Combining the old with the new is reaping dividends for a Tenbury Wells-based family firm with more than 180 years experience in making instrument faces.

Bedford Dials has tapped into support from supply chain initiative Accelerate and the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) West Midlands to modernise its operations.

The company, which designs, prints and manufactures dials for the aerospace, automotive, engineering, clock and watch industries, has seen its commitment to the latest technology provide immediate cost savings and lead to new orders with several luxury marques and specialist sports car companies.

Managing director Jonathan Rickett said the advice the firm had received had helped it to adopt new strategies.

“I first met Iain Robertson from MAS five years ago and at that stage we were a well run family company, but our traditional markets were changing fast and the time had come for a more strategic approach,” he said.

“Iain immediately understood our plans and pointed out new opportunities and ways that we could improve. Since then, we have worked with him on a number of projects, from ISO 9001 five years ago to product tests with MIRA this year.

“Sometimes he has just been a matchmaker, introducing us to other experts, like Maxine Chapman at Manufacturing Challenge and on other occasions, he has been able to assist with part-funding of development projects,” he added.

The firm’s latest project has involved bringing in Accelerate to help with a new drying line for its screen printing facility.

“The move has catapulted us into a whole new arena,” said Mr Rickett.

Bedford Dials, which started life making dials for steam pressure gauges in 1820, controls the entire manufacturing process in-house – from design, to print, to cutting and forming.

Its expertise spreads across lithographic (used for fine definition images), pad (watch dials and shaped components) and screen printing (graphic panels, overlays and backlit automotive dials).

The company sees particular growth possibilities from the latter.

Following investment in state-of-the-art computer-controlled screen-printing equipment, the company can now print a very precise ink thickness and density.

This is a key attribute for automotive and specialist dials, as it allows accurate control of translucent colours for night illumination.
“With our new-found expertise, we are producing perfect dials for the Rolls Royce Phantom and the new Farbio GTS sports car,” said Mr Rickett, who is the great-grandson of the firm’s founder Alfred Henry Bedford.

“Our technical skills, combined with high quality and unrivalled productivity, has given us the confidence to approach the larger volume car producers in the industry.

In recent months we have quoted for new work, which could almost double our business.

“In the midst of our efforts to be more productive, we were faced with a bottleneck in our drying process. We were still using traditional racks, so we identified the need to invest in a new drying line,” he added. Backed by a £7,000 capital grant from Accelerate, the firm has invested £35,000 in a Thieme Kpx Dryer. This has given it a new competitive advantage and, through the cutting edge technology, it has doubled its capacity, saved 80 per cent on energy costs and reduced its emissions to just 20 per cent of what they were.

Bedford’s 12 members of staff now produce about 35,000 dials each month, from small batches of just ten to runs of several thousand.
“We can cater for bespoke products and large volume orders. We have just produced our largest dial at 1.4 metres diameter for a steel rolling mill in China,” said Mr Rickett.

“The other extreme is that we also make dials just 13 millimetres in diameter for cuff links. About a quarter of our work is now exported to Germany, Holland and even Mexico.”