Axiom GB is renowned for its tailored automated solutions for warehouses and production lines. It has a wealth of experience in delivering successful installations across the UK and Europe including industrial sortation, conveyors and automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS).
With its headquarters and manufacturing facility in Tamworth and a new mechanical design centre in Scotland, Axiom is a family-owned business, formed in 1999 by John Nickson and his two sons, Matthew and Andrew.
The company’s strength is the development and installation of bespoke mechanical handling solutions for customers in a spread of industries, based on its wide range of standard equipment. An important area within their portfolio is sortation: Axiom designs and manufactures its own range of sorters, and is a specialist in this area.
The sole UK company to manufacture sliding shoe sortation systems, which are vitally important in home shopping and e-commerce, Axiom has recently launched a pioneering new machine, the Axiom SS4. Its innovative design makes the machine extremely cost effective, offering a saving of at least 70% on a cross belt equivalent. Matthew Nickson spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – Matthew, to set the scene, what’s your role in Axiom GB?
I’m a director and co-owner of the business. I look after sales, systems design and development, and software.
WLN – Do you get personally involved in working with clients and developing tailored solutions for them?
Yes, very much so. I’m very hands on.
WLN – Who else is in the Axiom senior management team?
The other two directors are John, my dad, who leads the mechanical engineering side, and my brother Andrew, who heads up customer service, project management and everything else.
WLN – How are you organised to service customers’ needs, in terms of field sales and so on?
We have a sales team and, on certain projects, we work with consultants. Supporting this we have an internal team responsible for customer service. Everyone in the business, however, is involved in customer service to some degree – it’s the most important thing to us and we take it very seriously.
WLN – What has 2011 been like for you as a business?
WLN – How big is Axiom GB in terms of turnover and employees? How fast are you growing?
Our turnover is £1.5 million, and we have 10 full time technical employees. The focus of our business is our technical expertise – unlike many people in the industry we don’t outsource anything technical, all our intellectual property is developed in-house. Our growth is consistent and stable.
WLN – Where do you carry out your fabrication?
We use local fabricators: our main fabrication partner is in Tamworth, near our offices. All parts come to our premises for final assembly, testing and packing.
WLN – Which other countries do you operate in besides the UK?
We have clients across Europe and the USA, all of which we manage from Tamworth. Everything is looked after from the UK and built here, then shipped out and installed.
WLN – How are you set up to meet the needs of your customers overseas – do you have local agents in these places?
We don’t have any local agents – people contact us direct via the Internet or phone. Alternatively, a company’s head office in the UK wants something done overseas, or word gets round as people we’ve worked with change jobs.
WLN – What about providing overseas support?
We offer 24/7 support via VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), on site cameras and so on. Any problems that arise tend to be about software and ‘wrong data,’ rather than mechanical failure.
WLN – What proportion of your business is outside the UK? Is this share growing?
For the last five years it’s held steady with half of our business coming from overseas.
WLN – What effect have the recent financial problems in Europe had on your business?
I’m pleased to say, they’ve had no effect. Our flow of contracts has remained consistent, and Europeans have carried on investing in these systems, just as in Britain. Our typical contract value is £300,000, and people are still committing to these levels of expenditure through the hard times, providing there is a fast payback.
WLN – Which industry sectors are your clients in?
WLN – What is your specific proposition for the Warehouse & Logistics sector?
We can help any company that operates a warehouse and distribution centre to improve its productivity through automation of its mechanical handling systems. Our ASRS (Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems) and sortation equipment speeds up the picking and dispatch processes, whilst our conveyors and labelling machines improve productivity, accuracy and reliability of dispatch operations.
WLN – What difference does your being a British company make to your UK clients?
I don’t think being British-owned necessarily makes a difference, but if you can sit in front of a client and offer local support, as we do, instead of just referring them to an English language call centre, that often helps clinch the order. In our experience we are favoured over our competitors because our staff are technically capable individuals, and don’t need to go away and find the answers to questions.
WLN – Do you have any strategic partnerships with other automated handling companies? Do you ever work with them as joint partners on major projects?
We don’t have any formal commercial partnerships, but we do work with other integrators as appropriate.
WLN – There are many different companies out there in the industrial sortation and materials handling market. What sets you apart?
It all comes down to our philosophy, which is to use our standard range of components to build turnkey solutions. Whilst it is not always possible to build sortation solutions from our ‘standard’ products, we have the knowledge and expertise in mechanical handling to enable us to tailor-make solutions to match customers’ exact specifications.
WLN – Can you talk us through the different products in your portfolio?
The products we supply for a specific client’s solution may include sorters, conveyors, scanners, labelling machines and software to control everything. The key products in these categories are sorters and conveyors, especially our new SS4 sliding shoe sorter.
WLN – Do you sell standard items within your portfolio ‘off the shelf’, if people want them?
We can and do provide individual items, but we’re not in the business of, for instance, selling small sections of conveyor – we’re more about designing and developing completely automated mechanical handling systems from start to finish, based on our standard kit.
WLN – Your new Axiom SS4 sliding shoe sorter sounds like it is going to have a major impact on the materials handling industry. Can you tell us about it?
The SS4 is a powerful sliding shoe sorter. It is a very cost effective sortation solution which features 4″ aluminium slats, making it capable of achieving high throughput rates of up to 120m/minute, even with very small products. It is a very cost effective sortation solution.
It is especially valuable for gentle handling of fragile goods, particularly hardback books. Built to a high standard of engineering, the robust SS4 offers years of trouble-free operation. It can be configured for either single sided or dual-sided sort applications, with divert angles that can vary from 20 to 35 degrees. The sorter also features many integral safety features which if necessary halt the machine immediately.
WLN – What orders have you had so far for the SS4?
The first machine has already been delivered to DDC, a distributing division of leading book publisher, RTC of Romania. We have recently installed the sorter into DDC, together with two labelling machines, a combination which has transformed the company’s working practices, enabling high speed sorting of books. We’re currently busy quoting for orders for SS4 in the UK and overseas.
WLN – Can you talk us through some of the major turnkey projects you’ve carried out over the years?
We’ve provided pop-up roller sorters for Game stores in the UK and Spain, which were milestone projects for us. We’ve also supplied the SS4 to DDC, as mentioned.
WLN – Do you have ‘pilot’ sites people can visit to see your kit in operation?
Every past customer is more than happy to let potential customers see their system working.
WLN – You’ve recently opened a new mechanical design centre in Scotland. Why did you open it there, not Tamworth?
Our mechanical design centre is in a village called Thornhill, near Dumfries. Dad retired up there, and was working from home: we wanted to expand our mechanical engineering side and wanted people to work with him. We have a full design office capability, with 3D modelling and CAD facilities.
WLN – You’ve also launched a new website in the last few months. Can you talk us through what’s on it?
The focus of www.axiomgb.com is on simplicity and getting customers interested. It contains information about sorters, pop-up roller sorters, sliding shoe sorters and so on – everything we offer either as a system or component. There is a section on our system design work and design capability, plus a video library with YouTube links, and a large collection of case studies.
WLN – Do you provide quotations on line?
We don’t, and to be honest we don’t intend to either. There’s a section on the home page of the website and every other page that says ‘Need Technical Advice?’ and leads to an email request form. We respond as fast as possible, and generally get in contact within one working day.
The new site was designed by Leapfrog Marketing, our marketing agency, who took our existing website and made it smarter. We called them in because we’ve had 12/13 years of doing projects and not telling people about them. What we’re doing is unique to us, and now we’re putting the message across.
WLN – What size of customers do you work with?
Our customers vary from businesses with a £20m turnover to large corporates.
WLN – What volume and throughput do people’s businesses need to be at to benefit from automated solutions like yours?
There are no hard and fast rules. We provide all the information the customer needs to justify spending the money, but in the end it’s their decision as to whether there is a business case. For example, Healthspan, the mail order vitamins and minerals supplier, were sending out tens of thousands of parcels per week. Royal Mail told them they had to pre-sort them by postcode, and proposed to charge for doing it. We offered Healthspan an automated sorter, which achieved payback within a year and meets Royal Mail-approved sortation standards.
WLN – How scaleable or reconfigurable are your solutions as businesses evolve over time?
In the main our solutions can be expanded quite easily, by adding extra units.
WLN – What kinds of improvements in efficiency and output can people expect with your solutions?
The improvement will vary depending on the previous set up, and what the new equipment is and what clients are looking to do with it. It’s important for the customer to set their goals, but we can definitely help them identify the likely staff levels with the new system in place, which will achieve staff savings and so on.
WLN – Do you carry out user training and servicing? What about providing on site maintenance people?
We provide all training and servicing, and also carry out on site maintenance. The individual need depends on the particular operation and the complexity of the system. For one client we have an engineer on site four days a week. Often we encourage clients to let us install remote cameras, which are really useful for support, zooming in to point at shortfalls and so on.
WLN – Do you look after any sites remotely?
We currently have two customer sites in Romania, which we support from Tamworth, by phone, email, web cam, Skype and so on. We can support a system anywhere in the world in the same way.
WLN – Who do people need to contact if they’re interested in one of your solutions? How quickly can you come back with a quote?
They can contact me either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com), alternatively they can call on 01827 61212. After an initial discussion about their needs, developing a full spec and a quote can take from two to six weeks depending on the complexity of the project. After we agree the spec, from go ahead to installation and go live can take from 12 to 20 weeks.
WLN – Is your equipment modular? Could one of your stock items replace a similar item made by another manufacturer, if part of their system needed replacing?
Yes, they can, and consultancy and remedial work is an important part of our service. For example, we have a customer for whom we’ve replaced two mini loader crane controls with our units, and seen significant operational improvements.
WLN – What are your plans for 2012?
We’re gong to roll out more items of standard equipment that are configurable, and enable us to reduce our turn round time and respond more quickly to orders without burdening the company with a massive workload. As part of this, we’re reviewing a couple of our sorters and standardising the design.
WLN – Finally, where do you see Axiom going from here?
In the future we will be manufacturing our own range of conveyors too and this is an area of the business we will be expanding. I’d like to see us involved in conveyor-based solutions as well as sortation, which will give us a bigger slice of the cake. Our overseas business is good, but we’re equally happy to carry out contracts in the UK.
Axiom GB Ltd
Tel: 01827 61212