Forty Years and Four Generations at Cobra Braiding Machinery
by Tim Crighton for WHN
Neil Hyde – President of Cobra Braiding Machinery – tells Wiring Harness News about his company’s success and adaptability in 40 years of manufacturing, and supplying market leading braiding machinery to the wiring harness market.
Cobra Braiding Machinery has developed a strong reputation as a leading manufacturer of braiding machinery for the wiring harness market and is a global supplier.
In fact, 95% of their braiding machines are exported. Orders are shipped to a number of countries worldwide including the United States, Mexico, Europe, Middle East, India, China, Japan and Australia.
Cobra is a family run company and the current President is the fourth generation of the Hyde family to be manufacturing braiding machinery. The first generation had a UK license to manufacture a USA braiding machine from Reading, PA.
Established in 1981, and operating for nearly 40 years, Cobra has been supplying wire harness braiding machines for use in commercial automotive, off-road, emergency, construction, mining and agricultural vehicles, marine engines and aerospace including Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO).
Wiring Harness News caught up with Neil Hyde, President, and quizzed him about his business, his customers and why Cobra has remained successful in the wire harness market.
Wiring Harness News – So Neil, tell our readers a little bit about your company, Cobra Braiding Machinery?
Neil Hyde – We are a family run business and now in our fourth generation of developing, manufacturing and supplying braiding machines. Our machines have continually evolved due to our close relationship with our customers. The decision makers are often engineers, who are either the operators or work closely with their co-worker, so we get excellent detail in our feedback.
WHN – And how is the feedback?
NH – Generally it is very positive I’m pleased to say! These braiding machines are all that we do and they are all built to order, with both standard and customer specification based on a modular system. Our engineers all love the machines and have a superb pride and attention to detail which really helps in what is a competitive market. I’d never say everything is perfect as no business is. Far from it. We listen hard to our customers and do our best to continually evolve our products and our service.
Our biggest strength internally is the processes we follow to ensure that the machines are delivered to specification and right first time.
WHN – At this point, we shouldn’t assume that all of our readers know what a braiding machine is. So what do your machines do?
NH – This depends on the end use application. Typically our machines braid vinyl coated nylon yarns braid materials. The material is packaged on paper or cardboard tubes. The machine then braids the material over wire harnesses. This makes the wire harnesses much more abrasion, chemical and fire resistant, so aiding the mechanical protection of harnesses. Alternatively, in the aerospace market braid is used, as an example, for RF screening or fire resistance with braid materials such as Nomex. Many OEM’s expect wire harnesses to be braided as standard, for longevity and operational benefits such as flexibility in cold temperatures.
Braided wire harnesses last longer in tough outdoor environments. This is one of the reasons why the overall market has grown in recent years.
Most customers use the nylon yarns but some use the metal ones. Our machines can handle both with no problem.
WHN – So what are your key markets?
Our principal market is the wire processing and wire harnessing market. These wire harnesses are used in the commercial automotive, off-road, emergency, construction, mining and agricultural vehicles, marine engines and also aerospace.
When I summarise to people outside of the industry, I simplify our markets as heavy vehicle market – Caterpillar or John Deere as an example – and aerospace. It is broader than that but that’s a good starting point!
WHN – Yes indeed. That’s helpful. So your order book is healthy then?
Very healthy I’m pleased to say and currently by far our biggest challenge. We know that the market for wiring harnesses is very strong at the moment from customer feedback, and also the Milwaukee show, and I know our competitors are also very busy.
Having said that, most of our customers understand the advantage that we have over other braiding machines.
It’s important to have constant dialogue with our customers and then keep them informed of progress throughout the manufacturing process. We are recruiting new staff to help us manufacture more machines. It’s quite a skilled technical job so recruitment of the right people can be a challenge.
It’s a good position and we are working hard to fulfil all our customers’ expectations in a timely manner.
Our customers generally benefit from the increased productivity and quietness of our machines. We get a lot of compliments in the first few months after either upgrading or switching to Cobra. The latest being that ‘the operators argue over who gets to use them’.
WHN – How do you export the machines?
Exporting these machines so they arrive in a timely manner and in top condition is a skill in itself. Experience certainly helps and the devil is in the detail as having a machine turn up late or damaged after what is a meticulous manufacturing process is annoying to say the least! Thankfully it is rare and that is because we plan the exporting carefully and use trusted carriers. Simply put, exporting is via air but using tried and trusted carriers and routes across the world.
The exporting process is all dealt with by our in-house team and not outsourced. This gives us better control and tracking.
WHN – Ok, the killer question. Why do you rate your machines so highly?
NH – I’ll try not to bore you! We believe that they are the most efficient, productive and quietest in the world. They are very fast at braiding, up to 300 horngear rpm per minute, and have reduced downtime over other similar products.
So productivity is a key benefit. All our machines come with 360 degree transparent panels so operators can see exactly what is going on which is a huge plus. Hence our strapline “we’ve got nothing to hide”.
We also get compliments about the quietness of our machines, especially in a world where noise in the workplace has to be at the absolute minimal possible to combat future hearing issues.
Another benefit is that all of our machines can take three different sizes of braiding spools which competitor machines cannot. This is a huge benefit for those companies that require this and a key driver for purchasing decisions for some of our customers.
Whilst carrier configurations can be specified by the customer – 16, 24, 32, 36, 40, 48 and 64 are available as standard. Enclosed Guarding is available on all models, as are motorised take ups with clutches to automate the process.
WHN – You mentioned the USA being your biggest market. How has Cobra achieved that?
NH – We have done pockets of marketing to American companies but we have never been a marketing led company, so I wouldn’t put it down to that.
I think our success in the USA is down to the fact that several industries that operate within the USA are Cobra’s core target market that require wire harness braiding. The American economy has by and large been strong, so these industries have grown, which has benefitted our business.
Of course, as you sell and export more products into any given market your brand awareness and reputation grows too. I know a lot of our new business is word of mouth recommendations, and given engineers are usually involved in the purchase of Cobra braiding machines, a recommendation to a fellow engineer is very strong.
Over the last 10-15 years, American companies have been more willing to buy direct overseas. This in part has been a slight culture change, and the internet has helped drive this as the world is a lot more visible in recent years. It’s much easier to find out more, see more, do research, and it has changed buying behaviour the world over.
WHN – Many thanks for talking to Wiring Harness News Neil, and for your insight into industrial braiding machines. It sounds like you and your team at Cobra love what you do.
NH – The thing we enjoy here at Cobra is that every day is different and rewarding. I speak to customers all over the world and from a multitude of different industries. Our customer base ranges from the Fortune 500, Japanese multinationals, European international companies, employee owned businesses to owner managed companies. Our experience in overseas markets across a variety of manufacturing industries has allowed us to build a pretty clear knowledge of what our customers require.
However, we take nothing for granted and continually evolve the quality of our machines. A Cobra machine really does increase productivity and performance, whilst significantly reducing reworking, so we do get glowing praise from the engineers and operators that use them on a daily basis. Being faster and more efficient in your working day in any walk of life is advantageous, and that’s our key goal for Cobra customers.
Neil Hyde – President of Cobra Braiding Machinery