Orson Equipment reflects on success

Orson EquipmentOrson Equipment is a privately-owned, precision engineering business at the heart of the Black Country, at Bilston. It has developed a global reputation for the quality of its automotive components, but especially the wire wheel hub adapters designed and manufactured for the classic car refurbishment market.

Although also a supplier of wire wheels, it is the hubs for which it has rightly gained its reputation for excellence, with chrome plated components gracing top marques, including Jaguar, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Morgan and Daimler. Orson carries stock of most components, fulfilling bulk orders for wholesale customers worldwide, but regularly undertakes the design and manufacture of one-off, specialist pieces for the rarest of vehicles, like Hispano Suizas and 300SL Gullwing Mercedes. There is more interest in classic and vintage cars, with a growing refurbishment market offering growth opportunities for Orson. But to exploit these to their fullest extent requires not just increased production capacity, but reduced lead times for component delivery.

Owner Dave Wood, who previously worked in the aerospace sector, bought the business in 2008 and re-located it into its current Bilston address in February 2015. More space was required, but it was important for the business to stay within the Black Country, given almost all suppliers of services and raw materials to Orson, are found within five miles. Once new premises had been purchased, the business secured grant funding to help with the necessary refurbishment of the property. Installing a new higher capacity electricity supply swallowed a large proportion of the budget, but was critical to the expansion of the machine shop.

Funding from Green Shoots, supporting advanced engineering in the region, enabled a new lathe and mill to be purchased and commissioned in 2017. Since then the company has worked closely with the City Council and other partners in the Black Country Growth Hub. To increase productivity and decrease lead times, the latest Haas CNC lathe and mill were chosen for their ability to turn, thread and mill, cutting hours from the production process. The new machine tools, although specified as replacements for the older machines, have created additional employment opportunities, as the older machines remain in use to help further increase capacity and improve customer service for one-off components. The support provided to the business has been delivered as a result of the ERDF Black Country AIM Programme.

Orson exports components around the world, with many wholesalers ordering in bulk to fill shipping containers with classic car parts to help mitigate the cost of shipping. Dave Wood commented, “We have everything we need right here in the Black Country to create precision engineered components that are exported worldwide and admired for their high quality. It’s a great place to do business.”

Innovation lies at the heart of Orson, with new projects lining the walls of the company’s Bilston design office. Currently the classic car refurbishment market shows little sign of slowing, but Orson Equipment is keen to spread its expertise and high quality manufacturing to wheels, related automotive components and potential new markets entirely.

A problem faced by Orson, like many in the sector, is the much-publicised skills shortage, with few young people in the region choosing precision engineering as a career. Modern apprenticeships are expected to play an increasingly important role in the future success of Orson as the business enters a period of sustained growth.

Although it is great to have a growing list of wholesalers spread around the world, attracting new retail customers direct to Orson’s online shop remains a major challenge to growth and increased profitability.

A settled, highly skilled workforce, quality local supply chain and a growing order book ensures a bright future for this resilient business. Like so many SMEs in the Black Country, Orson Equipment designs and manufactures precision components to a quality that few can match anywhere in the world. It shows what is possible with entrepreneurial spirit, good management, the right support and funding when it counts.

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