Specialist fastener manufacturing 16 June 2020

With a history that can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century in Atherton – the former northern bolt manufacturing centre of the UK – Smith Bullough manufactures standard and special hot forged and cold formed bolts, set screws, and industrial fasteners, in both metric and imperial.

Originally formed as a result of a 1995 merger between two of the UK’s oldest and most established fastener manufacturing companies – Bullough Fasteners and Thomas Smith & Sons (Atherton), Smith Bullough combines more than 150 years of experience in the manufacture and distribution of industrial fasteners.

Since 2006, Smith Bullough has been located in Hindley Green, Greater Manchester. “As a UK manufacturer of special parts, with in-house tooling capability, we are able to supply and develop parts quickly and in joint collaboration with stockholders and their end user customers if required,” explains Tim Garton, managing director at Smith Bullough. “That is why we are always encouraging customers to come and visit our site, so they can understand all aspects of the development and the processes involved in our production.”

“We believe that customers who understand the products they sell are more likely to be successful. Knowing how nuts and bolts are made and where they can be efficiently, effectively and safely used, is a big challenge for the fastener industry. Whether you are a big or small player – you need to understand your products in order to be profitable. This can also help when it comes to innovation and understanding the different applications the products can be used in.”

Immense product and machining capabilities
Smith Bullough manufactures a vast range of non-standard and special parts, including special nuts, bolts, studs, etc, in all types of steel from Grade 4.6 to 12.9 or even higher. Other materials also include stainless to A4/80, exotics, and titanium. Recently, the company also introduced bar fed machinery to expand its manufacturing capabilities and to make it more competitive in the production of non-standard studs.

The company’s extensive manufacturing capabilities include forging, machined and rolled threads, CNC and conventional turning, milling, grinding, drilling, broaching and in-house tool and jig manufacture. Heat treatment and surface coatings are also available using approved subcontract specialists.

Recent additions to the manufacturing process include an increase of the forging length to 750mm long, and the addition of bar fed machining, as well as internal broaching to form hexagon sockets in steel and stainless. A drilling section has also been recently created, with a pool of custom-made jigs, to enable hole drilling through the shank and head as required. “In exceptional circumstances we have even drilled very small 1mm diameter holes, which is a great achievement through hardened steel,” proudly states Tim. “Within the drilling section there is also the Wedgelok threadlocking production, which offers effective anti-loosening properties compared to the commonly used thread coating chemicals.”

Alongside its extensive stock range, Smith Bullough also holds in stock high volumes of cold formed and hot forged blanks to ensure a rapid turnaround. The company’s induction heated hot forging unit is geared towards an equally rapid response to the requirements and specifications of its customers. “Working together with our customers is so important. We’ve found that one of our biggest challenges within the global marketplace is educating our customer base on our capabilities. We have a unique manufacturing capability and range – far more than just BSF/BSW thread form parts,” comments Tim.

Business development
One of the biggest challenges for Smith Bullough, and the market in general, is the situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. “At Smith Bullough we are following the UK Government’s guidelines and social distancing requirements, but we are still operating,” states Tim. “We have forging capability and have been busy innovating and producing parts for use in key industries.”

Innovation is critical for Smith Bullough, as it enables the business to continue to improve and offer new products and services to customers. “We are continually looking for improvements, however small they may appear at the time. R&D can originate from ideas generated from our teams – from machine operators to sales people looking to solve a customer’s requirements,” points out Tim. “These R&D concepts are discussed internally and then escalated within the business. Sometimes we need to invest time on a production machine or capital expenditure is needed, but as a small privately owned company, decisions can be made very quickly.”

Tim believes that innovation will continue to create opportunities in the future. Especially when it comes to digitisation in the manufacturing process. “Digitisation will undoubtedly have an impact on the manufacturing process by improving production processes and the efficiency throughout the production cycle,” explains Tim. “Any efficiency gained will be key to us continuing to supply our products on time and at a competitive price.”

With this in mind, Smith Bullough has recently implemented a route tracking system, which allows the company to create barcodes for all jobs and then capture data at strategically located recording stations throughout the manufacturing process. This provides easily tracked parts within the factory and enables customers to obtain on time delivery and measure efficiency, productivity and cost allocation.

“To further develop this, we are very interested in capturing dimensional measurements at point of production and allowing ‘real time’ analysis for a single or group of machines. This is a digitisation process that we want to develop in the future. As a manufacturer of non-standards and specials, we are interested in the opportunities that 3D printing offers and we have also linked with a local university who has expertise in additive manufacturing,” concludes Tim.

Claire Aldridge Deputy Editor t: +44 (0) 1727 743 889

Having spent a decade in the fastener industry experiencing every facet – from steel mills, fastener manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, as well as machinery builders and plating + coating companies, Claire has developed an in-depth knowledge of all things fasteners.

Alongside visiting numerous companies, exhibitions and conferences around the world, Claire has also interviewed high profile figures – focusing on key topics impacting the sector and making sure readers stay up to date with the latest developments within the industry.