Global Manufacturing in the East

Interview with Andrew Brammer, Managing Director of PSS

Tell us about PSS?

We’re a manufacturing and engineering company based in North Walsham, with customers around the world. Established in 1971, we’ve grown to become market leaders in the manufacturing and remanufacturing of steering and hydraulic components for off-highway, commercial and military vehicles.

We essentially serve three markets. Firstly, we provide new steering columns for manufacturers of off-highway vehicles like forklift trucks and ride-on mowers. We supply over 60,000 units each year to some of biggest names in the US, Europe and the UK.

Secondly, we’re the UK leader in remanufacturing of steering components for commercial vehicles. We return used steering pumps, boxes and motors to original or better condition for HGV’s, buses, coaches and vans.

Thirdly, we work with the military. Every serving US Humvee and Stryker military vehicle features our Series 600 Steering Pump. We also help the UK military overcome ‘obsolescence management’ challenges by remanufacturing existing components to prolong the life of serving military vehicles.

What’s been the biggest challenge in recent years?

I’m a big fan of globalisation and all the opportunities it has created for ambitious businesses like PSS. However, it’s not without its challenges.

The global shift towards ever easier 24/7 access to goods appears to have driven everyone’s cost expectation down. As such, the price we charge for certain comparable components has changed little in the last five or even ten years.

Within OEM (original equipment manufacturing), the biggest challenge has been responding to increased competition from Europe and Asia. Our options have been to reduce costs though more efficient production methods or further improve quality. It’s been tough but we’ve worked hard to do both. It’s perhaps our dependable quality and service that has helped most to keep our customers loyal.

Remanufacturing is a really exciting and growing area. Vehicle operators, the public and government are all keen to get more from resources, so creating a second-life for used vehicle components is well supported. Much of the challenge has been educating the market place that remanufacturing is much more than ‘reconditioning’. With new techniques and materials, we can often return components to better specification than the original part. Visitors are always impressed by how professional our operation is and the sheer engineering expertise we apply.

What’s been your biggest development?

Last year we invested a six-figure sum to create a clean room area for assembling new components. I’m delighted to announce we’ve now made an even bigger investment to roll out the same standards across our entire factory in 2019. This is already paying dividends as we’re in advanced negotiations with several major US, UK and European vehicle manufacturers about supplying components for major projects.

Though fairly typical within vehicle component manufacturing, such clean room facilities are almost unique for remanufacturing. We’re passionate members of the European Council for Remanufacturing and like to be at the forefront of raising standards.

On a personal front, I was delighted to win the Institute of Directors’ Global Director of the Year for East Anglia for 2018. It’s nice to be recognised but the hard work is shared by the whole PSS team.

What impact has Brexit had?

Whilst the fall in the pound has helped with the competitiveness of our products, it’s also led to significant increases in the cost of materials we buy from overseas. It’s been tough to balance the two and remain price-competitive for our customers in the US, Europe and the UK.

We receive payment in a number of currencies. With the fluctuating pound, we’ve now the added challenge of gains or losses if we leave too much or too little in Dollars or Euros.

More recently, with the more likely threat of leaving the EU without a deal, we’ve had a number of EU manufacturers place large orders to stockpile 6-months’ supply of components. Though this has upped our production, we’re conscious customers could look at other supply routes if there are serious longer-term trade barriers. Some of our European customers have made no secret of the fact they are disappointed the UK is leaving the EU. Until Brexit is resolved, we have little option but to redouble our efforts delivering quality products and managing costs.

We’re fortunate to operate in three distinct markets which may provide some protection. We’re comfortable with export paperwork and logistics but for many businesses trading only in the EU they this may come as a shock.

How do you see the future of manufacturing and exporting for the East of England?

Few of the challenges in the East are unique and it remains a great place to live and do business.

We’re fortunate to attract some very talented people to PSS but skills are clearly an area East Anglia needs to invest in. Likewise, infrastructure. Sometimes it feels like it’s easier to hop on a plane to Frankfurt or Detroit than travel throughout the UK!

Brexit is clearly the biggest sticking point. Regardless of how anyone voted, we need some certainty so everyone can get back to focusing on moving forward.

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