It’s spring time for UK manufacturing

Jan 19, 2012 | Springs & shock absorbers

William Hughes, which manufactures springs for automotive, aerospace and general industry, is a family-run firm with an engineering heritage that stretches back over 200 years. Rachael Morling met Emma Burgon, technical director, at the factory in Dorset to find out about its products, target industries and the expertise that has enabled the company to stay in the spring manufacturing market for two centuries

UK manufacturing and engineering is portrayed throughout the news as something which is on a steady decline, and yet it is essential to the economy. As a result, British companies that have not only been in production for many years but are still going strong, are getting harder and harder to find.

The recession of the last couple of years (and, of course, those which have happened before) has done little to appease this, and companies that have survived such hard times sometimes seem to have pulled through and come out the other side stronger than they were before, often as a result of strategic investment and/or adapting theirmanufacturing techniques and skills to serve different industry sectors.

William Hughes is one such company. Based down in Stalbridge in Dorset, the family run firm – Emma Burgon, technical director, works with her father Max Hughes, the managing director – has an engineering heritage that goes back over 200 years. In fact it began in 1790 by supplying springs for stagecoaches, and also became known for piano string production.

The company readily admits that the last recession hit hard, however once the machines were switched back on production quickly picked back up, with turnover increasing rapidly over the last couple of years due to exports and increasing demands from such areas as the automotive industry.

Spring manufacture

Today, the company manufactures precision springs and carries out wire bending and forming for a combination of industries including automotive, aerospace and general industry.

Consistent investment has resulted in a 3000sq m factory which features advanced equipment, including the latest CNC bending and coiling machinery for the production of complex 2D and 3D wire forms, and facilities for the production of compression, tension and torsion springs manufactured from wire in the range of 0.10 to 5mm diameter.

To keep in line with the growing trend in Europe to move manufacturing further East, William Hughes opened a production facility near Plovdiv in Bulgaria in 2004 which mainly carries out wire bending and secondary operations such as pressing, painting, coating and so on. Being a higher skilled process, not much spring manufacture is currently carried out here, although there is a possibility that this could change in the future.

Customised components

Despite being an integral component of most products and machines, springs are one of the lowest cost items, however standard springs are often unfeasible due to the variables and demands placed on them when in use. Custom versions are frequently needed, even though they are one of the last components to be designed in, placing further demands on the spring manufacturer.

To meet these demands, William Hughes is capable of carrying out a rapid design and prototyping service in a range of materials. To then check that the required specifications and manufacturing tolerances are met, the springs can be manufactured and then measured instantly and accurately using the latest camera/PC based measuring system. This machine is used to determine the length, outside diameter, end coil profile, ‘squareness’ and parallelism of the spring when it is ‘stood on its ground end face’.

One industry in which the company has considerable experience is aerospace, and it is an approved supplier to many companies including Honeywell, BAE, Eaton Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Meggitt and M.E.L Aviation. Within this industry, its rapid design and prototyping service is beneficial, as small quantities are often required for test and evaluation before volume production commences after agreement on the final design.

In aerospace, William Hughes’ springs are used in vital items of equipment including oxygen systems, access hatches and the solenoid valves used to control the hydraulic and cabin pressure systems.

To meet the specifications for high temperature performance, many springs for the aerospace industry are manufactured in exotic and expensive materials such as Nimonic, Inconel and Ni-span. Although difficult materials to work with, the company’s range of machinery enables the springs to be produced accurately with minimal wastage. Of further benefit, lubricants and debris from the manufacturing process are removed using such processes as ultrasonic cleaning, before being dispatched to the customer.

The same is true for the automotive industry, where high quality is essential, and there is a zero parts/million reject rate expected. This is a very demanding industry to supply into, and William Hughes’ springs are used throughout the industry.

Continual improvements in production, machinery and technology are helping the company to meet the precise specification of each customer’s individual requirements.

T: 01963 363377


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