More than screws and bolts
17 March 2021
The Swedish company Bulten (The Bolt) was founded already in 1873 and is today operating worldwide with 1,700 employees. The headquarter is located in Gothenburg, Sweden and the company boasts customers such as Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and Ford. Bulten’s offering extends from a wide range of standard products to bespoke fasteners manufactured to the customer’s specific needs. But it is by far much more than a screw and bolt that meets the eye. Constantly reinventing company practice and improving new ways of logistics creates further efficiency and value to the customer. The Link caught up with Simon Lee, VP Material Planning & Logistics to learn a little bit about their history, journey so far and the way forward.
It all started with a bolt factory in Halstahammar just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. Some 150 years later, Bulten has grown into a full-service provider to the automotive industry worldwide, providing all the fasteners used by car companies in the production of vehicles to Europe, China, and Russia and the US. Bulten was first established in the UK in 1983 and was initially based in Helensburgh, just outside Glasgow in Scotland. At that time, the goods were shipped from Sweden into a port in Scunthorpe, northeast of the UK. In 1999, the warehouse in Scunthorpe turned into the operational headquarters/main site/distribution centre in the UK with a turnover of over £8 mn a year. In 2019, Bulten Ltd achieved a turnover of €140 mn. With significant growth over the past 20 years, Bulten has opened a number of local warehouses around the UK with line feed services for automotive customers, as well as sales and engineering teams who manage the relationships with UK based customers.
Initially, the company was only supplying screws and bolts, but in the mid-2000s, Bulten moved into the FSP (full-service provider) business. Rather than just providing their manufactured parts, it started purchasing its components as well. “We have hundreds of suppliers throughout the world, mainly in Europe. But approximately 50% plus of our portfolio is now purchased parts.” As an FSP, Bulten provides all the fasteners used by car companies to produce vehicles, a single-vehicle demands over 2,000 parts, which means a huge supply and a significant milestone for the company.
Keeping things real
Although there are several contributing components to Bulten’s prosperous journey through time, there is a straightforward answer, according to Simon. “We supply to customers’ design. So pretty much every part is unique to that customer.” Understanding the customers’ needs, catering to industry-leading quality performance and not solely striving towards achieving a low price is Bulten’s recipe for success.
Another vital part, shaped by Bulten’s engineering skills, is reviewing and improving the manufacturing process. “We don’t just look at how we can improve our products, but we’re also looking at the whole joint that the bolt is used in. And it may be that we offer a more expensive part, but it gives you a much more efficient way of manufacturing and gives a reduction in the entire manufacturing process cost. So we build a lot of our success on that whilst working with our customers to actually develop new processes and new ways of working.” This is what sets Bulten apart from the competition; providing both inhouse manufacturing and FSP logistic solutions, “the unique selling point” Simon adds.
Although a global footprint, the Swedish philosophy on delivering on agreements and not over-promising runs throughout the organisation. At Bulten, performance speaks for itself. “The Swedish way of developing the company has allowed us to have the time to grow those relationships rather than just chasing growth over and over and overstretching ourselves. And the culture of the company has allowed us to nurture relationships with customers and grow through mutually beneficial relationships.” Simon highlights that the Swedish way of doing things is also Bulten’s way of doing things.
Sustainability is a key driver in the automotive industry at the moment and at the forefront of what Bulten’s strategic planning is trying to achieve. Apart from sustainable products, Bulten has also implemented solar farms at the Scunthorpe warehouse, and at the production unit in Poland. Another vital measure the company is taking is bringing as many processes in-house as possible to reduce the miles travelled by each part. The manufacturing unit in Sweden is run on 100% renewable energy source, making it one of the greenest units and furthers the power generation philosophy in Sweden.
Getting practical, Bulten is focused on CO2 emissions and how they can help their automotive customers to improve. “What they’re being measured on now is the total CO2 emitted during the manufacturing use and scrapping of the vehicles, but also all the parts on those vehicles. So we’re currently launching a product called BUFOe, which is aimed at significantly reducing the CO2 emissions of manufacturing of bolts, so we can reduce the lifetime CO2 emissions of our parts significantly for the customers, which is one of the major issues all automotive manufacturers have at the moment.”
Putting innovation to the test
In the short-run, the two primary logistical challenges clouding the sky for Bulten Ltd are Brexit and Covid. With customs clearance taking longer than normal, Covid testing at the borders and transportation taking its strain on capacity, more questions are asked than answered. But the more prominent and important subject in the long-run is the automotive industry’s adjustments to sustainability. The industry is changing rapidly at the moment and will prove challenging over the years to come. Electrification and reduction of lifecycle emissions are presenting several challenges to the industry. Still, Bulten is concentrating on the opportunities, with a focus on cutting-edge and sustainable solutions. Changing away from combustion engines towards electrification will put innovation to the test as commonly used parts won’t fit in an electric vehicle the same way. Not only will the parts in itself have to change significantly, but also the way Bulten provides them to the market. ”A lot of challenges ahead, but we also see it as opening up new markets and new ways of doing things. So whilst it’s challenging, it’s an exciting time as well.”