly observe minnows like
Henrob struggle against the tide until the point is reached that the technology
they have been monitoring is refined and mature to the extent that the minnow becomes
prime for a takeover.
Atlas Copco and others can avoid the
hassle of developing new technology, and all the heartaches that come with the
package. Then, finally, like an eagle seeking out its prey, it can swoop and
collect a juicy morsel, ideal to meld with its own processes.
On the other hand, the founder of any
privately owned company is anxious to maximize the returns on the asset he and
fellow directors have cultivated. It is a question of having the best possible
set of accounts and making a judgement when the ‘right’ purchaser comes along.
One might expect Henrob to fall into
the hands of Sweden’s ABB Robotics, the Japanese robot maker Kawasaki or Germany-based
automated assembly and robot specialist KUKA. After all, both ABB and Kawasaki’s
robots have been linked the Henrob equipment at JaguarLandRover (JLR) in Castle
Bromwich where much of the technology has been pioneered. Kawasaki’s machines
have been based at Halewood too.
Of course, JLR is not the company it
was when Ford Motor Company acquired – and disposed of it – now with its Indian
owners and some top-flight German managers, it has its sights set on horizons
far away from the heartlands of Castle Bromwich, Solihull and Halewood, like
the US, China and elsewhere where it needs the systems backup of multinationals
like Atlas Copco. China alone is known to be expanding "very quickly" and Henrob has "hundreds of systems" out there.
One could argue that every
entrepreneur’s dream is to make a small fortune from developing an idea he
seized upon years ago. Henrob goes back as far as 1985. Ideas such as self-piercing rivets could thrive only in the hot
house of small and one-product focused teams driven with but one purpose: to
make the system work and find customers which can apply it - profitably.
Certainly, Henrob, a small privately-owned
business in Flintshire, will be remembered best as the company that pioneered
the application of self-piercing rivet (SPR) technology.
There are other companies in the
field but engineers at Henrob, thanks partly to Jaguar and Land Rover, but not
wholly so, have been able to painstakingly develop their technology. Jaguar
engineers have greatly helped Henrob – and vice versa.
But has been helped by a number of
factors: first and foremost Jaguar primarily and Land Rover subsequently, has
adopted aluminium body-in-white structures for passenger cars.
Ford in the US was the principal
driver when it owned Jaguar. Engineers in Dearborn could use Jaguar in the UK almost
as a skunk workshop, a kind of off-shore development base from which it could
develop, almost out of sight of US-based executives, various joining techniques,
including bonding, SPR and MIG welding.
Aluminium lends itself to SPR in a
manner that adhesive bonding and MIG welding do not. Adhesive bonding is slow and
travels with issues that affect repeatability, quality control and non-destructive
testing. MIG welding of aluminium is tricky, to say the least, as Jaguar production
engineers know to their cost; MIG is best probably confined to specific areas
where visibility is important.
SPR, as Henrob has demonstrated, can
be mechanised. Joints are strong and repeatable and quality control is
straightforward. Indeed, SPRs can show significant strength advantage over
traditional spot welds. It is also a visually checkable joint. But…..there are
consumable involved which have to be taken into account. And the system
requires high forces so the equipment, namely the tools, can be heavy.
On the other hand, SPRs can join
dissimilar materials – like galvansied or pre-painted materials without
damaging the coating. In the factory, SPRs can be applied manually or automatically,
and they are environmentally-friendly – there is no heat, fumes, dust or swarf,
which ideal in an aluminium environment where cleanliness is vital.
Jaguar’s "road map"
factor which cannot be overlooked is that of foresight. A number of leading
Jaguar engineers in the late 1990s and since, Mark White among them, had the
foresight, the diligence, the patience and the perseverance to drive through an
SPR programme primarily with the massive XJ. White drew up his own “road map”
for the advancement of new technology within Jaguar.
This car, the XJ or X350, offered the
benefit of relatively slow reduction rates – in effect providing an almost
off-line production environment where new technologies could be trialled. White
must be one of the unsung heroes of the UK motor industry. He and his team
worked to apply SPRs to the huge X350 bodyshell which offered the space for the
large SPR tools to do their work. The BIW structure required some several
thousand self-piercing rivets.
At the time that White and his team
were developing SPR to suit Jaguar and Ford’s needs, Henrob could point to
others in its customer base. The company claimed to have Audi, BMW,
Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Peugeot, Mazda, Toyota and Volvo as
Quite what was the actual level of involvement of each company
at the time, only Henrob’s engineers could lay testimony. Certainly then,
Jaguar was part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, which included Aston
Martin, Land Rover and Volvo in Europe as well as Lincoln in the US. Jaguar was
seen as a launch pad for new technology in the group. Indeed, the Castle
Bromwich facility in the UK West Midlands was planned to become “a centre of
excellence” for aluminium technology and ‘aluminium-intensive vehicles’ - AIVs.
This it has done – and now other parts of the JLR empire are benefitting from
this technology. Tata Motors, JLR’s owners are benefitting from this foresight.
SPR was seen as an essential
technology for truck cabs. Production rates were low and new technology could
be absorbed. In Sweden for example, Volvo reckoned that while the initial investment
cost for SPR was $43,000 higher than for spot welding, a saving of $244,000
could be made overall by using the SPR process. In other words, SPR gave a 10 to
one factor of improvement. At the time also, other companies making SPR
equipment included Aerial, Textron and Tucker.
Now the circle has been completed and
Keith Jones, Henrob’s founder, chief executive and majority shareholder, having
signed the agreement to sell the Henrob companies to Atlas Copco, is retiring
from the business.
Jones in the early 1980s, was
introduced to self-piercing rivet technology during a business trip to Australia;
shortly after he acquired the rights to use the technology. In 1985 he opened a
manufacturing facility in Flint, North Wales. Five years later he opened an
office in Brisbane, Australia. Henrob’s customer and distribution network now
embraces Europe (in Germany it is particularly strong), China, Hong Kong, Indonesia,
Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan and Scandinavia.
In 1992, Henrob was approached by
Audi, part of the Volkswagen AG group, to develop SPR technology for the
assembly of its ground-breaking A8 aluminium-intensive vehicle (AIV). Henrob
claims that the start of the new millennium marked another first for Henrob
with the launch of Jaguar’s XJ8 AIV with over 3,000 rivets for each car. Henrob
declared “this project represents the most technical advanced use of SPR
technology to date”. But the technology has moved on since then as Ford’s 2015
F-150 pick-up truck demonstrates.
In the last year alone, Henrob’s
business has grown 100 per cent, according to sources – the company claims it
ships one billion rivets a year to car companies including Mercedes-Benz and JLR.
No wonder the company had a good set of accounts to offer any prospective
purchaser. Henrob was at the top of its game when it came to selling the
Atlas Copco is a global engineering
group with Swedish origins. It manufactures compressors, vacuum/air
systems, construction and mining equipment, power tools and assembly systems.
According to Henrob, the existing
management teams will stay in place and there are no plans for
redundancies. Indeed, earlier this year the company announced plans to
take on 100 people. Atlas Copco claims it is committed to support the current
rapid growth of the company and further enhance its global reach.
2015 Ford F-150 pick-up
it is a pioneer and market leader in self-pierce riveting, a mechanical
fastening process suitable for joining aluminium as well as mixed materials
that cannot be reliably welded. This technology has become increasingly core to
the design and assembly of lightweight vehicles with significant implementation
by leading automotive manufacturers in Europe and North America.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident
that in the US where Henrob’s engineers have been working alongside their
colleagues at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan.
The aluminium technology that Ford
left behind when it sold on Jaguar had notbeen not forgotten. It had been well proven
at Castle Bromwich and so when Ford cultivated the idea of an aluminium-bodied
F-150 series pick-up truck (above) – the best-selling pick-up in North America, where
better than to go to refresh the technology but with Henrob.
The 2015 F-150 is as much as
statement of Ford’s ownership and dominance of the pick-up truck market as it
is of its process among North American pick-up truck makers of its prowess in
the application of aluminium structures to vehicles The 2015 F-150 is also a statement of Ford's intent to introduce compacted graphite iron (CGI) as the cylinder block material of its 2.7-litre V6 Ecoboost turbocharged gasoline engine - another 'first', More will be heard of this engine in 2015.
But Henrob engineers were themselves
busy pushing out the boundaries, especially in terms of rivet design. Pushed on
by Ford’s requirements concepts of a hollow or tubular rivet emerged.
Back in Flintshire, Henrob used a £5.2
million funding package, managed by HSBC’s Liverpool commercial centre, to
acquire new 150,000 square feet premises adjacent to its existing 100,000
square feet plant on the Deeside Industrial Park.
At the existing plant, Henrob makes
some four million rivets a day – each individually checked. Henrob plans to
grow its staff numbers to 300 by the end of 2015, after adding 70 roles in the past
year. The company speaks of creating 100 new jobs over the next 18 months
Part of the expansion is to accommodate
the new tubular rivet which means less displacement of material at the joint, resulting
in a shallower upsetting die and hence less potential for any cracking of
Such new rivets are specific to thick
stack joints and Henrob claims that no other company can achieve the results it
is returning through their use. No wonder that Ford regards these rivets and
their associated technology as being crucial to its campaign to retain its
pick-up truck crown. And Henrob’s engineers can right claim to be one of Ford’s
assistants in this endeavor.
recent growth is set to continue strongly due to the clear trend for
increased use of lightweight materials in the automotive and other industries,
driven by ever more stringent emission and fuel economy targets.
There are limits to which small
companies can grow without involving high levels of debt. By being part of a
larger organization which needs this technology, Henrob should be able to grow
along with the market, especially in Asia.
Indeed, as Jones says: “Atlas Copco
has an extensive global market presence, range of products, service
organisation and level of technical expertise. Backed by Atlas Copco’s
resources and energised by this very exciting development, Henrob will now have
every possibility of sustained success. There is considerable synergy both in
products and in philosophy plus a clear commitment from Atlas Copco to fully
support the further development of Henrob,”
“I am very pleased that Henrob will
enter a new phase of its existence in the capable hands of a top global
organisation. We could not have chosen better, a great future has been secured
When Jaguar’s X350 was being planned,
SPRs were considered ideal for production volumes of 30,000 a year. With that
level of production, about 100 jobs a day on two shifts, cycle times were
considered more than ample to cope with the new level of technology.
But SPR technologies have advanced
since then and the arrival of Jaguar’s new XE X760) premium level medium-sized car
will herald the arrival too of new manufacturing technologies of which SPR will
be a part. The X760 manufacturing systems for SPRs will require 309 ‘systems’
or tools, but Jaguar is not stopping there. The upcoming Jaguar XF, due in
2016, will open up a new area of application for Henrob’s SPR technology. The
XF or X260 will require even more ‘systems’ – namely 340. So the number of
rivets per car might be expected to be higher than the 2,800 or so on the X760.
All good business for Henrob – now Atlas Copco owned. John Mortimer