Grainger and Worrall

a great engineering company that is casting its net  wider 

Grainger and Worrall (G&W) is an expert engineering company that is constantly and confidentially enabling the roll-out of new technologies and projects for its global OEM and tier supplier clients, as Simon Duval Smith

By its very nature, it often has to be very circumspect about its client list and contracts. So it was an exciting opportunity to speak with Edward Grainger, Director of G&W, about the company and its activities, even though there was an air of confidentiality apparent whenever I asked him about a particular customer. “We wouldn’t typically sit in the public eye; we are probably much better known amongst the tier one suppliers, OEMs and design houses than we are by the general public,” he says.

Edward Grainger
Three branches of excellence

I ask Grainger about the casting side of the business and how exactly does Grainger and Worrall, with its growing operation, compete with or complement the activities of a major volume supplier such as NEMAK or Montupet, with their giant and globally diverse casting and forging operations. “We don’t try to offer an OEM or tier customer a service that would compete with the large casting companies that you mention. The best way to explain our business is to consider us as three branches. One is our motorsport division, with which we supply a fairly low volume of engine components to all the main racing series around the world. The second ‘branch’; of our business is our OE activities. This accounts for about one-third of our turnover and is made up of R&D and pre-series prototype and development component design and manufacture, for OEM customers.

“We deliver development parts to our customers; firstly, we start with proof of concept parts which are the fastest way to get projects up and running. That may be to help our customer engineers to convince their management or to prove a novel concept and enable them to show something tangible for their people to make a decision on. “Our third branch of activity is to manufacture parts; a bit more ‘make like production’. In this case we often find ourselves in a triangle, between design house, tier one supplier and OEM, where we are providing a service that allows them to not have to commit to hard tooling. It is not interrupting lines in their plants, or lines at major high volume suppliers, but it gives them ‘make like production’ parts very quickly and for lower investment costs. We will align ourselves with those tier ones and OEMs so that our product is as close to production as possible, making a seamless route into mass production as short as possible.”

Replicating with accuracy

I ask Grainger about the actual process of designing and proving a casting - would G&W use a 3D printed mould to then cast in sand or go to a die-casting operation? “The trick in this situation is to implement the project using the shortest lead time, with the lowest cost. Of course, what a customer spends with us is a very small amount compared to the cost of being late to market. In some cases, we would replicate the full production process but instead of a complete die, we would produce the parts that were most important to the function, inputting steel or iron into the moulds to test the results of rapid cooling and then we would use a hybrid route, using digital sand printing, or perhaps a plastic -tooled CNC-cut process. To sum it up, we use a sand cast process but with parts inside it which accurately mimic the high-volume processes in the critical areas.

“As well as casting, we prototype machining operations. When our customer’s casting or machining process is not ready, we often operate a ‘bridge supply’ service where we might machine an electric drive system that the customer has cast because their machining line is not ready or proven. We might make machining trial parts to go down their line if their casting process is not ready. An important factor is that we must always align our inspection protocols so that they match or exceed our client’s machine line standards.

“An example of this recently was where we adopted the same measurement system as our customer because they wanted to have ‘back to back’ data.” 

Line design expertise

It occurs to me that G&W is in an ideal position to help its customers optimise their machining line designs by proving the right sequences of operations at G&W’s facility. Grainger agrees and explains: “We try to help our clients by sequencing our machining operations in the same way that the mass production process is or will be arranged. It is not unusual for the customer to have engineers in our plant, studying the process, and they can often see possibilities to streamline their process in a way that is just not possible by modelling in CAD and other programmes. This could be operations such as deburring, handling and packaging, areas where issues and solutions can only be found by actually making the components.”

Balancing the sourcing scale at OEMs and tier suppliers

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, I ask Grainger how a major OEM or tier supplier can justify outsourcing engineering operations that it might feel are a core competence and could be carried more cheaply in-house, and does G&W have the equipment and infrastructure to fulfil the OEM’s requirements. He says it is a question of specialisation and G&W’s particular focus. “We specialise in our areas of expertise and we do well in excess of 300 New Product Introductions (NPIs) per year and those are significant products such as cylinder blocks and heads, electric drive units, battery trays and other chassis components. As to our investments in machinery and equipment, we have three digital sand printers, two CT scanners and numerous CAD and simulation seats. A further example of our commitment is that we were the second company in the world to use high heat strength cores for sand printing, a technology that has not yet been rolled out in most OEMs. We have probably invested more in our core areas than the OEMs who come to us because this equipment is essential to our business. To turn your question on its head, why would they not come to us?

“Another factor in outsourcing is that when an OEM gives us a set of deliverables, we are undistracted to deliver against these objectives, , whereas if a project is managed internally at a large OEM, there can be unavoidable challenges along the way.”

Low volume and high-performance stress 

In the lower volume and high-performance applications of G&W’s work there are other factors to consider, such as the behaviour of castings and other components under extreme thermal conditions. I ask Grainger if the responsibility for proving designs remains with the OEM or does G&W go as far as hot-testing complete engines to prove the performance and durability of cylinder blocks, heads and other components. He explains that, with their expertise, G&W works closely with its clients to go to these extremes of testing.

“The client is responsible for the specification and function of the design. This can go two ways; in motorsport ultimately we are all looking for optimum performance and the client will challenge us to help achieve that, because there can be no compromise when winning championships. In niche road vehicles where we support some of the world’s most desirable brands, these low volume high-performance applications of our technology will stay with us because they will be sub-10,000 units per year products and we would cast, machine and finish all the relevant parts for the lifecycle of that vehicle. We won’t build and run complete engines, our scope finishes at a pre-assembly level.

“For an OEM prototype, we have a couple of constraints, one is the specification and the other is the production process. We have to try and hit, as closely as possible, the outputs from the production process, in its mechanical, thermal and dimensional performance. We should not exceed that specification, in most cases we should be just below it as the client does not want to be testing something that will exceed the planned performance of the component or engine; there is no profit in doing that.

“More and more, as a material and structural specialist, we are providing unique data to the client. An example of this is the fact that cast material is non-heterogenous, it varies throughout one casting due to mould filling and cooling rates and residual stresses that are inherent in the processing and post-process operations. We have to try and predict all these parameters and pass this back to the client but ultimately it is the client’s design and their set of boundary conditions and our skill is to get as close as possible to those parameters.”

G&W’s global customer base

As a company with such specialised expertise and experience, G&W attracts clients from all over the world, as Grainger tells me: “We are more or less 50% export in the truest sense of the word; parts leave us and we get paid from overseas. This has been the case for the last 10 years, during which time the company has grown by 15% year-on-year. Our main markets are in mainland Europe: about 30% of our sales are in Europe and the remaining 20% are split fairly evenly between the US and Asia. We have clients as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, and fast growing business in China, Japan and S. Korea, Of course, these figures are our direct exports, of what we don’t send overseas ourselves, probably half is exported by our clients in completed vehicles. If you broke it right down, you would find that about 75% of what we make goes overseas.”

Finding the G&W engineers of tomorrow

A common challenge for managers like Grainger is the shortage of personnel, from apprentices through to graduate engineers. Grainger says that it is an enormous challenge but G&W is ‘putting its money where its mouth is’; it has recently supported the opening of a £4 million ($5.24 million) training centre, as he tells me: “The centre will be a year old in September 2018 and we have 33 apprentices in training at present, these are not all our apprentices, some are from the local business community who also support the initiative in various ways. We are working with local schools, from encouraging 12-year old pupils into engineering, right through to our own development and expert training within our workforce.” 

Diversifying design and engineering

The world of the automotive drivetrain is changing at a tremendous rate and I ask Grainger if G&W needs to diversify into hybrid and EV engineering, and into other fields. He says the company has been working in this area for some time and thanks to its thriving prototype business, is ahead of many other businesses. “For G&W to remain ahead of innovation, we need to be nimble and react quickly to the fast- moving automotive market. Tomorrow’s vehicle designers are not just the major OEMs that we work with today, but consumer electronics businesses, sensor manufacturers and Silicon Valley start-ups. This brings a wealth of free thinking and EV technology that we are geared up to work with.

“For these exciting new projects, castings are just as important as they have been to the success of the internal combustion engine. EV components need all of the qualities that have made us so successful; they need to survive extremes of temperature and stress and also be air-, oil- and water-tight in much the same way as many of the traditional engine and drivetrain parts that we are so proud of having engineered for our clients over the years,” he says proudly. 

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