2015 has seen the beginning of a major change programme for IMI’s fluid power business, with a reconsideration of the Norgren brand and the launch of a brand new division: Mark Shellenbarger, Global Strategy and Marketing Director at IMI Precision Engineering, reveals what the changes involve and what they mean to its customers.
Established in 1925, Norgren has been a major player in pneumatic engineering for almost 100 years. Its most significant growth has come since 1972, when the business was acquired by the global engineering group IMI - one of the first of a series of acquisitions designed to strengthen the group’s expertise in fluid and motion control. Others quickly followed, including businesses such as Buschjost, FAS, Thompson Valves and Herion. Each was added to the Norgren brand, creating one of the world’s most highly respected product portfolios. At the beginning of 2014, Norgren was an established world leader with a sales and service presence in 75 countries and a growing reputation that saw it in direct competition with businesses such as SMC, Festo and Parker. Norgren had also become, in effect, IMI’s Fluid Power division. But now in a major development, IMI has announced a new name for these businesses: IMI Precision Engineering.
While at first sight this might seem to be a simple name change for Norgren, the reality is different. In fact, the move represents a major strategic shift and the creation of new and powerful fluid power division, of which Norgren is just one part. Where before Norgren had become the de facto parent of the other fluid and motion brands, the new Norgren – as IMI Norgren – now becomes a product brand within the division. Joining it are four other flagship product ranges within what used to be Norgren’s portfolio of products: IMI Buschjost, IMI FAS, IMI Maxseal and IMI Herion. Each of these five product ranges is respected in its own right, and has built-up a large and loyal following in key industry sectors. While before they were marketed under the Norgren banner, their individual brand strength is now recognised as never before. Bringing them under the IMI Precision Engineering name is more logical, and gives each product brand real weight and true focus.
But what has brought these changes about? It was recognised that rather than being one united company, IMI was an aggregate of individually named businesses. One of the first initiatives was to simplify the business structure and help stimulate the sharing of ideas, technology and innovation across the group, leading to the creation of three new divisions. IMI Critical Engineering specialises in highly-engineered flow control solutions for critical applications. IMI Hydronic Engineering is the leading global provider of technologies that deliver operational and energy efficient water-based heating and cooling systems inside buildings. Finally, IMI Precision Engineering specialises in the design and manufacture of pneumatic and other flow control technologies for applications where precision, speed and reliability are essential.
By aligning the three divisions under one name, the IMI brand can be given prominence, helping portray the combined strength and expertise of the wider group. With a new name comes a new brand, with a distinctive logo for each division, supported with new communications materials. IMI Precision Engineering is only now beginning the rollout of its brand identity, but this will gather momentum throughout 2015. The naming and branding are only one small part of a major programme of change and investment across the IMI group, all designed to create a world-class business by 2018. IMI has ambitious plans to transition from a good engineering company to a great engineering business. During 2014, the building blocks for this vision were put in place with a clear business strategy for each of the divisions.
For IMI Precision Engineering the strategy has three key elements. First, to invest in its manufacturing and supply chain to ensure reliable on time delivery. The second is to stimulate what has always been the lifeblood of the business - new product development. And the third is to strengthen and enhance its sector expertise, especially in industrial automation.
It is the first of these - manufacturing and the supply chain – that is the most time pressing, and IMI Precision Engineering has already begun an extensive programme of activity. Most notably, this includes the introduction of Lean practices – the impact of which has already been felt. Lean is already becoming ingrained in the culture of the business, leading to an improvement of scores across many sites, as well as in on time delivery. Although beginning in manufacturing, there is a clear plan in due course to roll out Lean across sales and operational activities. For example, the business is currently looking at ways to release its sales force from many routine tasks. As a business, Norgren’s strength has always been its ability to build partnerships with its customers and meet their needs which can only be built upon by freeing up personnel to add value, and the investments will help IMI Precision Engineering get closer to its customers in many ways.
This commitment to getting closer to customers is being taken quite literally in many cases, with significant investment being made in opening new service and manufacturing facilities close to core geographies, including China. Equally important is the aftermarket channel for IMI Precision Engineering – Norgren Express. The last year has seen the development of new platforms and technologies including e-commerce solutions, order tracking and merchandising capability, all of which will improve its services to customers.
The second area of investment – in innovation – is also key, and the IMI master plan includes greater collaboration across the group, so shared ideas and technologies can be explored. Though innovation has always been a focus in IMI’s fluid power division, there are currently plans to double the investment in new product development. This is already paying dividends and the market can expect significant advances over the coming years, including a smart solenoid emergency valve and new additions to the existing range of redundant manifolds for the Energy sector. Other innovations – including valve arrays and an on/off valve with proportional valve characteristics – will bring benefits to manufacturers of commercial vehicles. The aim is to accelerate the introduction of more platform products into each key sector.
This sector expertise has always been a key feature for IMI, and under Norgren, much of the businesses’ success has been driven by its ability to create solutions and platform products for six key industry sectors: Energy, Rail, Commercial Vehicles, Food & Beverage, Life Sciences and Industrial Automation. Looking ahead, the last of these will receive particular focus.
While all of these changes and investment are on-going, we are convinced they will bring immediate and noticeable benefit. The investment in IMI Precision Engineering means our customers will benefit from technology, resources and experience from across the IMI group. Combined with on-going investment, this will strengthen our offer, improve delivery and our flow of new products, and result in truly world-class experience for our customers. We’re looking to convert our industry knowledge and market insight into engineered solutions which create customer value. This is what we mean by Engineering GREAT.
Engineering GREAT is at the heart of all IMI divisions, which are all united by a common purpose: to deliver great solutions for our customers tackling the world’s most demanding engineering challenges. As a new mantra for the business, Engineering GREAT means three things. High performance products help improve service life and the productivity of equipment. World-class manufacturing and our global sales and service network ensures reliable delivery and support. And the ability to understand our customers’ needs means we can solve them precisely. In other words: great products, great reliability, and great partnerships and problem-solving. These have always been our strength, and will remain so going forward.
So in summary, it’s all change for IMI’s fluid power business, with a new name, a new brand, and a new business strategy to get even closer to its customers and deliver ‘Great’ solutions. While this will mean major change over time, it will be a case of evolution, not revolution: We are the same people, with the same products, delivering the same services from the same locations. None of that will change. What’s changing is our ability to deliver more and better products, more reliably, to more customers. It’s a case of continuous improvement that will see us become a world-class business.