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Ballantines: Digitising 200 Years of History

Douglas Cameron

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In today’s digital era, manufacturing, engineering and traditional craft skills can sometimes be considered ‘old-school’, a legacy of the UK’s by-gone industrial heritage.

It seems like every article that you read on digital transformation prophesies the extinction of these traditional enterprises, warning them in no certain terms to ‘adapt or die’. This message is not without its merits; there is very compelling evidence to support the fact that technological disruption threatens to displace some of these industries. But the industrial stalwarts that have survived for centuries have as much to gain from digital opportunities as they have to fear.

Whilst some traditional business may be guilty of failing to evolve, there are others who do not plan to sit idly by and watch their legacy disintegrate. We don’t hear enough about these businesses and that’s why I think it’s important to share a success story when we see it.

Having been around since the 1820’s, Ballantine Castings are one of the very few remaining operational iron foundries in the UK that can rightly claim to have helped shape the world we live in today. Based in central Scotland, the foundry has flourished, delivering projects across the UK and beyond including Scandinavia, India and the USA. In more recent years Ballantine’s have embraced digital as a vehicle to take the business even further and deliver positive change for their customers and the company itself.

With a back catalogue of over 250,000 ornamental patterns and countless individual product variants, Ballantine’s required a solution that permitted them to show existing clients, designers and specifiers – and potentially to a much wider global client base, their vast array of high-quality products.

After weeks of photographing key products and careful design, layout and artworking, Ballantine’s now have an 84-page interactive online catalogue containing detailed illustrations and specifications for their most popular patterns. Customers can navigate and interact with the catalogue which is split into seven sections covering everything from street furniture and ventilation grilles to stair & balustrade castings. The new catalogue, which is also available to download, offers both commercial and private customers online access and insight into what is probably one of the largest architectural cast iron pattern archives in the world.

The success of the interactive catalogue was clear to see: within the first week of launch, Ballantine’s received a 300% uptake in the number of enquiries, with orders being placed by both new and existing clients from here in the UK and around the world.

With the UK manufacturing sector making up 10% of UK GVA and around 45% of UK exports in 2016/17 according to figures released by ONS and EEF, the need for UK producers to have a strong digital expression of their products becomes all the more obvious. Some traditional skills-based manufacturers might potentially find many of the deeper concepts set out in the Institute for Manufacturing’s April 2017 report on digital transformation rather esoteric. However, tangible returns are within the reach of many UK-based manufacturers by taking much simpler steps – by digitising and publishing their product inventory, and in due course linking this to e-commence fulfillment, and real-time scheduling tools.

There is an old saying within the Ballantine’s foundry, that in any British city you’re probably never more than 100 metres away from a casting produced by Ballantine Castings. With the launch of the new online Ballantine’s product catalogue and the UKs exchange rate presently making Ballantine Castings’ high-quality products even more attractive to global customers, the same might well be able to be said in many more towns and cities throughout the world.

Douglas Cameron

Managing Director - Eden Consultancy Group

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