Evolving from a husband and wife ‘start-up’ company to the UK’s leading manufacturer of towbars, the 30-year journey to success for Warwickshire-based Tow-Trust Towbars
has been built upon an ethos of providing products of unparalleled quality at competitive prices. Starting with little more than a small ambition and tremendous drive, Ian and Elaine Miller grew the business from a small single unit in Atherstone to a 60,000ft2
site – and the company is now being taken forward by their sons and fellow directors Tom and Alan Miller.
Since it was founded in 1991, Tow-Trust Towbars has grown rapidly in terms of staff, product lines, components, and market share. The manufacturer now employs 86 staff and produces towbars for all leading vehicle and motorhome brands with an accessory list that encompasses everything from spacers and steps to height couplings, adaptors, connectors, bumper protectors, chassis extensions, tow balls and socket plates. With a continually expanding business and a position as the UK’s marque towbar manufacturer, the company has invested heavily in the latest technology and automation – of which Bystronic machines feature heavily, supplied by Coventry-based Bystronic UK Ltd
Tow-Trust Towbars’ CEO Tom Miller said: “We manufacture over 3,000 part numbers and ship hundreds of thousands of units every year. The manufacturing process starts at two different times, we have the hollow stock section and the sheet steel divisions. The sheet steel division runs the very latest in technology with laser cutting and automation. From here, we pass the products through press braking and welding sections to the ‘work-in-progress’ holding area.”
The sheet steel division features three Bystronic press brakes the Xpert 40, Xpert 80 and Xpert 200 all lined up next to a Bystronic ByStar fibre laser. Adjacent to them is another ByStar fibre laser which is continually processing sheet steel credit to the Bystronic ByTrans 3015 Extended automated sheet-metal loading facility that minimises operator intervention.
The company also has a ‘hollow section’ division. Mr Miller added: “This department runs the latest technology as well. Here, we have an automated Bystronic ByTube 130 for cutting round and square tube material stock and alongside this is a custom-built AMOB CH120 semi-automated machine for tube bending. This gives us complete control over our product, which is essential as we work to very tight tolerances and we require the ultimate in quality.” High-volume production
“When all the products have passed through our manufacturing phase, components are moved to the work-in-progress area. Here, we construct sub-assemblies and undertake our quality control process. This feeds our welding shop where we have 10 manual welding bays for small intricate parts and low-volume production parts. We also have four robotic bays for high-volume production.”
Above the production shopfloor resides the Design Centre and Test Division, it is here that the Tow-Trust team works closely with customers, vehicle manufacturers and its network of national dealers. Mr Miller continued: “Our in-house design team will always start by applying for the vehicle mounting point data from the vehicle manufacturer. Once we have this, we have the criteria to design and manufacture a product. From here, we will design a specimen and run it through FEA at the intended loads to check the product is capable of safely fulfilling its requirements.”
“When this has all been completed, we will fully check the manufacturing process through the Bystronic software. When we are happy that we can manufacture the part and that it will achieve its load requirements, we will then make a sample. We will get a vehicle to our facility and check the parameters, and we do this for every vehicle on the road. Once we have met all our stringent manufacturing criteria, we will put the system through its type approval phase. We have a single-axis test machine, which conducts 2 million cycles and we have a Carlos test machine that is a 93hr test – safety is paramount.”
When all the parts have moved through the production cycle, they are then shotblasted, pre-treated and electrophoretic-coated with an industry-leading e-coat finish that has 1,200hr salt spray corrosion performance. Upon completion, the part is then passed to the packing division. Mr Miller explained: “We pass parts down our bespoke automated packing line where we weigh the product, band it, and send it through a heat-shrink tunnel. The parts are then transferred to our warehouse where more than 30,000 items are held in stock at any one time. We have commissioned our in-house warehouse management software to give us complete control of our stock management where we scan all inventory in and out from point-of-sale to goods in the lorry — we are in complete control.”