Rachael Morling goes behind the scenes at Blue Diamond to find out how the company has gone from a supplier of bearings to a creator of bespoke engineered solutions for OEMs
Blue Diamond is a company that I have featured occasionally in Design Solutions over the years, and I have to admit I tended to associate it with the production of seals. In April last year, for example, Blue Diamond provided a feature on high performance seals that will run faster, use less energy and last longer; and throughout the years we’ve covered similar products and case studies.
It’s not until you actually visit a company, however, and are given a guided tour of the factory, that you can really find out what really goes on behind the scenes.
So, at the beginning of March I made the journey from Kent to Eastleigh, Hampshire, to meet up with Mike Doel, director of Blue Diamond Technologies, and I discovered there’s much more to the company than I (and possibly many Design Solutions readers) realised.
In fact Blue Diamond is more than just a manufacturer and supplier – engineered solutions are its area of expertise.
Meeting OEM requirements
Blue Diamond is part of the Rolwey Group, of which there are three other parts. Blue Diamond designs and supplies metal, plastic and rubber components; PTF Engineering fabricates pipework and steelwork for applications in the petrochemical, oil, gas and water industries; Race-Tec designs, develops and manufactures seals and elastomer products; and Stella-Meta provides solutions for fine filtration applications.
Blue Diamond is the oldest part of the group, having been established in the East Midlands in the 1970s where it purchased products from the Far East (mainly bearings) and sold them into the UK. The managing director realised, however, that to drive business forward, Blue Diamond needed to offer more. At the time many companies were cutting back on resources, so he knew there was a market for providing solutions that would help designers overcome problems and enable them to create the ideal product for their application.
The company therefore started supplying other engineering components as well as providing technical support during the development process. Now, if someone has a mechanical engineering problem, there are the skills and resources available in-house to deliver exactly what is needed to meet the requirements – whether through the use of standard or non-standard products. Someone, for example, may have created a product but it doesn’t exactly meet the design specification – this problem can be solved by the creation of a better and/or more cost effective solution. Other times, someone may get in touch with an idea scribbled on a cigarette packet, Doel comments, giving specialists at the facility the ability to create the ideal solution.
Design and engineering
One area which is thriving at the moment is the automotive industry, and here Blue Diamond is developing parts and producing after-market components such as hub nuts, springs, circlips and seals – in fact motorsport teams including those in Formula One, are using seals from the Race-Tec side of the business.
The company also supplies castings and mouldings in a range of sizes and materials to manufacturers of machinery and equipment. Furthermore, if a customer doesn’t have the expertise or resources to design and engineer a solution themselves, Blue Diamond will assist using CAD packages and FEA (finite element analysis) software to provide a complete design and engineering service. Another benefit is the ability to re-engineer products that don’t meet the design requirements, with one example being a part for a military vehicle which was failing. Here, the part was re-engineered with a form of elastomer that doesn’t tear, solving the problem. In fact the company also has the ability to re-engineer a product even without the original drawings, by using a 3D multi-sensor co-ordinate vision system to ensure all the measurements are taken from the product/component.
Many of the staff working at the facility are highly skilled, with one expert using software to test the loads faced by products designed in rubber, plastics and metals. Here, Msc.Marc software is used – this includes both linear and nonlinear FEA packages used to simulate the response of products under static, dynamic and multi-physics loading scenarios. The company also uses Autodesk Product Design Suite Ultimate 2012 which offers design and visualization tools as well as the ability to test and validate products before they are built. Creating parts in the right grade of materials, designed to withstand the right load, will ensure the product meets application demands and increase its life.
The company still purchases products from the Far East, but once in the UK these are checked rigorously to ensure they are fit for purpose.
Among the instrumentation it uses in-house is a mass spectrometer for analysing the metallurgy of parts, ensuring, for example, that the grade of aluminium specified is actually what was supplied. Previously, such checking would have been outsourced, a process not only expensive but often incurring a delay of several weeks before results became available. The new in-house facility proved highly beneficial, Doel explains, when a product recently started cracking. Previous batches were fine, so the company tested the product and found out that the lead content of the material used for the problem batch was too low. The problem was quickly solved, ensuring the products once again met application demands.
So from its origins as a supplier of bearings, to a creator of bespoke high quality solutions for OEMs and engineers across industries, Blue Diamond is another UK company thriving despite the shaky economy – and proving that the UK is still at the forefront of quality design and manufacture.
Blue Diamond/Rolwey Group
T: 023 8025 8966