Teesside-based first tier supplier gives an insight into the current automotive climate and the challenges moving to an EV future

Automotive first tier supplier Elring Klinger (Great Britain) Ltd. (EKGB) has been firmly rooted in its home town of Redcar in Teesside for over 30 years. The German-headquartered automotive supplier is a global player specialising in e-mobility, lightweight solutions, sealing and shielding technology, and tooling.

General Manager at the UK facility, Stephen Braithwaite, talks to the NEAA about the plants main challenges, what the future holds for the business in the EV supply chain and how it has benefited from being a part of the NEAA cluster.

Can you tell us more about EKGB and how you support the automotive sector?

Our plant on Kirkleatham Business Park in Redcar employs around 180 people. The main focus of our business is around the design and manufacture of speciality gaskets from both soft and hard materials. We also produce sealing solutions for engine, transmission and exhaust applications, as well as producing heat shields both for engine bay and under body. The key processes we use are stamping, forming and assembly.

Our main customers are Ford, JLR, BMW and Perkins and we supply parts to both OEMs and the aftermarket. We are also able to offer rapid prototyping for our customers.

Although you’ve worked at EKGB for 18 years, you have been in the role of General Manager since June 2022, in which a number of sector challenges have been faced; how have you found the role and these associated challenges?

Becoming the GM at EKGB was a bit of a surprise move for me. I didn’t expect the opportunity to come up and it was not something that I was actually moving toward. However, when the previous GM was asked to go and work on one of our sister plants in the USA, I took the opportunity.

The requirement to quickly make the change meant that there was no opportunity for a hand over. The time between the job offer to the start date was less than one week, so this was the first challenge for me. I went from being a peer group team member to managing the people that I had worked with for many years. Although you think that you will not change how you are, you have to, and it was quite difficult building that new relationship with them.

The second challenge I faced was that, knowing it would be difficult to recruit many of the skills that we needed, what could we do to retain the people we already had, whilst at the same time keeping within a strict personnel cost budget. I set about looking at areas where we could improve the working environment and commissioned an employee survey to understand how people felt. From this, we have been able to implement policy changes which have been well received by the workforce and which have had minimal additional cost to the business. It’s a cliché to say that our workforce is our most important asset, but this becomes more apparent when there is so much competition for the right people.

What is the biggest challenge facing EKGB today?

The products that we currently manufacture are primarily for internal combustion engines (ICE). This is a problem for us because, as the world transitions to EV, we are seeing significant reductions in our sales forecast. Without EV business to replace the gradual loss of ICE business, this will become an increasing concern for us.

Our HQ in Germany is actively looking at the UK market to determine what EV business can be brought into the plant. The UK is no longer in the EU, making that task more complicated because it limits the scope of any new opportunities to those being generated from within the UK. Any future investment in new technologies will have to be paid for and this will only be made based on a return on any sales that we make. The fewer sales
opportunities, the less chance of any investment being made. However, we are working closely with the Advanced Propulsion Centre to identify potential new technologies where funding could be made available.

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