From furnace to fleet
Changing its name to Lucchini Unipart Rail Limited in February 2015 following a strategic merger in the UK between Lucchini RS Group of Italy and the UK’s Unipart Rail, LUR delivers a one-stop shop for bogie and wheelset overhaul
With a history dating over a century, the railway wheel facility in Trafford Park, Greater Manchester, has exchanged hands over the years before being acquired by Lucchini UK from Adtranz in November 2000. The company transferred all Lucchini UK operations up to Manchester some two years later. “At this point in our history we were an agency for the Lucchini Group, selling steel products into the UK. We moved everything up to Manchester to focus on our UK manufacturing base, and that is now where we have our head office. In February 2015 we became Lucchini Unipart Rail Limited; this was because Lucchini UK was involved in wheels, wheelsets, axles and gear boxes, so we performed wheel set and gear box maintenance and overhauls but had nothing directly to do with the bogie,” explains Chris Fawdry, Managing Director at Lucchini Unipart Rail Limited.
He continues: “While we didn’t offer a bogie facility, the only available company in the UK that did have one but didn’t have a wheelset facility was Unipart Rail; because of this, we decided to merge the two operations, with all of Lucchini UK thrown into the melting pot and Unipart Rail retaining its non bogie, non wheelset activities.”
Joining forces to enhance the provision of wheelsets and bogies to the UK market, LUR today operates in both Manchester and Doncaster. With an annual turnover of approximately £60 million, the joint venture employs more than 350 members of staff at its sites; because of the complementary nature of the two organisations, employees of both businesses benefit from greater opportunities within this enlarged and stronger entity.
Established with the goal of having complete control over the supply chain of the safety critical components that form a traction system, such as the wheel, axle, wheelset and bogie, from the manufacture of steel at Lucchini RS’ plant in Lovere, Italy, to the delivery of the bogie at the client’s depot, LUR believes it can deliver the best possible service – hence the strapline: From Furnace to Fleet. “This joint venture enables us to look after the whole traction system effectively, however the key thing is that we must give a service and offer solutions to our customers,” highlights Chris. “The reason I am emphasising this is that if we can’t look after our UK customers in an excellent way then we have no right to be here. We don’t export, to avoid competing with our shareholders, so we must focus on our domestic market, which is big enough – and growing – for us to do what we want to do.”
This commitment to quality in all areas of operation has long held Lucchini Unipart Rail in good stead, as it has accumulated an enviable customer base that includes the train builders Hitachi, Bombardier, Siemens and Alstom as well as London Underground and, through the inclusion of Unipart Rail’s bogie and wheelset business, many train operators as well as freight operators and the rolling stock leasing companies. “The train builders supplying vehicles post-BR privatisation were the traditional Lucchini UK customers; we also had a substantial amount of export business that we built up at various times when we were under the Lucchini UK name. But when in 2015 we put the two businesses together, the Unipart Rail portfolio enabled us to bring the legacy fleets into the business, which Unipart Rail had been dealing with in one way or another since before privatisation,” says Chris.
To further strengthen its enhanced capabilities, the company is investing in its facilities in both locations. In Doncaster, a new office suite attached to the bogie plant brought staff together from across Doncaster and now a third bogie overhaul line is being created. In Manchester the machine shop has received two new wheel machining lathes; manufactured by Sirmu, Italy and augmented by a robotic manipulator that handles wheels both in and out of both machines, these lathes have replaced four old lathes and supplement the seven that remain. “These machines are what Lucchini RS has put into its subsidiaries, of which there are nine. This means that we can work on best practice with other group companies. We also have access to common spares and other synergies such as pooling our tooling purchases,” notes Chris. Also in Manchester the company is augmenting its wheelset capability by installing extra lines for both strip down and assembly.
Benefiting from excellent shareholders and partners in both Lucchini RS and Unipart Rail, LUR is preparing for future challenges by focusing on the long-term developments in the market, such as the dwindling of legacy fleets and the potential replacement of these with new vehicles. “The scheduling of that transfer is a grey area, a movable feast, but we have to be prepared for those new fleets as they will last longer between overhauls and those paying for the overhauls will expect more out of the asset. Because of this, our focus is to work with our customers to prolong the life of the asset, through condition monitoring and innovative products; we are also investing to keep our unit costs down and to increase efficiencies, but we also have to develop in other ways and not just as a supplier of product. We have to come up with innovative solutions to our customers’ issues and be perfect on service, which we can’t always claim to be, however that’s our goal,” Chris concludes.