About Hydro Extrusions
Hydro is the world’s leading manufacturer of extruded aluminium products. Operating in more than 40 countries, Hydro’s clients range from small manufacturers to the largest global producers, in sectors including construction, energy and automotive.
The company operates out of three key locations in the UK: Tibshelf in Derbyshire, Cheltenham in Gloucestershire and Birtley in County Durham. Together, these three sites produce almost a third of the 170,000 tonnes of aluminium extrusions manufactured in the UK each year.
Hydro also operates an Application Centre in Redditch, Worcestershire, where aluminium profiles are designed, fabricated and assembled to create semi-finished products for a wide range of industries.
THE HYDRO CHALLENGE
Hydro’s customers are primarily other manufacturers who take the aluminium profiles produced by Hydro and use them to create other structures or products. Often their entire production schedule will revolve around the delivery of these materials from Hydro. There is a great deal of pressure, therefore, to ensure that the distribution of Hydro’s products runs efficiently.
This is easier said than done. Hydro has a huge manufacturing operation, with thousands of tonnes of aluminium extrusions being produced each week. There is also the added complexity that in some cases extrusions must be taken to the assembly facility at Redditch, to be fabricated into bespoke structures before being delivered to the client. All of this must be timed to correspond with Hydro’s customers’ own production timescales.
Scott Holt, Global Transport Manager at Hydro, explains the scale of the logistics challenge:
“Because in most cases our customers are themselves manufacturers, they have strict timescales they need to adhere to and their own customers’ requirements to meet. Any delay to our processes could have a knock-on effect on the whole supply chain. This simply cannot happen.
“Our logistics operation has to be a well oiled machine, working in complete harmony with manufacturing to ensure no matter what the product or quantity, it will arrive at its destination exactly when it’s needed.
“We simply don’t have the resources to handle this planning process in-house, so we need our logistics provider to manage the whole planning aspect of our operation, as well as physically getting products from A to B. They need to take control, take ownership, and make sure they have the capacity and the flexibility to never, ever slip up.”
THE DOWNTON SOLUTION
Downton is Hydro’s lead logistics partner in the UK, and has been working for the aluminium giant for over five years. Many would call Downton an ‘outsourced’ logistics provider, but the relationship between the two companies is far closer than this would suggest. Indeed, Downton is completely integrated into the business, with its team given considerable autonomy by Hydro to handle distribution as they see fit.
Once an aluminium extrusion has been taken from the production line to Hydro’s warehousing facilities, the rest of the product’s journey is Downton’s responsibility. Working in close collaboration with Hydro’s warehouses, the Downton logistics team has complete visibility of the production schedule, warehouse stock lists and customer orders, and use this information to build a delivery programme. This includes working directly with Hydro’s customers to book in deliveries and plan unloading operations.
“We are able to give this much freedom and autonomy to Downton because we have complete trust in their capabilities. It’s a huge benefit to me to be able to leave our distribution operation entirely in their hands and know that they will do everything in their power to keep things running as smoothly as possible.”
To make this possible there are a series of robust KPIs in place to govern the logistics operation at Hydro. Once extrusions come off the production line and into the warehouse, for example, they need to be dispatched within 48 hours. Similar KPIs exist for the return of stillages, which some customers retain after delivery for a short period of time; Downton must wait until a collection note is issued by the customer, at which point Downton has 10 days to return the stillage to one of Hydro’s manufacturing sites.
Scott explains how important these KPIs are to Hydro’s operation:
“If we run out of stillages, we can’t deliver our products, pure and simple – so getting these units back to our sites is a business critical operation. In the seven years they’ve been working with us we’ve never had a problem with lack of stillages, which shows just how consistent Downton has been in hitting their targets.”
Downton has two members of staff permanently based at both the Cheltenham and Tibshelf manufacturing sites – a contract manager and contract assistant at each site – who work closely with Sapa’s own team to ensure the manufacturing, warehousing and distribution operations work in tandem with each other. According to Scott, it is this close cooperation between Downton and Sapa that has made the partnership such as success:
“With the economy growing and evolving at the rate it is, our customers’ needs are in a constant state of flux. We have to be able to quickly respond to their demands, and having Downton as an integrated part of our team is what really makes this possible.”
Having had such success at Cheltenham, Tibshelf and Redditch, Sapa is now giving even more responsibility to Downton; moving the handling of products out of Sapa’s Birtley manufacturing site to Downton from the legacy logistics provider. As with the other sites, Downton will now have staff stationed at Birtley, and will be using this integrated approach to achieve further efficiencies across the Sapa operation.
Scott sums up the benefit that working with Downton has brought to Sapa:
“Our operation is incredibly complex, with numerous different factors affecting our distribution requirements. But no matter what has happened over the past seven years, Downton has been willing and able to respond to the challenge and find a solution – and that adaptability has been invaluable to Sapa Profiles UK.”