A UK manufacturer of low emission vehicle systems has seen a £3 million sales boost driven by global demand for cleaner buses and coaches.
Turnover rose to £28 million last year for Grayson Thermal Systems, helped by international orders for a new generation of fan and battery temperature control technologies it has developed for the electric and hybrid markets.
While lowering or cancelling out emissions and improving air quality are the main targets, the innovations also enable fleet owners to increase reliability, reduce noise and make substantial savings on consumption and maintenance.
A three-generation family firm that began in 1978 as a car radiator repairer, Grayson now employs 270 across four sites in the West Midlands and has also opened up ones in the US and Poland making products in low to mid volumes as well as bespoke for original manufacturers.
Despite material cost increases and economic uncertainty in 2016, Grayson expanded and interest in its innovations is strong, says managing director Stuart Hateley, 52, who forecasts 15 per cent growth this year.
“As the world moves to even cleaner hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid and even full electric vehicles,” he says, “we are continually working with specialist vehicle manufacturers and operators to deliver cooling, heating and air conditioning solutions, both new build and after-sales fixes that are kind to the environment and meet the performance required.”
But to do that requires committing to a long game of new product development and substantial investment up front.
Internal funding has been “well supported by backing from our bank RBS/NatWest,” explains Hateley.
Most recently the business committed a further £500,000 that has led to three new systems designed to keep Grayson in the forefront of the green transport industry.
Its electric fan cooling, primarily for buses, is for operators looking to change from more costly, polluting hydraulic systems. “More advantages came to light during development, including miles per gallon savings and greater temperature control of the engine transmission,” says Hateley.
The second innovation, an electric control water pump, works as an additional cooler for buses and trucks. “It’s reliable, we did extensive testing at our rig, and has high capacity. Other products on the market do not offer both,” he adds.
But it’s the third product that is Grayson’s jewel in the crown. The Battery Thermal Management System (BTMS) took three years to perfect as its teams delved into precisely what the market wanted and the different cooling requirements.
“It was crucial to offer a product range that copes with different demands from electrical power to refrigerants. The system had to operate on minimal power too so it did not reduce the principal function of the product, which is to power the vehicle,” explains Hateley.
“Now we have something that meets the key operating temperatures of heavy duty vehicle batteries, from overnight trickle charging to rapid scale up en route. A set of drive batteries can cost over £100,000 and temperature control affects how long they last.
“Our system keeps the battery at the preferred temperature regardless of external conditions. So whether the vehicle is in Dubai or Canada the system self-adjusts. It’s a single unit and the only one offering heating, passive and active cooling. Customers just connect up and job done.”
Currency exchange fluctuations post Brexit cost Grayson £500,000. But having weathered that the company, which also makes for the military, prison vehicle and motor home markets among others, is now focusing on building US sales and improving productivity at home.
“We are introducing more automation, certainly in the welding area this year and investing in employing specialists like our refrigerant expert from the Czech Republic,” says Hateley who also finds inspiration from other manufacturers on his doorstep.
“When I drive by Jaguar Land Rover I see how they structure deliveries: the right materials in the right place at the right time. We have taken efficiencies like that on board as they make all the difference.”
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