Providing support at different levels of the manufacturing process, Chemigraphic is a company that aims to help manufacturers along the customer journey, providing guidance every step of the way. Chemigraphic, a design-led Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) provider works for OEM customers across a number of industries.
However medical is the biggest sector for Chemigraphic as John Johnston, Sales and NPI Director explained. “We help a lot with precision within the medical industry. For example, previously when it came to radiation machines it wasn’t so much as guessing but more estimating where the radiation dosage would have been, whereas now with the live MRI, clinicians can now see where they are doing the MRI scans.”
The medical sector for Chemigraphic is demanding in two ways. Johnston said: “You have the latest and greatest technologies, the emerging tech and wearables and that kind of stuff, and then it also has very traditional tech, that are craft skilled-based. Chemigraphic has coverage of both areas, whereas most other EMS providers are focused on one or the other.”
It can sometimes can be a challenge when an industry is highly regulated, but Chemigraphic’s standards are set to a high level to meet these. “These high standards are our standard, customers will give us a specification for a part, we will build exactly that, and it’s through every process and every bit of our system that we make sure that happens. It’s things like traceability of parts, we use lots of barcode scanning and processes to make sure we have the exact parts,” Johnston said.
The benefit with this is that anything Chemigraphic does becomes relatively routine, in military, aerospace, cyber security - all these highly regulated fields becomes easier. “The trickiness is building up these regulations in the first place, but once they’re there it becomes everyday life – our standard.” Johnston added.
Currently Chemigraphic is single-sited and is based in Crawley where it employs around 150 people, but recently it took its first footsteps into Asia and has opened an office in Shenzhen, China. Johnston said: “The plan is to be a global business, customers want offshore capability, especially as a lot of our customers are global so it makes sense that we offer them global solutions. At the moment we are at the top end of the UK EMS table, but we want to be a global EMS provider, that offers global manufacturing. As volumes increase and products become more sensitive it makes sense to go offshore.”
When customers begin to move, if we can’t move with them it can be painful for customers to constantly have to move suppliers. “A lot of OEMs have been through acquisitions over the years and normally when you acquire a company you acquire its supply chain, so sometimes you can end up with really fragmented supply chains, and this has happened far too much recently.” That’s when Chemigraphic come in as they are really good for UK consolidation, as Johnston added: “A lot of customers come to us as they can have a scalable UK partner that can do most things, we tick all those boxes for them.”
Johnston explained that there are a few other EMS’ providers out there, but Chemigraphic have a competitive edge. “We tend to provide the entire outsourced solution for companies we work with, so often we are working with large niche technology OEMs, which tend to be global corporations, where we do all the manufacturing for them. This means we manage all the supply chains, we manage all the specialist made to dry parts, and that tends to migrate outside pure electronics and we start to get into mechanical parts, cables and plastics.”
Chemigraphic build the whole product for some customers, where they are the last pair of hands to touch and build, then ship direct to customers. But some customers get involved with the software configuration and functional testing and commissioning areas.
Trading for over 40 years, the company started as a family run business, but around eight years ago it was bought out under private equity. Johnston explained: “A new executive management team was put into place, and over the last few years it’s really been a transition of the business going from being a traditional family run business, to something that’s a lot more agile and progressive, with lots of new investment and changes.” The last couple of years have been spent putting the building blocks in place for this global footprint.
With such a vast number and mix of products, its needs a governance system in place to make sure everything is done properly and Chemigraphic uses an ERP system which it has built up over 30 years, which was doing a good job but it wasn’t scalable or available in different languages, so it recently moved to IFS, which Chemigraphic has made a big investment in. “We also have a new software system that controls everything we do, that is all controlled by barcodes, and which is removing a big part of what we do to be cost competitive. In order to be cost competitive you need to be efficient, and the best way to do this is to reduce labour cost and hands-on time.”
Around the factory floors when we went on the tour, this was clear as we saw a lot of automation, and automated solutions. Johnston explained this was for a number of reasons: “To help get us to the point where we can be very cost competitive, and also it removes the possibility for human error. The most robust automated processes significantly improve sustainability and consistency.”
Becoming more automated has been a process that has really been pushed in the last five or six years for Chemigraphic. “Particularly in the last two years we have been restructuring the business to become global,” Johnston added it would be difficult for Chemigraphic to be completely robotic due to the vast variety of work the company does.
One quality I learnt about Chemigraphic from being at the UK site was that the company really engages early on with its customers. Customers are always important to any company, but this was really highlighted at Chemigraphic as Johnston said: “It is important for us to be there the whole way and guide our customers, of course they are experts in functionality and have an idea of what they want, but we are the experts in manufacturing. It’s about influencing their design to make it more cost effective, and make the appropriate changes that are needed.”
Additionally, Johnston explained that Chemigraphic do some work with startups that have potential: “We have all the expertise and want to help. We do a lot of mentoring, and offer advice through our experiences we have built up over the years to help and improve efficiency in products and manufacturing.”
Johnston added: “It benefits both sides if we can guide them on a path, and make life easier for them – as the product grows we can grow with them.”
Chemigraphic also has apprenticeship programmes, and helps students gather the skill set they require to move through the industry. Johnston commented: “We need to grow our own team, so quite often when students do the programmes with us they often stay. It is about long-term development; we have seen tech guys move up from the shop floor.”
Overall it is clear Chemigraphic is an all-round company, with a solid traditional customer base, that has also brought on a tier of emerging customers, and has undertaken many projects, some of which are just beginning to grow. Johnston concluded: “Flexibility comes in the relationship we have with our customers, and often we are more a ‘manufacturing partner’ to our customers.”