IEN Europe: Last year, you celebrated the 25th anniversary of Braintree Precision Components (BPC), Hepco Motion's bearing supplier. Emanating from the bearings manufacturer RHP - a company that had to close down in 1989 - a very unfortunate matter turned into a success story. What have been the main reasons for this positive development?
Forster: HepcoMotion had a requirement for bearings and components and wanted to ensure quality control and cost. The opportunity to manufacture our own bearings and be able to continue employing high quality, experienced staff has meant that we have grown BPC as we have grown Hepco. BPC only supplies Hepco, so our fortunes are inextricably linked.
IEN Europe: Most of the RHP staff was integrated into BPC in 1989. Are some of those employees still working for the company today?
Forster: The people are the key to our success at BPC. We have one person still with us from the original employees - but he retires this year! Many of the staff from 1989 stayed until retirement and the "family" environment has been part of the story for us at BPC. It has a rich history and the book we produced last year to commemorate the anniversary reflected that.
IEN Europe: What would you mention as the milestones of the past quarter of a century for BPC?
Forster: Key milestones include purchasing the site that has become Braintree Business Park and reaching 2 million bearing parts per year recently. Some great projects in the 1990's included BPC produced bearings for spitfire propellers, helping to keep these historic aircraft in the air. Also bearings for use in the robot arm of the NASA Space Shuttles. One hundred and twenty sets of bearings were manufactured for the NASA space station testing centre in Canada and although the bearings that ended up going into space were American, all the samples at the test stage were from BPC BPC also worked with British Aerospace to design and manufacture the Typhoon Eurofighter throttle and steering box control bearings. Several bearings and components were also made for vintage cars and motorcycles such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Lagonda, Rudge, Ford, Morris and Alfa Romeo. High speed bearings (100,000 rpm) were made for turbo and super charger units for rally cars, high performance vehicles and Formula Ford.
IEN Europe: Is BPC entirely independent, or does the company belong to the Hepco Motion Holding?
Forster: BPC is part of the Hepco Group along with HepcoAutomation in Telford.
IEN Europe: Apart from Hepco Motion, does BPC supply other motion companies as well?
Forster: No, HepcoMotion creates enough work to be the sole customer for BPC!
IEN Europe: Which features make BPC's bearings special?
Forster: Apart from exemplary quality, the special thing about BPC bearings is how bespoke they are. We have hundreds of different variations. When we were purchasing bearings from third parties we had choice of a small number of components, but since we've had BPC the number of components has dramatically increased. We can now choose any style of stud, stainless steel, extra precision, single or double row, vacuum and extreme temperature bearings and more. Essentially, there is a huge amount of variety and we have the ability to make tailored solutions for any customer.
IEN Europe: How does Hepco manage to compete against the 'big players' in the business, or the low-cost bearing suppliers from Asia? Is it going into niche markets, or a particular flexibility in delivering customer-specific solutions?
Forster: Hepco V slides were invented by the Forster family 45 years ago and have proven to be the leading linear motion technology. Consisting of a hardened and ground steel plate with V edges captivated between pairs of correspondingly V ball bearings, the variation in peripheral speed across the contact surfaces, causes debris to be expelled from the system. Not only is the slide system able to withstand the arduous operating environments but it is also virtually frictionless and extremely easy to install. Many cheaper duplicates have come and gone but customers find that our system is particularly reliable, maintenance free and durable. The bigger players don't sell V guides, so we find that when customers are choosing between ball rails and V guides - they come to us if they choose V guide systems.
IEN Europe: Which industries does Hepco Motion serve primarily?
Forster: HepcoMotion serves a wide range of industries such as: Packaging, Nuclear, Aerospace, Mechanical Handling, Food, Electronic, Architecture, Scientific, Automotive, Medical, Pharmaceutical, Film & Television, Printing, Machine Tool and Automation.
IEN Europe: One of the most recent developments has been the vee bearing / rail technology. Could you please tell us what is so special about this technology, and for which industries can it be used?
Forster: The new technology to which you refer, is the patented 1-trak system which we launched last year. It has been award nominated and is recognized in the industry as revolutionary. The 1-Trak system is produced from a single plate of specialised material so that there is no assembly of track parts required. This also enables us to produce 2D shapes of limitless variety. Freeform curves, and opposing bends are possible, and carriages can be driven around the track with an integral gear and pinion drive if required. This product can be used in any industry, but we are seeing it performing particularly well in the machine tool industry for the rapid change of machine tools.