R&D Team Celebrates End of Fifth Year

Erika Marshall     12th December 2018

The Research & Development team at local manufacturing giant, Nifco UK, is celebrating five full years in operation, since the department opened in 2014 with just two employees.

The Eaglescliffe-based business, which manufactures parts used in the engines, interiors and exteriors of cars produced by Ford, General Motors, Honda , Jaguar Landrover, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Vauxhall Opel has now built its team of R&D Engineers to nine and has just cause to celebrate this milestone.

Steve Garrett, R&D Manager says, “When I started with the business almost five years ago, there was just two of us in the R&D team with very little by the way of a brief, today I lead a team of 9 passionate individuals who essentially get to experiment with and test new ideas for a living, which culminates in massive improvements to the automotive industry, all from Teesside.”

Nifco UK, part of worldwide plastics manufacturer Nifco Inc which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, boasts the group’s only R&D facility outside of the Asia Pacific region. The facility was part of a £14million investment in 2014, which saw the business almost double its manufacturing space with a second factory on the Durham Lane site.

“The team and I have worked on some major projects for over the last five years, including the design and development of the business’s most complex assembly to date. Another milestone assignment for us was the composite oil pan we developed for Jaguar Landrover as part of the ALIVE6 project, which led to an overall weight reduction of more than 1kg, when compared with its steel counterparts,” adds Steve.

Safety is high on the agenda at Nifco too, with the design and development of parts which needed to break in a specific way should the vehicle be involved in a collision, this was fundamental in the customer securing required safety certifications.  Almost all of Nifco’s earliest R&D projects have now commenced production, with further parts planned for full roll-out by the end of 2018.

With the automotive sector advancing at an unprecedented rate, especially with the increased focus levied on alternative fuels – this year the Government set a target for the majority of cars and vans to be, at least, partly electrically powered by 2030 – the R&D team at Nifco UK has quite a scope for potential future projects.

“At present, while we have lots of work keeping us busy as a result of an increase in demand for Electrified Vehicles, however EV’s won’t completely replace the need for an internal combustion engine and therefore the team is also working on other efficiency improvements. Heat encapsulation and innovative thermal management strategies – capturing and maintaining engine heat – is a key area for reducing fuel usage and therefore less CO2 gas production, definitely one to watch.” Steve comments.

Fundamental to all of these projects is collaboration, and that is something plentiful at Nifco. Each project demonstrates teamwork across departments within Nifco UK, other Nifco sites world-wide, with customers, suppliers and research organisations such as the Centre for Process Innovation with whom Nifco UK is currently working on material exploration.

“We are collaborating with Nifco UK on the development of new, disruptive automotive applications which utilise flexible electronics based materials. From working closely with Steve and the team, their knowledge of injection moulding is world class, but what makes Nifco UK’s R&D team stand out for me is their ability to grasp new technologies and relate them to future manufacturing opportunities and challenges which they may face in the future.

“The discussions are always constructive and are always questioned with the purpose of whether there is a route to manufacturing and a disruptive business case for the application. It is a pleasure to partner with such an enthusiastic and prestigious R&D team, long may it continue.” Steven Bagshaw, Business Development Manager at CPI

The future of Research & Development at Nifco UK is full of opportunity, and that starts with skills. In the short to mid-term, the team will be looking to strengthen with engineers who can bring Electric Vehicle experience and knowledge of composite and nano-composite materials.

Paul Chapman, General Manager of Research & Development and Design at Nifco UK, adds, “The automotive industry has continued to evolve at a fantastic rate, and Nifco has been fortunate to be at the forefront of some of these developments – to think we are making massive improvements to vehicles that will be experienced on a global scale, from Eaglescliffe, is just amazing!”