Braintree, Essex. A relatively contained, tranquil location, not the orthodox locale for a manufacturing base of operations. And yet, one will discover the dedicated, determined efforts of Kemtron’s workers here, in an allotted space, operating machinery and utilising tools to produce bespoke RFI/EMC solutions: in the wake of Industry 4.0 and the age of automation, it’s a refreshing and particular approach to production, conservative by nature but distinctive by contemporary standards.
Before exploring the method of production, what does Kemtron produce in the first place? At face value, Kemtron specialises in shielding and sealing against radio frequency and electromagnetic interference. With society’s focused push towards increased connectivity – data streams carry huge amounts of information at any one time – and everyday items entertaining further electronic input, the threat of interference is very present: so too are the solutions that Kemtron is offering, producing large quantities (from one to 10,000) of up to 200 different components a week to counteract this concern. From conductive elastomers and adhesives, to silicone o’rings produced en masse, each is lined to resist various levels of interference in a number of harsh environments – nuclear, biological, chemical, among others – for use within sectors ranging from aerospace and defence, to telecommunications and transportation.
With their portfolio and approach portrayed here, why does Kemtron’s hands-on approach fascinate, and why is it of relevance to Electronics? Expanding on previous references, Industry 4.0 is implemented at the many layers of production: design, manufacturing, distribution, digital streams of information run through these respective areas like a rejuvenating river.
So, why would a company such as Kemtron work a little differently, setting its own course towards success? The key word headlines the article: ‘bespoke’. At this stage of repetitive programming, conceiving of products based off of digital templates, Kemtron looks to shield its own production line with a particularity that makes each gasket, wired mesh and conductive materials unique to its customer. As companies face the threat of obsolescence due to the prompter turnaround of products, this approach ensures individuality.
That’s not to say that machines and automated processes are not key. For example, the intricacy of knitting the wired mesh would prove a challenge for even the most dexterous of fingertips: to produce such a product to an allotted delivery date, it requires speed and guarantee. So, Kemtron employs the use of six self-built and two Tritex machines that knit the mesh – in Monel, stainless steel, aluminium and tin-plated copper clad steel types – to the specifications provided by the customer. To produce it at the continuous lengths outlined, can only be achieved through these automated means.
However, these machines require operators and, in many of Kemtron’s products’ cases, necessitate a finer, human touch to finish the product off. An eye-catching case is that of the flat gasket: silicone rubber materials, some cut using computer-controlled oscillating knife cutting machines, others by rule dies, painstakingly measured and arranged once set. The rule dies themselves are designed to the customer’s needs on site: this ensures as accurate of a cut as possible, tailoring each gasket to its application. It is important to remember that qualified individuals perform the productive routines and complicated processes that make up the various conductive materials, and the dies used to cut these materials into their respective gasket: attention to detail is key.
So much so, Kemtron have an on-site workshop for fashioning their own tools and jigs, relevant to producing the components to the specified measurements. It’s one thing to create on a mass scale to a pre-established set of instructions: Kemtron seeks to set itself apart by forming a product from a self-made set of instruments. As code has become a second language, it’s noticeable to see the physical playing its part in producing parts.
It’s details like this that suggest that the days of crafted manufacturing are not over. Of course, Industry 4.0 is a significant step forward: IoT will continue to loom over like an imposing cloud, to use an appropriate metaphor. And yet, companies like Kemtron remain true to their values: bespoke products, made with the help of automated assistants, not by. Kemtron’s staff’s presence is known in the building, their part to play principal: customers, when ordering their desired gasket or elastomer, should know that it’s origin is an original one.
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