BUCKET and coupler manufacturer Miller UK will use savings from the transfer to China of production of its highest-volume coupler models to safeguard production in the UK.
The company hopes the added manufacturing capacity in China will allow it to invest more in research and development in the UK and improve the opportunities for technical innovation.
It claims the first benefits of this approach are due in the next two years.
The company anticipates up to half of mini-excavator sales in some European markets will be fitted with its new mini coupler and bucket range by 2008.
'Since we started producing castings in China we've actually increased our workforce in the UK, ' said Gary Miller, the company's technical director.
Miller's factory in Northumberland will still fabricate low-volume products and special items as well as looking after the company's after-sales business.
Sales and marketing director Jacqui Miller said the move had freed up capacity in the UK to concentrate on technical innovation, which she said was a pre-requisite for success for UK manufacturers. Echoing the sentiments of competition minister Barry Gardiner at the Construction Equipment Association's AGM, she said: 'You either constantly challenge the status quo or you die.' The latest example of this is the company's new mini coupler and bucket range, the result of three years' research and development. As well as a quick coupler, the range comprises four specific task buckets, two based on the company's innovative Scoop design (a trenching bucket and a general digging and loading bucket), a ditch-cleaning bucket and a vertical wall bucket.
According to Ms Miller, the development of the range comes on the back of a two-year deal with Caterpillar to supply quick couplers for its range of mini excavators.
'Caterpillar has given us some very encouraging feedback. Most Caterpillar dealers take these as standard, ' she said.
In addition to the existing arrangement with Caterpillar the coupler and buckets are now available for Takeuchi, Komatsu, Case and Hitachi machines, with more to come.
Mr Miller said: 'Our intention is to supply to the top 10 excavator brands.
The designs are ready to go into volume production and we are in advanced discussions with a lot of vehicle makers.' Ms Miller added she was confident the concept would take off: 'People don't realise what they want until they've used it. It's like the electric light ? until it was invented, most people were happy with lanterns. But there will be no problem selling the concept. It's safer and cleaner to change buckets, and it only takes one m inute not f ive or 10.'