Craven Fawcett | How a 180-year-old company, manufacturing products you are likely to see every single day.

Craven Fawcett

Craven Fawcett clay working machinery is exported throughout the world, successfully competing for international market share on the basis of design, build quality, and price.

Meet Craven Fawcett

Established in 1843, Craven Fawcett is a pioneer in the field of clay working machinery, helping the UK build and maintain one of the most efficient clay working industries in the world. Craven Fawcett Limited is a division of Group Rhodes, one of Europe’s largest original equipment manufacturers in the areas of metal-forming, material handling, waste management and clay preparation applications.

Within this portfolio, Craven Fawcett design and manufactures clay preparation machinery, ranging from box feeders and grinding mills to mixers and extruders.

The company’s extruding machines, for example, are renowned for their robustness and production efficiency, operating in some of the world’s most difficult production environments.

Challenge: Engaging customers up close and personal

What customers want
There is every likelihood that most days, if not every day, you come into contact with products that were made with the help of a Craven Fawcett machine. Even as you read this case study you may have walked on, driven over, leaned against, or simply gazed upon them; 85% of bricks in the UK are made from clay that has been processed in Craven Fawcett’s machinery.

The sales cycles for the company’s machines tend to be long. These are machines that assume a place within customers’ brick-making plants—soft-mud plants for moulded bricks, and stiff vacuum extrusion plants for extruded bricks—performing critical stages of crushing, grinding, storage and extrusion in the process of turning clay in its raw state into bricks ready to be dried and fired in the kiln.

Potential buyers are interested not just in the machines’ functions but also in the possible complexity of servicing and maintaining them to ensure peak performance for the production, often of around 30,000 bricks per hour per extrusion line. This level of output means that unplanned downtime can prove highly detrimental to order delivery timings and revenue. Protection of people is also a prime area of evaluation, with the associated considerations around health and safety compliance.

“Customers today don’t just want to look at the machine, its features, and its performance; they want to see how it will be best situated in their plants”, says James Gascoigne, Operations Director at Group Rhodes. “The ideal approach is to listen to their concerns and demonstrate up-front how you can adapt to any specific requirements they may express”.

With a major trade show looming, the team at Craven Fawcett’s built models in Autodesk Inventor with the goal of creating a 3D ‘fly-through’ of the machines. They then asked Symetri to create a video from the outcome of the Inventor process but, on seeing the results, both Symetri and the Craven Fawcett team agreed it need ‘something else’ to make it come alive. This was not so much a ‘Eureka!’ moment but more that exciting sense of discovery that takes place when a team feels it can create something extra special.

The immersive experience creates the perfect first impression

Engaging customers

“We wanted to be able to show the inner workings of the machines since demonstrating their use is the key to engaging customers”, says James. “The big problem we face lies in the costs involved in transporting machines to trade shows. Some of our machines can be up to 5x3x8 metres and weigh over 100 tons. The alternative falls a long way short of seeing the machine in action, because it’s nothing more exciting than brochures and pdfs.

Our competitors are in the same situation. That’s why the UK’s largest clay processing trade show  is a usually a relatively quiet affair, more about networking than exhibiting machinery. They’re a forum for everybody catching up with each other. This is valuable in itself, but we felt that opportunities were being missed”.

Symetri advised James that there was a way to take the initial video and craft it into something altogether more exciting. The solution was genuinely at the cutting edge of virtual reality given that the Symetri suggestion involved using a beta version of Unreal Engine, designed originally for video gaming, filmmaking, and photoreal visualisation.

“Symetri took what we had believed would be ‘just another video’ and came back in just over a week with a full-on virtual reality deep-dive into the machines”, says James.

Three machines were presented in this way: a box feeder (a hopper which sits above a slat conveyor), the Delta 45 Pan Mill, and a double-shafted mixer. The virtual reality experience involves a customer wearing a VR headset which enables them to move around the scene which unfolds in front of them.  

By using a control pad, users can then ‘point-jump’ (or teleport) to any position, viewing the machine from all angles and at each level. They can strip back layers to reveal individual components, which they can also then explore more closely. They can come as close to the machines as they would if it were physically in front of them.

Outcomes: Multi-million-pound order won

From one of many to front of mind

James says that customer reactions to using the headset were a little short of amazing. “The reaction at the trade show was bigger and better than anything we’d expected. Craven Fawcett was the talk of the show. People loved what they saw as well as how they saw it.

With one particular customer, with whom we had been in discussions for a while—as had some of our competitors—we rose from being one of many to being front of mind. We got the order soon after; a multi-million-pound contract award, and that is proof positive that virtual reality has a really valuable role to play in the heavy machinery manufacturing industry”.

Craven Fawcett is now looking forward to expanding its horizons with virtual reality: “There is a direct and an indirect benefit in using this technology”, says James. “From the direct perspective, it creates an outstanding differential in customer presentations and enables clarity and insight in a way any flat style of presentation, or even a 3D model, never can. It has started to raise our customer conversations to a higher level.

The associated ‘indirect’ benefit is that our customers see Craven Fawcett as a genuine innovator, a forward-looking organisation pushing the boundaries of technology. This has the effect of raising perceptions of what we can do to help their processes and their business”.

Redefining vision
This is the start of a journey for Craven Fawcett that can only get more exciting. James and his team are looking at how to use virtual reality for training customer teams in machine use, and ongoing servicing and maintenance.

They are looking at how to drop the machines, in a virtual environment, into a customer’s factory or plant setting to show how a machine can be positioned in situ, the space it will need around it to make access safe, and for guiding customers in fault diagnosis; exploring the inner workings of a machine and isolating, focusing on, and exploding components to explain where and how to inspect and replace them.

“The Symetri team aren’t just delivering a product or service with virtual reality; they’re way out in front of pushing its capabilities and boundaries”, says James. “Their visualisation specialists are visionaries. Working with them, I feel that Craven Fawcett is redefining what vision means in the brick-making industry”.


  • Large and heavy machinery not easily transported
  • Enabling customers to explore the machines is difficult with brochures and only partly achieved with 3D models given their broad adoption across the competitive landscape
  • It is difficult to make a first impression that leaves a memorable impact


  • Virtual reality provides the immersive experience while locating Craven Fawcett firmly in an innovation zone; perceived as such in the cutting-edge approach to addressing customer concerns by showing them where and how they have been addressed
  • Craven Fawcett has risen above the level playing field


  • An almost irresistible invitation to customers to engage
  • Significant logistics advantage; no hauling large machinery across the country, saving on both resources and costs
  • High impact and memorable product demonstration
  • Higher quality conversations achieved earlier at the planning stage

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