TDK invests in UK power supply manufacturing & design capabilities

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

01 October 2020

TDK-Lambda UK_£11.5M redevelopment of Ilfracombe MFG plant_artist's impression_580x280
TDK-Lambda UK_£11.5M redevelopment of Ilfracombe MFG plant_artist's impression_580x280

TDK-Lambda, with a UK manufacturing & design base in Ilfacombe, North Devon and an advanced research facility based at Bristol & Bath Science Park, is Britain’s largest designer & manufacturer of configurable power supplies. As parent company & electronics giant, TDK Corporation announced an £11.5M investment package to redevelop the Ilfracombe facility, EPDT Editor, Mark Gradwell talks to TDK-Lambda UK Managing Director, Geoff Wilby, Marketing Director, Martin Southam and 

Project Manager, Clive Davies to find out more…

This interview was originally featured in the October 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

TDK-Lambda’s UK operation started out as Coutant Electronics in 1959, before establishing its production facility in Ilfracombe, North Devon in 1966, initially occupying a 500m2  building. Coutant went through a number of changes in ownership, including merging with US power supply manufacturer, Lambda Electronics, before eventually being acquired by TDK to become TDK-Lambda in 2005. Throughout this period, the Ilfracombe site in the South West of England has been an important part of the business’s European and global operations.

Now occupying several buildings totalling over 6,000m2 , the Ilfracombe site employs more than 300 staff and produces over 200,000 power supplies each year. Having celebrated its 50-year golden anniversary in 2016, Ilfracombe currently houses manufacturing, new product development, sales & service, and European HQ functions, as well as overseeing the advanced research being done at its Advanced Technology Centre, based on the Bristol & Bath Science Park since 2013. The products designed and produced on site are sold worldwide, with over 80% of output exported, underlining the facility’s position as a world leader in the design and manufacture of configurable power supplies – with continued investment in the Ilfracombe site over the years helping cement this position.

Following its recent £1 million investment in a new UK EMC Centre, which opened adjacent to its Ilfracombe manufacturing facility in May 2019, TDK have now announced the latest £11.5m investment package to redevelop its TDK-Lambda manufacturing facility in Ilfracombe, UK. The investment, which will be staged over the next three and a half years, starting in September 2020, will enable the company to increase current production capacity by 50%.

Geoff Wilby, Managing Director of TDK-Lambda UK, explained that this latest round of investment was confirmed in March by TDK corporate, but had been in planning for some time before that – and so it was pleasing that the company remained committed to this development, regardless of the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the March lockdown, Wilby explained, almost 40% of Ilfracombe employees (some of whom were shielding) had spent at least some time working from home. During this period, the company worked with external medical advisors to redesign and reconfigure the working environment to ensure it is COVID-secure: touch points were removed, with automatic doors installed; a one-way system was introduced in the factory; and bubbles were maintained with split shifts that do not cross over. These elements will, of course, inform the design of the redeveloped facility.  

The original factory was built over 50 years ago, with further expansion in the mid-1980s. And while the company has continued to invest heavily in new equipment and building upgrades over these years, it is now time to fully redevelop the site. The redevelopment will increase manufacturing space, expand R&D facilities, and radically overhaul and automate the end-to-end material flow. As the current facility approaches capacity, this investment is designed to set the site up for the next 30 years, with a 46% increase in manufacturing floor space, alongside a 10% increase (and colocation of) other technical areas, such as R&D.

Martin Southam, Marketing Director for TDK-Lambda EMEA, explained some of the key drivers for the project. According to market research firm, Omdia, the global power supply market is forecast to reach almost $26bn in 2024, driven by the rapidly expanding digitalisation of economies, increasing healthcare demands and renewable energy trends.

TDK-Lambda healthcare power supplies are used in critical medical and laboratory applications globally, and according to Wilby, “Since the COVID-19 outbreak, delivery quantities to healthcare and bio-diagnostic customers have increased by six to tenfold.” Among the UK-de-signed products are the 100W CUS100ME for portable ventilators, the 175W-rated NV series for ventilators, the 300W EFE300M for virus detection, the 550W Vega modular power supply for COVID-19 swab testing and the QM5 700W modular power supply for mobile X-ray equipment.

But as Southam explained, recent unforeseen global events – including the US/China tariffs trade war, natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis, the COVID-19 pandemic and even Brexit – have also heightened customers’ awareness of the need for trusted, dependable and resilient supply chains. The planned expansion will help ensure further supply chain robustness within the TDK-Lambda manufacturing network, especially for the European market.

While Southam hailed the investment as a massive vote of confidence in both the UK and the Ilfracombe site, Wilby also explained that continued investment over the years made it an easy decision for the company, since the North Devon facility already features good automation and Industry 4.0 technologies.

Project Manager for the redevelopment, Clive Davies explained that the programme will be split up into a four-stage process to ensure continuity of production and services. Stage one will be the construction of new offices, including the addition of a health & fitness centre and improved employees’ facilities (including a new canteen, plus showers and changing facilities for those cycling to work), on the North and West faces. Upon completion, the South facing office will be extended to expand the R&D, product verification & test, and manufacturing engineering facilities, forming a technical engineering hub. The link area between the two factory buildings will then be infilled, and smart, lean storage facilities and AGVs for material handling installed. Finally, the manufacturing areas will be reconfigured with designated front end (PCB assembly) and back end (configuration & test) production areas.

Davies explained that the project was as much about the equipment they plan to install, as about the building itself. The additional floorspace will help further improve the process flow within the plant, increasing productivity by around 15%. Vertical lean storage units will provide automated picking and storage, more effectively utilising the building’s height and minimising storage footprint, eliminating the need for costly off-site satellite storage. Meanwhile, sensor-equipped AGVs (automated guided vehicles) help improve material flow, reducing the need for trolley pushers, resulting in less cross-contamination throughout the site (an added benefit from a COVID-secure perspective). With regard to the reconfigured office space, all R&D and new product development engineering resources will be co-located in a purpose-built space.

Finally, the project will also improve and optimise the site’s environmental credentials, achieving carbon neutrality for facility utilities via the use of ground source heat pumps, additional solar photovoltaics, sourcing of electricity from renewable sources, improved insulation, heat recovery and water harvesting, and more efficient plant and equipment. Extensive acoustic 3D modelling has also been employed to ensure noise control for a quieter environment around the factory, and the company has worked closely with local authorities to design a surface water management system on site that will contribute to local flood relief.

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