Updated: May 11
If you were looking at the impact of Brexit on business in the UK, German company Rösler, and its Knowsley-based subsidiary Rösler UK, offers a textbook case study.
It regularly moves industrial equipment and consumables between mainland Europe and the UK, as well as to the rest of the world, and is a useful bellwether in assessing how difficult or easy it is to operate in a post-Brexit world.
A third generation family business, Rösler can trace its roots back to 1933 when Richard Stephan Rösler founded a porcelain company in Dessendorf. Today it specialises in mass finishing and shot blasting technology, particularly for customers in the automotive, aerospace and medical equipment sectors. The group had a pre-pandemic turnover of around €300m a year.
Mass finishing or shot blasting is an industrial process which focuses on the surface finishing of plastic or metal parts. The aim can be aesthetic, to create a clean and polished exterior, but is also often critical to the safe and efficient working of machinery and components.
Rösler, which has a strong presence in all of Europe and operates across the world, employs ca. 1,800 people in places as far afield as the US, India, China, Brazil and Russia. It manufactures and supplies polishing and blasting equipment. The machinery can be off-the-shelf and also bespoke for the specific requirements of the customer.
In the UK, Rösler also provides a sub-contracting service to all kinds of industries, the majority of which comes from the automotive manufacturing sector. Customers can send their components to the company’s premises in Knowsley to be finished by our in-house experts.
Daniel Tweer is the German-born managing director of Rösler UK. He spent 7 years running the company’s China operation before he and his family relocated to the Liverpool city region in late 2019. He and his family are now settled on Merseyside. He added: “This is a beautiful country and so many people have been so friendly and helpful to us since we arrived.”
He had only been here a few months when ‘business as usual’ went out of the window thanks to the twin arrivals of the new trade agreement between the UK and the EU and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So far, I think, the main impact of Brexit for us has been on the transfer of goods from Europe to the UK,” said Daniel, who manages a team of 30 people in Knowsley, including sales people, admin staff, process development engineers and a team of five service engineers.
“We import most of our machinery from Germany (with specialised systems for the aerospace industry from our branch in France) for our UK and Irish customers and initially we did see significant delays in the movement of our equipment. However, things are improving now and we are steadily getting there.”
Key to navigating this difficult period, explained Daniel, was advanced preparation and the knowledge and experience of Rösler’s team in Germany. He added: “Our team in Germany has a long established process in place for moving equipment all over the world and that really helped us following the trade agreement.
“In addition, we increased our inventory in advance over here in the UK to make sure we had enough stock, in particular in regards to consumables and spares. We also kept in touch with our customers for a long time before Brexit to make sure they were aware of what was happening and what arrangements we had in place. We are not quite there yet but it is improving.”
COVID-19, of course, was an event few outside the world of epidemiology saw coming. Companies had to adapt quickly when lockdowns and restrictions on the movement of people and goods came into force across multiple jurisdictions.
“I think our experience of the pandemic has been similar to that of many businesses across the UK,” said Daniel. “For a period of time we did see our revenues fall quite significantly. The only part of the business that held up during that time was the sub-contracting side.
“We found during the pandemic we had more customers wanting to send their production parts to us to be surface-finished by our own engineers after they had put their own staff on furlough. Despite restrictions now easing we are expecting that trend to continue.
“A number of our staff were also put on furlough although other members of our team, particularly the sub-contracting and sales engineers continued to work full time. We have continued to keep in constant touch with our customers over the past 12 months which enabled us to support our customers as they resume their normal activities.
Daniel says he is “cautious but optimistic” that we as Rösler UK will be back to normal operation by around July.”
And he is more than confident about the future of Rösler UK. “During the quieter time in the pandemic we have been upgrading the equipment we use for our clients in the aerospace sector.
“We also worked on upgrading our quality system and received the AS 9100D certification which allows us to support customers from the aerospace industry specifically with subcontract finishing. That had been quite a significant investment for us. Our customers are now more positive about where they are so I am optimistic about our growth in the coming months.”
He added: “We are now also doing a lot related to 3D printing and finishing 3D printed parts and digitalization of surface finishing processes. I think that will be a big growth area over the next couple of years.
“We recently opened an AM test centre in Knowsley with our own AM Solutions machines and those from our partner companies that are able to treat and finish additive manufactured parts.
“Our customers are now more positive about where they are so I am optimistic about our growth in the coming months and years.”