What’s Behind Castings, Counterweights? Interview with Dominic Connor, Blackwood Engineering Sales Director

What’s Behind Castings, Counterweights? Interview with Dominic Connor, Blackwood Engineering Sales Director

Blackwood Engineering is a supplier of quality castings and counterweights, manufactured in China and India to major customers throughout the world. It was originally founded in 1946 and has a proud history in the casting industry, having formerly been a foundry in the UK for over half a century until 2002. Since 1997 Blackwood Engineering has been producing castings with Chinese foundries and since 2015, due to its continuous growth it has increased its production in India.

Nowadays the company is living a constant and prominent expansion, under the ownership of Paul Connor and thanks to its ambition for future growth and expansion. In this article we had the pleasure to chat with Dominic Connor, Sales Director, in order to discover and better understand Blackwood Engineering mission and production.

Hello Dominic, nice to e-meet you. How many people are working in your company? How is your engineering team composed? 

We have approximately 120 staff across our sites in both the UK & Belgium. We also have a handful of overseas staff who work closely with our partner foundries. Our staff count is continuing to grow rapidly to meet the growing needs of our business and customer base. 

Dominic Connor, Sales Director of Blackwood Engineering 

Can you explain Blackwood core business? What are the main characteristics of Blackwood products? 

Blackwood Engineering is a global supplier of castings and counterweights to industry leading heavy machinery suppliers. 

However, we are not purely just a supplier of these products. We are a total solutions provider and a strategic partner for all our customers with a range of additional facilities and services. 

The Blackwood Way is what defines us and what sets us apart from our competitors. The Blackwood Way is all about providing quality castings to our customers worldwide. It is the added value we bring to the table and stops customers going direct. 

Can you describe the Blackwood key offering to the heavy-duty and construction equipment industries? 

Aside from providing the product itself, our main value-added service to our customers is the level of safety stock that we hold for them at our sites in the UK and Belgium. This allows us to meet short-term demand changes so that our customers can capitalise on short-notice order changes from their customers. Our main internal production process is our gloss painting and we have recently invested further into our gloss painting facilities in the UK and Belgium. 

We provide supply chain management, project engineering and quality support, warehousing, gloss painting and deliver daily on a just-in-time basis in a full range of colours and finishing options, tailored to our customer’s specific needs.

Do you also offer after sales service? 

Yes, our core USPs is the additional range of services we can provide our customers. As mentioned, our main value adding activity is our stockholding plus other SCM and logistic solutions. 

I saw that you have been partnering with China since 1997 and that in 2002 you have even transferred all production there. Can you give us some more information about it? 

We started sourcing from China all the way back in 1997. Our Chinese foundries have been long-standing successful partners and will continue to be in the future. We also began sourcing in India in 2015, India offers a viable long-term alternative manufacturing option. Unfortunately, it became unviable to continue our UK foundry a long time ago.  

Where are your Chinese & Indian foundries based? 

We have a range of partner foundries we work with all throughout China and India. Our customers’ requirements are continuing to evolve, we require a selection of partner foundries with different expertise and capabilities to deliver a quality product. 

How do you manage contacts and relations with China & India? 

We have a growing team on the ground in both China and India who we work closely with. They feed back to us daily and help both manage and develop our strategic partner foundries to ensure we deliver our customers a quality finished product. 

What are the main services you provide to your clients? 

The main service we provide is that we are a global source for castings and counterweights. We work tirelessly with our fully audited partner foundries to alleviate the burden our customers purchasing, and procurement teams go through when looking for supply. We take the difficulties and challenges our customers face onboarding and fully manage the process for them while maintaining a quality product and service level. 

 On top of this we offer a range of value adding activities that are tailored to our customer’s specific needs. 

What kind of machines can use your counterweights and engineered castings? 

The counterweights we produce can be used on a diverse range of machinery including construction equipment, material handling machinery, aerial platforms, forklift, agriculture, and military. 

What are the main differences between iron and steel castings? 

Some materials are more suited for different types of castings (For example Ductile Iron Castings are better suited for structural functions). We produce a large selection of castings including housings, brackets, adaptors, links, levers, hinges, engine mounts, axles and so on. These are built for different types of heavy machinery across many industries each with its own unique requirements. The material for the castings is adapted based on the customers specification. 

What are the main parameters you use to estimate quality? 

We have a strong quality management system in place with the aim of exceeding our customers requirements and specifications. We work tirelessly to provide a wide range of testing on all our products including PPAP and APQP, ISIR and many other analysis based on both our quality specifications and our customers’ requirements. 

How did the Covid-19 Pandemic affect your business? What have been the main challenges over the past 2 years? And what is the situation now? 

There was of course a very challenging period in the early days of the pandemic as orders came to a standstill for a couple of months. But thankfully since the fourth quarter of last year, the demand has bounced back well and has since been much stronger than anticipated. Going forward, the market demand looks to be very strong and next year is projected to see further increases so it’s positive news and there are lots of new projects to be excited about also.  

And what about the row materials shortage? How can Blackwood be successful in this kind of logistic challenge?  

The main challenges we have faced this year in terms of unprecedented shipping costs and congestion will continue for the foreseeable future. Rising commodity costs this year have also driven up the cost of our products and we are working hard to manage this as best we can. Despite the challenges, we continue to invest in our business from a facilities and people perspective as we continue to build for the future. 

Why should manufactures prefer Blackwood as a supplier? And how does it work when a new client comes and asks for an iron casting? 

Our focus is on ensuring the highest level of service and reliability to provide long term mutually beneficial partnerships with our customers. As discussed previously we are more than just a supplier, we help our customers with a range of SCM, Logistics, Quality, Finishing & Warehousing options tailored to their specific needs. 

We work with some of the industry’s largest brands and our team are hugely experienced onboarding new customers and new products. 

We work closely with any prospective customer to first and foremost assess feasibility. If the product is feasible and we can produce it our team work to identify the most suitable partner foundry to produce this product on-time and on budget.  

Last but not least, what are you planning for next year? 

Despite the challenges we have faced we are still a growing business. There has been a significant investment in our people and developing them. The businesses sites are also growing with a brand-new five-acre site located in Blaina, South Wales. We have also invested heavily in existing sites in Aberbeeg, South Wales and Dilsen-Stokkem, Belgium.  

Our customers are constantly looking for ways to improve the machines, from both a performance and aesthetic standpoint. Counterweights have become a lot more complex over the years and now involve more intricate styling to reflect the modern look of the machines that the OEM’s produce. The counterweight function has evolved from being a basic ballast to now often being part an important part of the chassis and overall modelling of the machine. We want to continue developing our products and services to help our customers build the machines of tomorrow.