Composite strength

Datum’s reputation as a leading provider of composite solutions to the rail industry places it in high regard with the leading OEMs and puts it in good stead as the industry moves forward

First appearing in the market 1997, Datum will soon be celebrating two decades supplying into the UK rail industry. As experts in pattern making and foundry work, the company has taken advantage of its transferable skills and grown a strong composites division, which first launched in 2002. Over this period, the company’s reputation for supplying fire resistant GRP/composite products and turnkey solutions has firmly rooted itself in the market and Datum now counts leading OEMs such as Bombardier, Alstom, Siemens and Hitachi amongst its client base.

“It’s this long standing experience of supplying phenolics into the rail industry that gives us a solid grounding for success,” says current Managing Director, David Taylor. “I believe this has made us one of the key go-to suppliers for this commodity.” With its facilities based in the East Midlands, the company has also built itself a complete design and manufacturing capability – making Datum’s competence one of the most far reaching offerings in the marketplace.
Datum Issue 128 c
“We manufacture all of our own tooling in-house, so we can take a basic sketch, CAD design or historic part and run the entire process right through to the actual series production of a part,” David adds. “Throughout 2016 we will be installing a painting facility into the plant which completes this offering. Before we were spending a significant portion of our budget in sub-contracted paint services, but by pulling this in-house and adding another string to our bow it not only means we can provide fullyfinished, ready-to-go parts straight from the factory, but it also gives us more control over the entire process and makes us more profitable.”

When Railway Strategies last spoke with David back in 2014, he talked about the development of a brand new PRM compliant toilet module in collaboration with Birley Manufacturing and APA Design Ltd. The two-piece module has been designed to provide quicker installation times and therefore quicker rolling stock maintenance times, and thanks to the single joint reduces the risk or water ingress and subsequent corrosion issues. Over the two years since, he notes that the company is still heavily pushing the project, but that it has been a bit slower to forge significant inroads to the market.

“We have undertaken further development and testing and we have our first unit in operation on a new Class 144 E running around the country, so its great to have some public testing,” he says. “We’re positive that its performance will prove successful and that this success can convert into more orders throughout 2016 and into 2017. I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done by the TOCs relating to PRM compliance and we feel that we are in a good place in the market with a good product and a good price point to support this in the best way possible.”

Another significant success in this time is the recent  awarding of a contract to supply the new Crossrail cab fronts for Bombardier, in collaboration with Garrandale Group. Running from 2016 to 2018, the contract is hugely significant for Datum, providing the company with long-term stability to its order book and with it the confidence to invest in people, skills, machinery and processes. “On top of this it helps to strengthen our relationship with Bombardier and we are excited about where it may take us in the future,” David notes.

Running alongside this, the company is keen to continue building its relationships with its other key OEM customers. An ongoing relationship to provide work and depot support for Hitachi is positive, as is additional work with Alstom and Siemens. Its depot spares business is also providing strong levels of business with a recent contract with Rail Order to provide Class 321 replacement bonnets.

“The market for rolling stock at the moment is very buoyant, which provides great opportunities for the major OEMs and in turn for companies like us in the supply chain,” outlines David. “However, one of the biggest challenges facing the UK industry at present is the global purchasing power and international networking of these OEMs, and we are facing growing pressure from cheap imports from overseas.”Datum Issue 128 b

Keen to try and alleviate some of this pressure, Datum has turned its attention to its production facilities over recent years. In February 2016, the company opened a new factory adjacent to its existing site, centralising all production operations into one location, doubling its footprint and capacity, and improving its manufacturing efficiencies. Investments into a new oven and the new painting plant will also help to drive down costs and improve productivity within the plant, ultimately impacting on the company’s profitability.

Further investment over the coming 12 to 18 months will be into pushing for full IRIS accreditation by 2017 to support the continuous improvement of its quality and management procedures. Other areas of focus for 2016 will be maintaining its order book with Bombardier, increasing its work with Hitachi and developing its production competencies. In the longer term, David hints that Datum may be looking into what value it can add to other transportation segments, as well as other advanced materials and composites. He will also be continuing his role as an Executive Director of the Rail Forum – East Midlands (RFEM) – a role that recently saw Datum host Lilian Greenwood, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport along with other industry SMEs for a key lunch meeting.

All in all, it has been a successful couple of years since we last spoke with Datum. Driven by both the continued development of products as well as its own service capacity, the future for the Midland business looks bright as it maintains the growth of its reputation with some of the biggest names in the industry.