Back in 2017, the Redditch-based Presswork manufacturer AE Oscroft were dealing with a persistent challenge. They were being undercut by competitors in the international automotive supply chain. To overcome this challenge and use their 65 years’ experience in manufacturing, they wanted to get involved with the whole product development process – creating a new product that would boost profits. So, they approached the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) – part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – to help.
Hungry for some fresh thinking, WMG’s Create, Test and Launch Programme was a perfect fit. Chris Oscroft, Managing Director of AE Oscroft and Sons Group, champion for the product development said:
“WMG helped us to recognise that we had been looking for new products, but we already had one ready and waiting, and we hadn’t really identified it as an opportunity. Not only that, but WMG then helped us to create and follow a product development process.”
WMG’s Create, Test and Launch programme supports small firms, helping them reduce their time to market, minimise investment risks and maximise their chances of success. It’s a series of exploratory collaborative meetings with companies to help them identify opportunities for product development, whilst providing a methodology to apply to future ventures.
The programme enabled the AE Oscroft Group to identify a product development opportunity hidden in one of their sub-companies – Weller Wheels based in Stratford. With a 50 year history of steel wheel manufacturing, Weller Wheels had become a niche lifestyle brand where British steel is still handcrafted into fully customised wheels. But this collaboration helped the group integrate their business.
Chris Oscroft said:
“WMG helped us all to step away from the day-to-day running of both businesses. We know our stuff – engineering and manufacturing, so it was a challenge for some managers to step away from business as usual, but the WMG team members provided the leadership required to encourage them to enter unknown territory.
The innovation process was a less familiar thing for us but through a series of workshops, away from our business headquarters, our senior leadership teams were shown the value of some new approaches and methodologies.
Both companies were encouraged to collaborate effectively together. That’s when we realised that we had a fantastic new product.”
AE Oscroft and Weller Wheels saw an opportunity to manufacture three sizes of steel wheel for the T5 and T6 Van Volkswagen (VW) aftersales market and supply them through Weller Wheels.
Alan Lowe Managing Director of Weller Wheels, who injected new life into the company’s ‘niche’ brand said:
“The new steel wheel looks unique and there isn’t another company in the UK supplying anything like it. VW T5 and T6 van owners can buy steel wheels, but they are produced in the US and they are not ‘load rated’ for the UK van market, in line with insurance requirements.
Alloy wheels are also available here in the UK, but they shatter and crack easily on impact and can destroy your wheels, so there’s a real need for this product.
It’s been a really good experience for us to go through as a company. I think we benefitted a lot from it as a team of people across the group and our understanding of each other’s roles and what the business does grew immensely from it.
I think that for a small company, which is family owned, and a company that’s had something like Weller in its portfolio for some time, to better understand what opportunities they have is really great.”
The wheels will be launching in coming months and are due to hit the market as Weller Wheels celebrate their 50th Anniversary this summer. With a lot of social media interest, the company is confident they will be taking orders as soon as final safety tests are complete.
To find out more about getting your business involved in the Create, Test and Launch programme, click here.