COBA Group

Above: COBA uses apprenticeships to develop its next generation of workers

COBA Group is a British manufacturer with a global reach, specialising in producing moulding and extruding polymer components primarily for automotive OEMs and first tier suppliers.

Despite a tough pandemic, the company is finding that market diversification, electrification, the return of automotive and its almost unique moulding capacity puts it in a good position.

Tony Cooke and Tom Bateman founded COBA Plastics Ltd. in Coventry in 1966. In the early days, the company manufactured plastics extrusions and tubing for customers including Standard Triumph (motorcycles) and Sprite Caravans, having spotted the opportunity to make automotive parts while working for their former employer, Coventry Motor and Sundries. Cars were becoming accessible to all and they saw it was likely to grow for decades.

It would have been hard for Cooke and Bateman (“Co-Ba”) to foresee the changes that would come. Fifty six years later COBA Group is a £60 million group with 14 production facilities in eight countries, 14 sales offices and over 800 employees. As the business grew its strategy was to manufacture close to its local markets, so it expanded, sometimes through acquisition, across Europe, to the Middle East and Africa. The group now has 14 manufacturing facilities in the UK, Slovakia and South Africa and 14 sales offices. They saw introduced new products when demands in the car industry changed, for example extruded floor matting that launched COBA Europe’s floor matting business in 1979. This went on to become a staple safety product for factories, oil rigs, ships, leisure centres, aircraft and more. More new production introduction followed, and COBA now has an in-house design for manufacture department and tool-making shop. Markets also further diversified.

The plastics manufacturing division was naturally negatively affected by Brexit and Covid, and in 2021 to date the microchip shortage that has strangled car manufacture globally. However, for over 50-years COBA has weathered the storms of financial crises and previous recessions and knew conditions would improve. “In May 2022, as markets in Europe recover, we are seeing a window of opportunity to quote on new long-term business, setting ourselves up for good growth in the coming years,” says group CEO Mark Cooke, son of co-founder Tony.

New markets and consolidation for efficiency

Increasingly, COBA components such as weather seals, glazing gaskets, underbonnet seals and exterior trim parts for many well known brands are being used for electric vehicles, a market that is providing many new opportunities. Diversification is the strategy, as COBA leverages its reputation and pedigree into non-automotive markets; it is now developing plastic extrusion and moulding components to be used in the medical, and oil and gas sectors.

In December, one of the non-manufacturing units was moved from company headquarters in Fleckney in Leicestershire to Rugby. This meant that COBA could consolidate its plastics manufacturing by relocating the injection moulding business, COBA Plastics Moulding, next to its longstanding extrusion operations in Fleckney. “We were told that this would take several months minimum, but thanks to our incredible team we were up and running by January,” says Mark Cooke. “This change will only increase the speed and service that we can offer customers.”

Unmatched capacity, new materials, new acquisitions

COBA Group now has one of the biggest IM moulding and extrusion capacities in the UK, with the following thermoplastic manufacturing capacity in-group:

  • 70 extrusions lines
  • 65 injection moulding machines, including a recent acquisition

A big area for COBA now is the shift to next generation and sustainable polymer materials, such as TPV (thermoplastic vulcanizates). These materials are both more recyclable and more lightweight than commonly used synthetic rubbers, but having done in-house research and testing, the company can now offer comparable performance, such as high temperature tolerance, to these established materials.

The wider COBA Group is also continuing to grow, and a recent purchase purchase strengthened COBA’s position in the flooring market. “We made an acquisition of C.A.T. (Carpet Accessory Trims Ltd) in June 2021, which manufactures premium floor trims and nosings, further growing our stake in the construction sector,” says Cooke.

The business responded to the Covid pandemic in novel ways. As well as manufacturing plastic parts breathing aids to treat Covid patients, COBA was also featured on the BBC during the first lockdown in 2020, after introducing a range of floor mats designed for social distancing.

Despite the challenges of the last two years, new markets especially electric vehicles mean that prospects for growth are strong.

“A big area for COBA now is the shift to next generation and sustainable polymer materials”

Above: CEO Mark Cooke