Thursday, May 30, 2002, 00:00 by Fiona Galea Debono
Dowty Automotive (Malta) Ltd yesterday inaugurated a new factory, Business Brakes Unit, and gave a gentle reminder about the need for high standards, pointing out that there were other countries where the investment could be made.
The parent company`s investment could not be taken for granted, operations director Marc Butler said, appealing to the management, employees and trade unions to “embrace change and work together”.
The prime minister presided over the inauguration ceremony at the Hal Far factory, the first of seven O ring manufacturing units to be built there by the end of next year.
Since 1998, Dowty has increased its investment to some Lm2 million per year.
Over the next two years, it is planning a further investment of Lm5 million for the creation of new “world-class” facilities at Hal Far.
The Business Brakes Unit employs 116 workers and produces 4.5 million premium O rings per week for automotive brake applications. Its opening marked a major milestone in the company`s restructuring plans, which have been supported by the Malta Development Corporation.
The MDC has been working hand in hand with Dowty and, in addition to an investment of Lm3.5 million in the building project, it has spent Lm140,000 on the customisation of the unit to meet Dowty`s needs.
Dowty invested Lm1 million on further improvements to the facilities, new equipment and technology at the new unit.
The company is also opening a Lm1 million mixing facility at Marsa to produce rubber compound not only for the Malta operations, but also to sister plants in Mexico, Brazil, Sweden and the UK.
Extensive research and development facilities are also being incorporated in the Marsa facility, which is intended to work closely with customers on new projects and ensure that Malta is at the forefront of any technological developments.
Through its restructuring, Dowty O Rings is leaving its old premises in Mriehel by the end of 2003, during which time it is moving into seven purpose-built manufacturing units, each serving a different market sector.
“The move from a more traditional, departmental, or function-based organisation to several, smaller, autonomous, process-based organisations would allow for a much leaner, more flexible environment, which is expected to improve Dowty`s quality, cost and delivery performance,” Smiths Sealing Solutions group managing director John Langston said.
The company has secured a new Lm500,000 contract with Bosch in the US for the supply of O rings for brakes systems from September, he said.
The opening of the new facility marked a significant step towards a change in the company`s manufacturing philosophy, working practices and conditions that would help the Malta operations achieve world-class performance.
With a production area covering 1,400 square metres, the new factory has been designed to the latest European standards. It is environment-friendly in that an `air scrubber` cleans any emissions before their release into the atmosphere. A water recycling plant and a water reservoir, with a capacity of one million litres, rendering the factory self-sufficient and easing the burden on the national water supply, have also been installed.
Dr Fenech Adami, accompanied by Economic Services Minister Josef Bonnici, praised the ability of the Maltese employees and the fact that, despite strong competition and globalisation, Malta still managed to attract substantial foreign investment.
The company was looking to expand in other countries, but had chosen Malta – visible proof of the government`s efforts.
Mr Butler said the company`s restructuring was vital to Dowty Malta`s short-term survival and long-term competitiveness. While expressing his confidence in Maltese employees, he said the investment of the parent company, Smiths Group, could not be taken for granted.
If Malta did not perform to world-class levels, the parent company could easily change its global O ring manufacturing strategy and invest the money in one of its sister companies in Mexico, Brazil, Poland, or the Czech Republic, he said.
Dowty Automotive (Malta) Ltd was set up in 1961 to produce elastometric O rings. In Malta alone, Dowty O Rings employs 860 workers, with an annual turnover of Lm20 million.