It has only been seven months since Kevin Shepherd took the helm as general manager of RH Hall Fabrications. But he’s already making waves at the Hertfordshire-based outfit as it looks to invest in its factory operations, grow its profile and build on the work that it does for major national chains such as KFC and Pret A Manger.
Behind him, he has 33 years of manufacturing and engineering experience and has worked with about 400 clients, including some of the world’s largest food manufacturers, whilst at the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS).
During his time at MAS, Shepherd advised on manufacturing strategy, business strategy, new production innovation, quality management, lead time reduction, lean principles and training. So he’s more than qualified to be leading this specialist division of RH Hall, which got into fabrications in 2011 when it purchased MBM Fabrications and took over its plant.
Shepherd notes how RH Hall could see the potential of having a fabrication company in the foodservice sector and acknowledges that although it has a lot of ‘legacy customers’ from MBM, most of what it does is related to the foodservice sector. “We can deliver sub-contract application work for anybody and everybody,” he insists.
“We can do mass production and large volume work, as well as one-off bespoke work as well. We can also do CAD design work, meaning that we offer a complete solution from the design through to tender through to manufacturing, whether it’s by box supply or bespoke solution.”
Since starting as general manager of RH Hall Fabrications, Shepherd has put together a list of 30 ‘to do’ points to help drive the division forward.
One of his top priorities is to develop the supplier into a one-stop-shop, so that customers don’t have to jump around for different services: “They can come to RH Hall for equipment such as microwaves and other products they need in a kitchen, but we can also supply shelving, benches, specific stands, oven stands, prep tables and catering sinks, and much more.
“On the fabrication side we are now stretching ourselves a lot more and, through the training investments we have made, for example, we can now offer plumbing of sinks and waste systems as well as electrical services at the factory so they are ready to go for installation on site.
“We also tap into existing relationships from the foodservice side, giving us access to supply of bespoke counters and extraction systems, via the experts in these fields. This gives us a real breadth of supply that a lot of other companies can’t offer and explains why we are more than just a sheet metal fabricator.”
“It‘s about getting the factory into the mindset of thinking in days rather than weeks”
One challenge a lot of fabricators face is plant capacity and being able to expand. But RH Hall is fortunate that it has enough capacity in the factory to meet the growth objectives it has in place, according to Shepherd. “Even if we were struggling on capacity from a machine tool perspective we have the option of being able to go to further shifts if we needed to,” he insists.
And whereas some fabricators experience frequent bottlenecks in terms of manufacturing, RH Hall’s main challenge is that its design department is very busy and in real demand, says Shepherd. It is currently looking at investing in and deploying new software and re-engineering that part of their business process.
“At the moment we use CNC software programming to do our design for manufacture work, so we intend to move to a more sophisticated system that will improve and speed up this process. That is an investment that we are hoping to make in the next month. Longer term there is potential to replace heavier plant equipment like the laser and add a new press brake to help us cater for growing demand.”
Shepherd regards lead time as his number one indicator of factory output. So, as part of his 30 point plan to increase turnover and revenue, improving this aspect of the operation is right at the top of the list. He says: “We are already making improvements on reducing that from weeks to days. We had one customer recently that required something designed and manufactured from scratch within 48 hours with no flexibility on a deadline of Friday lunchtime and we actually got it to them on the Thursday afternoon.”
“It‘s about getting the factory into the mindset of thinking in days rather than weeks. For non-standard and bespoke items we’ve traditionally worked on a basis of one to four weeks, but we feel that there are instances where it doesn’t have to take that long and as we look to invest in new manufacturing planning systems we will improve the process further.”
Naturally, changing the factory’s mindset involves every member of staff rethinking their work. And although RH Hall has a very experienced team – some of whom have been there for 30 years, it’s investing in this area so that it can adapt to the changing landscape. Shepherd says: “We like to make sure our team is capable of covering various tasks and we are now working with an engineering training provider to deliver Level 2 NVQ on-site training in our factory, meaning it is very specific to the fabrications we do here.
“The idea is to give them enhanced fabrication engineering training that is very specific to this site and the needs of what we have. We are always keen to invest in future staff opportunities too, with apprenticeships being a focus area for the future, following a successful programme at HQ.”
As well as investing in staff training programmes and altering the mindset of the factory to improve lead times, RH Hall has begun working with other businesses to complement its own. It teamed up with Indonesia-based modular system, Simply Stainless, in 2007, and has an exclusive distribution relationship for the UK & Ireland, holding large amounts of stock in the UK. This modular approach dovetails perfectly with its customised fabrication offering, it says.
Adam Hall, bespoke solutions manager at RH Hall, says: “The reason it works well with the factory here is that when I go out to design kitchens for our supply partners, I will design it using 80%-90% of Simply Stainless off-the-shelf modular items and complete the project with any bespoke tabling needed, which is where we can use RH Hall Fabrications. We can build it to the same quality and specification.”
He adds: “We have found that it actually makes a kitchen more cost-effective to install because it is a modular range with a next-day lead time.”
Brexit’s steely outlook
Like all businesses, RH Hall is waiting to see what impact Brexit might have on its long-term business. But for the time being Kevin Shepherd is remaining calm about the effect of the devaluation of the pound. He says: “It is still early days and, as we all know, there has been a big swing. We, like all other companies, are monitoring the situation and will see how things pan out over the coming months.”
As a company that invariably buys large quantities of stainless steel from overseas, you might assume any fluctuations in steel prices would have a considerable knock-on effect for a company like RH Hall. But Shepherd is sceptical that the devaluation of the pound is solely responsible for the price of steel rising at the moment.
“It is price sensitive but it is affected by a lot of factors, such as the price of crude oil, how well the economies are doing and consumer confidence, rather than just because of what has happened post-Brexit.”
“On the fabrication side we are now stretching ourselves a lot more and, through the training investments we have made, We can now offer plumbing of sinks and waste systems as well as electrical services at the factory so they are ready to go for installation on site.”
Regarding steel supply, RH Hall is keeping its options open to remain adaptable to any fluctuations. Shepherd says: “We utilise numerous suppliers to ensure we always purchase at the most competitive price and ensure we carry good levels of stock to avoid any unwanted surprises.
“We will always consider alternative suppliers to ensure we are always getting the most competitive prices. However, building strong relationships with suppliers is very important to us and we are considering dual contract supply as a possibility for the future.”
New investments in equipment, software, training and co-operation with new partners, like Simply Stainless, are all central to the company’s plans to develop. But above all, RH Hall is continually adapting itself to stay ahead of the game and develop its fabrications division, all in an effort to establish itself as a one-stop-shop. By catering for clients’ every need, from design and manufacture all the way to delivery and installation, RH Hall is maximising its potential for growth.
Plug & play simplifies kitchen build work for Pret
With more than 350 stores, Pret A Manger is one of the UK’s biggest lunch chains and is in constant need of modular and fabricated services, for whenever it opens a new site or one requires refurbishment. RH Hall’s Adam Hall explains its relationship with Pret: “They’re very important to us, our relationship stems back over a decade. We work with them closely and react to their needs. They’re very good at forecasting what they need and that allows us to manage products manufactured by Simply Stainless and products manufactured here.
“Everything we supply to Pret is literally plug and play – the plumbing is all push-fit connection so it saves time for the installer and we do all that here in the factory. What’s unique about the Pret equipment is that it’s all been designed in modular sizes, so they have a range of products, which they know will fit, and then they fit it into blocks, which helps reduce installation costs, planning and time,” Hall comments.
RH Hall is keen to impress that the plug and play system works well with Simply Stainless and demonstrates how bigger chains can benefit from modular designs. Hall says: “We also do fabrication for KFC, working in partnership with Lockhart, including handles for their griddles, oil checkers and krush’em drip trays. We also work with Papa John’s for their pizza lines adding bespoke fabrication to their counters.”