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Case Study: Inventor-e (iVendScale/iBinScale)

“The MAN Group has become a critical partner for us, from our initial engagement with PP Control & Automation to getting Grove involved in design and adding C-MAC SMT’s electronic expertise to projects. It’s a truly domestic effort in taking UK technology global.”

DEAN HENRY, FOUNDER
INVENTOR-E

Inventor-e is accelerating disruption of inventory management with the help of the Manufacturing Assembly Network, a unique collective of sub-contract manufacturers and a world class engineering design consultancy.

Founded by entrepreneur Dean Henry in 2001, Inventor-e has become a major disruptor in the design, development and manufacture of point-of-use inventory control systems.

These high-tech applications offer connectivity and data distribution solutions that provide remote inventory information services in real time and are used by a host of major global organisations, including Babcock, Boeing, Rexel and Wolseley.

The company, which employs 24 people at its Headquarters in Solihull, has enjoyed significant global success with its inventory management solutions.

This gave it confidence to invest heavily in its R&D operation and a team of technology experts and designers have been creating a suite of new products that has the potential to disrupt the sector even further.

The scenario

One of the biggest challenges for a fast-growing SME technology business is to scale-up quickly enough to meet the opportunity and this is exactly the situation Inventor-e found itself in back in 2019.

The management team had recognised early on that its core strength lay in the design and constant evolution of products and solutions and that the manufacture and assembly of its systems could be outsourced to a partner that shared its vision and values. With this in mind, the company signed a deal with PP Control & Automation to manufacture and assemble SmartStores Secure and iVendCab, which saw the West Midlands-based machine building expert optimise the design for manufacture, taking the products through a UL certification process and creating a dedicated cell that could meet the build requirements of the future.

This relationship has evolved over the last few years, with PP C&A also now responsible for supply chain management, a move that has delivered several operational benefits.

It has also paved the way for the introduction of Inventor-e’s latest products – the iVendScale (a scale-based inventory management vending system providing access and dispensing of products) and iBinScale (a scale-based inventory monitoring solution that offers mobile automated replenishment).

Inventor-e (iVendScale/iBinScale) » Inventor e L2 » PP Control & Automation

The PP C&A and MAN Group solution

The development of any new solution relies on being ‘first to market’ and with it comes a lot of pressure and stringent lead times.

PP Control & Automation had proved it could deliver on the manufacturing and was invited to get involved earlier on in the development of the iVendScale and iBinScale.

Engineers at the firm quickly identified the opportunity to introduce fellow Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN) member Grove Design, an experienced engineering design consultancy, to the project to see if it could support prototyping and explore ways where it could make the systems robust whilst keeping the costs competitive.

Austin Owens, Owner of Grove Design, commented: “We reverse engineered the current products and this revealed several design improvements we could make that would improve both the speed of manufacture and the performance of the solutions.

“Inventor-e’s development team were very receptive to the changes we suggested and straight away you could tell an excellent working relationship and a shared understanding of what is involved was forming.

“We have significant experience of working with PP C&A and its production teams and this meant that once the designs were signed-off we could look at the best way of bringing them to life. This included creating new test jigs and assemblies that are now in use in Cheslyn Hay and have been proven to further optimise the manufacture and test process.”

PP Control & Automation has taken on full supply chain management for the iVendScale and iBinScale and, following a constant review of performance and capabilities, has introduced new fabrication partners and C-MAC SMT to satisfy all the Printed Circuit Board Assemblies (PCBA) requirements.

The latter, a specialist in the field of electronics, is also a member of MAN, taking the Group’s involvement in the Inventor-e supply chain to three strategically important partners.

Tony Hague, CEO of PP C&A, went on to add: “Our role is to create the supply chain and the production line to ensure we can scale-up rapidly for Inventor-e’s existing solutions and its increasing range of new products.

“Our mechanical and assembly experience helped us shave days off the lead time on all of the products and, by working together, we have been able to optimise costs through design for manufacture to help the client achieve the elusive ‘price points’ it requires.

“This is a fantastic example of the power of MAN and how the group’s collective engineering expertise can help bring new technology to market quickly and within budget.”

Inventor-e (iVendScale/iBinScale) » PPAutomation Tony Profiles Aug2021 0166 » PP Control & Automation

The results

Inventor-e has just signed-off the first six iVendScale systems destined for Mitsubishi through its distributor Scott Direct and this marks the next stage of the firm’s expansion.

Repeatable quality, lead times and the ability to customise parts of the build have all been achieved by PP Control & Automation, whilst production processes have been honed to ensure optimum efficiencies and the capacity put in place to ramp up volumes to thousands of units per annum.

“We’ve got ambitious plans to increase revenue from £2m to £5m in the next twelve months and the roll-out of iVendScale into its first operational industrial environment is a major milestone for our business,” continued Dean Henry, Founder of Inventor-e.

“Interest in our vending technology is huge and we’ve now signed exclusive partnership deals with Rexel and Wolseley, as well as a working arrangement with Arco. This means volumes could increase rapidly and I’m confident we have the supply chain and manufacturing partners in place to meet this demand when it happens.

“The MAN Group has become a critical partner for us, from our initial engagement with PP Control & Automation to getting Grove involved in design and adding C-MAC SMT’s electronic expertise to projects. It’s a truly domestic effort in taking UK technology global.”

iBinScale will be the next major introduction for Inventor-e and is aiming to meet industry’s desire for mobile automated replenishment.

The solution, which could be ideally suited for aerospace and healthcare, provides an immediate, continual supply of direct or indirect materials at point-of-use, with 24/7 employee access.

It automatically reorders materials as inventory is consumed, with the bins continually weighed and able to be positioned anywhere around the facility.

Dean went on to add: “Accurate inventory allows suppliers to manage the supply chain and prevents costly stock outs, with no need to carry out expensive, time-consuming physical stocktakes…this is very much in demand.

“We have already committed to producing 7500 iBinScales, with the expectation that this will rise to over 50,000 within a couple of years.”

He concluded: “Our North American industrial distributor Fastenal has also placed orders for 12,500, with PP C&A’s expertise in UL standards ensuring our systems are compliant with the required local standards. “If we meet our growth plans, we’ll create a further 20 jobs at Inventor-E and potentially 60 more in the supply chain.”


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