Sudbury: Delphi builds on proud history of engineering

Roy Engle, left, training manager,and Eugene Murphy, manager, at Delphi in Sudbury.

Roy Engle, left, training manager,and Eugene Murphy, manager, at Delphi in Sudbury. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Engineering company Delphi Diesel Systems has a proud history as a major employer in Suffolk. Ross Bentley visited the firm’s factory in Sudbury to find out more about its current activities.

In the west Suffolk town of Sudbury engineering firm Delphi Diesel Systems is a cornerstone of the community providing a high number of quality jobs and supporting community projects and events.

This year the company, which is a global market leader in diesel fuel injection systems, celebrates its 50th anniversary since the opening of its current factory site on Newton Road and 70 years since the company - then called Lucas CAV - moved some of its operation to rural Suffolk from Acton in west London to safeguard production during war time.

While the Second World War ended, Delphi stayed in Suffolk and today employs around 850 people - some 700 full-time and a further 150 agency workers who support fluctuations in demand. The firm is Sudbury’s biggest employer and the largest engineering company in Suffolk.

The fuel injectors crafted by Delphi are used in heavy duty vehicles such as lorries and trucks manufactured by firms such as Volvo, DAF and Daimler.

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The company constantly strives to improve the efficiency of its fuel injection systems and reduce diesel emissions, and much of this is driven by legislation. And as each iteration of injector is developed, so the company has to invest millions of pounds in the equipment and machinery to make the components.

Talking to some of the employees at Delphi, visitors soon become aware of the extremely high level of engineering precision and innovation that the staff work at.

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“It’s pretty challenging – it used to be the case that we built fuel injectors that met the emissions as the vehicle left the factory but now, the expectation is that fuel injection systems will meet the current legislation for the lifetime of the vehicle – the goalposts have changed,” says Eugene Murphy, lean manager at the Sudbury site.

And the advancements that have been made in the past 30 years show just now far the technology has come.

Eugene adds: “In legacy products, fuel was being injected at 400 bar pressure, but today we are working at producing nozzles that are injecting fuel through 0.1mm holes at 2500 bar. It’s incredible really just when you think we are working at the edge of what’s possible, new improvements are made.”

The fuel injectors operate at such high pressures that traditional metals are unsuitable for this application and Delphi has developed alternative alloys to withstand these pressures.

It’s clear the company is at the leading edge of its field and, as a consequence, guards its trade secrets carefully. During our visit, we were asked not to take any photographs of the main production floor while security is also tight at the entrance of the building.

With such high levels of expertise at the company, Delphi works hard to ensure this know-how is passed on and has one the most respected apprenticeship programmes in the area. Eugene himself started out as an apprentice with the company 29 years ago.

“We have an ageing workforce and apprenticeships are a great way of passing on all that latent knowledge to the next generation,” says training manager Roy Engle. “This year we took on eight apprentices who, as well as learning skills on the job, will study engineering at West Suffolk College working towards qualifications ranging from Btec to full degree. In total the company has 27 apprentices at different stages of their training.”

“With a subject like mechanical engineering, apprenticeships are the only way to gain a full understanding of engineering while we also pay for apprentices to study at West Suffolk College. The apprenticeship they gained at Delphi is recognised by The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, IMechE - it’s an industry-wide standard that is recognised throughout the world and provides our apprentices with recognition and support throughout their apprenticeship.”

Most people choose to stay in Sudbury and at Delphi, and I met several people with over 25 year’s experience at the firm.

But, despite its good reputation as an employer, the company doesn’t just wait for people to come to it. It is also proactive and attends career fairs and is heavily involved in Suffolk County Council’s education initiative, Raising the Bar, where representatives from Delphi have gone out to schools and colleges to talk about the benefits of apprenticeships and the importance of studying science, technology, engineering and maths.

Delphi Sudbury Apprentices have been recognised this year receiving prestigious awards. Amy Barr, 2nd year apprentice, was awarded best academic student on the Mechanical Engineering BTEC Level 3 at the West Suffolk College ceremony on June 30 at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, for obtaining distinctions in every subject over the last 2 years. And Dan Swain, 4th year apprentice, was awarded The Advanced Apprentice of the Year 2014 at the Central & Eastern ceremony on 4th September at The Cambridge Belfry. Dan has now been nominated for The National Advanced Apprentice of the Year 2014 at the national ceremony which is to be held at the NEC Birmingham in November.

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