Industry 4.0 Saved My Business

By Richard Hagan, IN4.0 Fellow and Managing Director of Crystal Doors.

From the outside people are surprised by the level of technology that we use at Crystal Doors.

As the UK’s leading manufacturer of bespoke, vinyl-wrapped doors, our work can be seen in everything from hotels to hospitals and even prisons.

One of our USPs is that our state-of-the-art technology means we can turn orders around in a day without sacrificing quality. Our speed of production is unrivalled, allowing a hotel, for example, to move from five sources to just ourselves, delivering thousands of items each week at a week’s notice

Of course it wasn’t always like this. I came into furniture manufacturing in 1994 and it was a very traditional, labour-intensive sector. Automation had barely entered the industry.

However, the emergence of low cost rivals like IKEA changed everything. In an industry of low margins, adopting Industry 4.0 technology wasn’t an optional choice but an essential one if we wanted to survive and prosper.

We had to use technology to improve productivity. By investing in new machinery, we suddenly had the capacity to operate 24/7. My first big investment was a press made to my own specifications that could produce doors at volume. It generated £10,000 efficiency savings a month and quickly paid for itself.

Each year the rate of pace of change increases and investing in new technology is vital to stay competitive.

Today, we use artificial intelligence to improve quality, electricity costs have been slashed by using LED units and many of our processes that were once done manually, such as spraying doors, are now automated.

It means that we’re able to sell our products at virtually the same price today as we did in 1994 and we’ve expanded to new markets. Our automation and robotics capability has positioned us years ahead of our competitors.

Perhaps the biggest game-changer was the purchase of a next generation dust extractor from Germany. Because it’s connected to the other machines, it’s the hub of the technology. We know when machines are switched on and when they’re switched off.

It underpins why Industry 4.0 is a revolution. Now the factory is smart and production can be monitored at anytime, anywhere.

Many manufacturers think they’re too small to benefit from Industry 4.0 technology but they’re wrong. We employ 30 people and have a turnover of £2 million.

Sharing Knowledge

I’m keen to share my experiences and my successes and I’ve become a Fellow on the IN4.0 ACCESS disruptive innovation accelerator to support others on their Industry 4.0 journey.

IN4.0 ACCESS offers what I looked for 10 years ago; the opportunity to work alongside other manufacturers and experience peer to peer learning, making that leap into technology disruption feel like a manageable step.

I’ve learned that, to be robust for the future, it’s not about making a single change, but a whole series of changes that are ultimately driven by a shift in leadership and mindset.

Disruptive leadership coaching is a key element of the IN4.0 ACCESS programme and I know I’d have benefited from something like that all those years ago. The sessions are led by entrepreneurs who understand the world of the SME.  

I’m excited to work with other manufacturers in the North West and show them how to adopt cutting edge technology in an affordable way, with maximum return for their business.

I’ve heard some company owners say they can’t afford to invest in Industry 4.0 but, in my experience, you can’t afford not to. We simply wouldn’t be here without it!