Engineering Industry Best Factory sponsored by Black Horse Relocation Services; Best Factory in Northern Ireland sponsored by Industrial Development Board for Northern Ireland.
Japan's Ryobi group is the largest independent die-casting company in the world. Its plant in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, exists because Ford Motor - having been unable to find a suitable die-casting specialist in Europe - asked the company to set up to produce transmission and clutch cases for the Mondeo. At present, only 45 people work in the 128,000 sq.ft building, and Ford's plant at Duren, near Cologne, is their only customer. However, Ryobi's confidence in the plant's future may be judged by the amount of spare capacity available. The factory stands in 27 acres of ground, and the original £16 million investment included the foundations and all services for two more 10,000-tonne die-casting machines and one additional furnace. As from March, Carrickfergus will have a second customer, when production of engine bearing bedplates for Jaguar gets under way.
The judges' view is clear from the fact that, besides coming first in the Engineering Industry category, the plant almost carried off the Factory of the Year award as well. Ryobi excels at process control. Gearbox casings are not simple components to cast - although Ryobi makes it look easy. The company refines each ladle of molten metal with flux before pouring it into the casting machine. This provides greatly increased process repeatability at the casting stage. 'Other companies either don't do this or don't regard it as important,' says MD John Hughes. When manufacturing manager Hiroshi Urabe arrived to commission the plant he found that UK-sourced fluxes - in theory, identical - performed differently from the flux used at home. The specification of Ryobi's own flux was faxed through to enable the chemical to be produced locally. In the meantime, flux was flown in from Japan.