Black Country engineering business teams up with academics

Black Country SME Alphadrive Engineering Services is working with Aston Business School to help customers embrace the sustainability agenda.

The Black Country company joined the school’s Advanced Services Group SME Partnership programme to tap into free academic expertise and support to develop a range of bespoke recycling products, services and solutions.

Alphadrive was established 10 years ago as a traditional precision engineering business selling industrial supplies to local scrap yards. It soon spotted an opportunity to help customers with their recycling by refurbishing shredders and gradually explored new ways of supporting the circular economy. It is now working with Aston academics to help deliver a comprehensive range of services, including design of bespoke equipment, consultancy, maintenance and monitoring.

Alphadrive’s Commercial Director, Stuart Hill, enrolled on the SME Partnership programme back in February, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The programme targets businesses trading in the Black Country, Birmingham and Solihull LEP regions and is designed to help businesses to become more competitive by embracing servitization – the organisational transformation of manufacturing companies to compete through advanced services.

For Alphadrive, this involves tapping into the latest academic research, identifying the company’s value proposition and developing an advanced services offer which is designed around the needs of its customers.

The business has enjoyed success by exploring its customers’ pain points and the programme is helping improve and communicate its value proposition with the aim of differentiating the business through continuous innovation.

Over the last few years, Alphadrive has developed a reputation for renovating old recycling equipment and providing customers with custom-designed shredders at a fraction of the cost of new ones. In 2016 it launched its own Toro Shredders brand. Rather than trying to compete with high-volume manufacturers, the team took the strategic decision to focus on providing bespoke recycling solutions.

Engineers applied their experience to design customised recycling equipment. They began by retrofitting an old piece of machinery, creating a hybrid powered shredder with power generation moving from being noisy and polluting diesel powered to running on hybrid power. As well as lower running costs and increased output the 30-tonne machine has significantly reduced noise levels and no longer receives complaints from neighbours in the local community.

In an attempt to address its customers’ capital constraints, the team developed an innovative “universal shear” which can be flipped to shred a range of materials with one machine. Customers are then able to diversify without acquiring a new machine and can switch easily from recycling mattresses to tyres, plastics to wooden pallets.

Other features include GPS/wi-fi technology to enable remote monitoring and a redesigned hopper to increase storage capacity. Engineers also worked with Wolverhampton University on the hybrid conversion, installing a data logger for independent verification of measurements and efficiency.

Customers can fully customise their shredder design rather than having to buy off-the-shelf equipment which rarely meets all their needs.

Alphadrive’s Commercial Director, Stuart Hill, says: “Servitization is just another way of adding value. Our relationship with customers isn’t simply transactional and based around selling products. We get to know their business and design bespoke solutions. That might be re-engineering a redundant piece of machinery or helping design a new recycling process.”

He adds: “The SME Partnership programme is helping us refine our offer, explore what differentiates us as a business and learn how to raise our profile as a service provider.”

Stuart has regular meetings with his business school mentor which focus on understanding the strategic steps to servitization and spends the rest of his time applying them in his day-to-day work. The business recently launched a specific Alphadrive Design & Consultancy brand and is continually developing new service offers.

“It’s all about developing a long-term intimate relationship with our customers rather than a one-off sale”, he explains. “If the customer doesn’t want to pay up-front for a machine, we can broker a relationship with a finance house so that they can hire it instead. We can provide maintenance and even ongoing monitoring through wi-fi to ensure the machine is being used properly and the customer is getting the most out of it.”

As sustainability move up the corporate agenda, specialist recycling solutions are now in the spotlight. As well as boosting their green credentials, they help customers save money and drive efficiencies.

Since 2012, the Advanced Services Group has supported over 200 companies like Alphadrive servitize their operation through academic engagement, business model innovation and the adoption of new technology. Financial data from participating companies indicates that shifting to a servitized model led to combined growth of £30 million.

“We would highly recommend that other businesses take advantage of the programme”, says Stuart. “All it costs is your time and effort. Success depends on having a different mindset, being prepared to listen to new ideas and put them into practice.”

He comments: “We are now focused on putting the customer at the heart of our operation and allowing them to dictate what you provide. You need to break down your business as a value proposition and be able to explain what makes you stand out from the competition. We’ve only just begun on our journey to servitization, but it’s already been hugely beneficial.”


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