Manufacturing Today Issue 181 October 2020

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Issue 181 2020


Beyond robots One of the USA’s most dynamic independent businesses, Production Systems Automation (PSA) credits its success to the amazing efforts of its workforce

• Sustainability • Predictive maintenance • Business transformation • Quality

Chairman Andrew Schofield


Managing Director Joe Woolsgrove Editor Libbie Hammond Assistant Editor Will Daynes Staff Writer Alex McDonald


Production Manager Fleur Daniels


Art Editor David Howard Advertising Designer Rebecca Side Operations Director Philip Monument Operations Manager Natalie Griffiths Research Managers Jo-Ann Jeffery Ben Richell Editorial Researchers Mark Cowles Tarj D’Silva Jeff Goldenberg Mark Kafourous Richard Saunders Kieran Shukri Sales Director Alasdair Gamble Advertising Sales Mark Cawston Alex Hartley Dave King Theresa McDonald Sam Surrell

Adapt to survive

Issue 181 2020


Beyond robots One of the USA’s most dynamic independent businesses, Production Systems Automation (PSA) credits its success to the amazing efforts of its workforce

• Sustainability • Predictive maintenance • Business transformation • Quality


he issue of ‘enforced business transformation’ as discussed in our ar ticle on page 12 feels par ticularly per tinent to me, as I currently work from home. Our own business has had to adapt and evolve to survive and if you scale my experience up to that of a major manufacturer… I can only imagine the challenges. I am one of the for tunate people whose job is computer based – technology enables me to work from home as easily as if I was in the office. Our ar ticle sheds some light on what tech could help you adapt to Working from Home and some of the issues and solutions out there. As Matt Bennett of Cellhire notes within this piece, there’s likely to be an ongoing need to rapidly respond to major threats to business and this par ticular episode has massively highlighted how the workplace can adapt when needed. I believe that there’s usually a technological solution out there to an issue – but it will require a willing human to not only install it, but also operate it, too. The human side of working from home is another issue that I am sure we will cover in the future. Let me know if you have an opinion or any experience!

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Manufacturing Today Magazine

Schofield Publishing Ltd Corporate Head Office Cringleford Business Centre, 10 Intwood Road, Cringleford, Norwich, NR4 6AU, U.K. Tel: (312) 854-0123 Tel: 044 (0)1603 274130 © 2020 Schofield Publishing Ltd

Have we Tweeted about you yet? Get in touch on Twitter or send some news over to me on email and I will be happy to share it! Please note: The opinions expressed by contributors and adver tisers within this publication do not necessarily coincide with those of the editor and publisher. Every reasonable effor t is made to ensure that the information published is accurate, and correct at time of writing, but no legal responsibility for loss occasioned by the use of such information can be accepted by the publisher. All rights reserved. The contents of the magazine are strictly copyright, the proper ty of Schofield Publishing, and may not be copied, stored in a retrieval system, or reproduced without the prior written permission of the publisher. l 1

Features 6 Sustainability

A recent survey has affirmed that the majority of UK manufacturers want to ‘do their bit’ and implement measures to reduce their carbon impact

Focus on... 6


8 Predictive maintenance

For those companies that have embraced digital condition monitoring (CM) the operational benefits can be immediate and return on investment swift


10 Quality

An Omron FH series Vision System including FQ2 cameras has been selected by Novio Packaging for its bottle production line in Denmark



12 Business transformation

Covid-19 has forced a sudden need to rethink operations – but it might be a good opportunity for manufacturers to transform their businesses

14 Manufacturing news

Updates and announcements from the manufacturing arena




Production Sy






Royston Lead 2 l



Contents 34

Alicat Scientific


Stolle Machinery Europe



Nova Tissue

ction Systems Automation


Optikos Corporation

Holtec Gas Systems




William Blythe Ltd


Schoeller Allibert Limited


TJ Books

Domsjรถ Fabriker AB l 3

Features 18 Health and safety

The EU legislation and regulations surrounding machinery are complicated but ultimately are all designed to keep operators safe

Focus on... 102


20 Data

Data is integral to every business, so you must protect it – beyond simple business continuity and disaster recover planning

Ventec Life Systems

22 Factory technology

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to legacy technology upgrade projects but there are some essential requirements




24 Factory design

Factory design can play a large part in reducing future pandemics while also planning for post Brexit expansion

26 Future factory

The systemic harmonization of human and machine based capabilities is revolutionizing production with help of AI and robotics


SiO2 Materials Science



Bright Green Plastics



International Aerospace Coatings 4 l


Electro Mec



Contents 116

Flying W Plastics


Spirax Sarco


Accrol Papers Ltd




The Marena Group



ctro Mechanical Systems


Smith & McLaurin

Aargus Plastics

Clade Engineering Solutions A1 Engineering Solutions Ltd


Atlas Packaging Ltd

Oilgear l 5

A clearer


What is the road to net zero for the manufacturing sector? By Anthony Ainsworth


he question of how the UK is to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is a challenging one, and this is particularly true for the energy intensive manufacturing sector. For an industry that has traditionally relied heavily on fossil fuels, it is now also facing intense pressure in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, while also needing to adapt to changing end user expectations, particularly when it comes to sustainability. As this often requires funding new technologies or a complete change in how services are delivered, decarbonization is a complex area to navigate. Manufacturers have a crucial role to play in the net zero transition but will need support and commercial stimulus to help them get onboard. And while the government’s Clean Growth Strategy went some way to laying the groundwork for this, with a package of measures to help manufacturers of food and drink, paper and pulp, chemicals, ceramics, glass, and cement to improve energy productivity, there are many pieces of the decarbonization puzzle still missing for this vital energy intensive sector. UK Manufacturers’ organization Make UK has been very vocal about the sector’s important role when it comes to net zero, with CEO Stephen Phipson recently stating that manufacturers are ‘committed to playing their part’ but that businesses were calling for ‘better fiscal incentives for

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companies to invest in new technology and energy efficiency measures to aid a green recovery from Covid-19 ‘. That’s not to say decarbonization of manufacturing is impossible. Many large companies are making ambitious commitments - for example, cement manufacturer LafargeHolcim became the first global building materials manufacturer to sign up to targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative, while engineering giant Rolls Royce has set its own ambitious path to net zero operations by 2030, with measures including energy efficiency and its ‘Revert’ recycling scheme. However, these individual success stories and more widespread gains in carbon reduction are only one part of the story, with some manufacturers still lagging behind or lacking the right tools to take decisive action. We consulted with several manufacturers as part of a wider report of nearly 100 businesses to gauge views on the net zero target, where they are in their own net zero journey, and the support they want to see from the government to aid the transition. The results of the ‘Your Business Blueprint - The road to Net Zero for manufacturing’ showed that manufacturers are optimistic about achieving net zero by 2050 - two thirds of manufacturing businesses (66%) believe that it is a realistic target. In addition, when asked whether they had a

Sustainability So, what actions can manufacturers take over the short-to-medium term to put them in the best position to hit their carbon reduction targets? For us, there are five steps to take: l Understand your energy data - to take action, you need to understand how energy is being used, so an energy audit can identify improvements including looking at times of use, efficiency of infrastructure and processes, and changing employee behavior to help reduce emissions or costs. l Invest in energy efficiency - energy efficiency has been called a ‘no regrets’ action and can include relatively ‘quick wins’ such as switching to more efficient lighting, air conditioning and refrigeration, as well as bigger investments such as implementing a smart energy management system. l Procure ‘green’ fuel - buying and using green fuel is another way to offset carbon emissions. There are two potential options. The first is generating local energy by installing on-site generation. Or, if space or capital are not available, then local generation schemes - for example large-scale solar or wind solutions - can be used to offset future energy demand via a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). l Consider on-site generation - there is now a great deal of choice for manufacturers, including CHP, wind, solar photovoltaic (PV) or biomass. As well as reducing emissions, it increases resilience as it means a business is less reliant on the grid. That said, manufacturers need to make sure that any plans for on-site generation are scoped appropriately, so they can assess where the payback and benefits are. l Plan for the future - organizations should also start planning for the longer term, including the potential impact of new technologies such as hydrogen - which will be crucial to decarbonizing energy intensive industries that rely on gas - and a wider adoption of solutions such as EVs.

clear plan to hit net zero emissions ahead of 2050, nearly two thirds of manufacturers (63%) agreed. A large majority - 80% - also believed their business would benefit from the changes required during the net zero transition, with the main reason being greater long-term operational resiliency through saving money and carbon. However, the research also revealed a concern from nearly half (47%) of manufacturing businesses about the potential additional cost to their business associated with the net zero transition. There was also a difference in opinion about who should contribute the majority of the funding for it - whether it should be the government, large energy intensive industries, financial institutions or the general taxpayer. Despite their concerns, the findings show that manufacturing businesses are still planning to invest in a variety of measures to achieve their own net zero targets, with many looking at on-site generation, waste heat recovery, smart energy management and electric vehicles (EVs) as part of their emissions reduction strategies. That said, they would welcome additional governmental support, including more incentives and grants for sustainability initiatives, to be announced in the forthcoming Energy White Paper, Consumer Spending Review and Net Zero Review - which are all due this Autumn.

Manufacturing businesses are responsible for 60% of the UK’s direct industrial emissions, according to figures from These energy intensive businesses will have a crucial role to play in the low carbon transition, with significant cost and carbon savings to be made if the right technology can be put in place. What Your Business Blueprint - The Road to Net Zero affirms is that the majority of UK manufacturers want to ‘do their bit’ and implement measures to reduce their carbon impact. They recognize the role they will play and acknowledge they will need to contribute to the funding of the UK’s ambitious climate goal. However, they need policy clarity, greater support and a clearer roadmap from the government if this ambition is to become a reality. v

Anthony Ainsworth Anthony Ainsworth is COO Industrial & Commercial, at npower Business Solutions. npower Business Solutions works with many manufacturers to help them meet ambitious carbon reduction targets through implementing comprehensive energy management strategies. By using a management consultancy approach, it can scope, design and deliver a roadmap to net zero through the wide range of products and services it has available including green electricity supply, generation services and Demand Side Response (DSR), data services and energy management systems. ‘Your Business Blueprint - The road to Net Zero for manufacturing’ can be downloaded at: l 7

A watchful


A digital approach to condition monitoring can make unscheduled downtime a thing of the past and reap a swift return on investment, says Oliver Pogmore


nscheduled downtime is the scourge of manufacturing – disruptive for maintenance staff, stressful for operational managers and a persistent concern for those tasked with maintaining a healthy bottom line in the face of tight margins and a competitive marketplace. As maintenance managers will testify, breakdowns tend to happen when you’re least prepared to deal with them. Production might be at maximum capacity; it is a weekend or evening; the necessary spare part is not available; or there are not enough staff available to deal with the problem. When the impact of limitations caused by Covid-19 lockdowns is also considered, it is easy to see how an unplanned stoppage could quickly escalate into a ‘perfect storm’ scenario. One way to safeguard against this very real threat to efficient operations is to adopt a digital approach to condition-based maintenance (CBM). Advanced cloud-based technology offers the continuous, real-time monitoring of critical assets, with multiple web connections enabling diverse data, such as vibration and oil analysis; to be collated on one platform. This can be securely accessed by authorized personnel from any location, using a standard web browser.

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As the marketplace becomes increasingly global, this is an invaluable tool for senior decision-makers wanting to stay connected to the state of play across multiple sites, wherever they might be in the world. They can simply log on to the system, using their laptop or smart phone, to view an asset status summary on an easy to read dashboard. Information that is vital to making informed decision making, from monitoring readings to maintenance activity and operative comments, is at their fingertips within minutes of it being completed.

Predictive maintenance in with minimal disruption to operations. Consequently, failure detection becomes woven into the daily fabric of a maintenance programme, decision-making is better informed, and assets can be maintained to ensure optimum productivity. For those companies which have embraced digital condition monitoring (CM), the operational benefits can be immediate and the return on investment swift. v

Oliver Pogmore

Crucially, this technology identifies potential problems before they negatively impact operations. Automated fault diagnostics identify developing failures and issue an alert. Action can be taken to maintain the asset until a planned production stop, when remedial work can be factored

Case study - Highland Spring Group Background Highland Spring Group is the largest producer of naturally sourced bottled water in the UK. It operates with highly critical assets throughout its manufacturing plants, including blow moulders, rinsers, fillers and labellers. If one of these assets goes down, production comes to a halt.Therefore, it is key that the health and condition of these assets is continuously monitored and maintained to the highest standard. To ensure the assets are running to their optimum and the site doesn’t suffer unexpected shutdowns, Highland Spring Group selected AVT Reliability® to assist with its CM journey, with the goal of increasing plant reliability and protecting these critical assets.The project aims were to: • Increase productivity • Extend machinery lifespan • Optimize the periodic maintenance programme • Reduce machinery maintenance expenditures Product selection Following a site survey, AVT Reliability® engineers advised that the bestsuited CM technique to increase plant reliability was vibration analysis using Machine Sentry® Online. MSO-1 is ideal for vibration monitoring on continuously running, highly critical assets.The data being recorded is trended in real time, which allows remedial works to be carried out during a planned outage. Readings are automatically uploaded to the cloud-based platform, Machine Sentry®, and secured to ISO27001, one of the most widely recognised international standards for industrial supply chain security. As the platform is cloud based, engineers are able to analyze and report on data within minutes, not days, wherever they are in the world. Al asset health and analytics are completed in the system, meaning all data remains in one location. MSO-1 in action In January, the MSO-1 system at Highland Springs Group generated an email alert, which identified increasing vibration levels on the outfeed start wheel bearing.This email alert allowed engineers to take action and investigate as soon as possible, before the situation got out of hand. Following analysis

Oliver Pogmore is Sales Director at AVT Reliability®. With over 40 years experience helping companies improve reliability, AVT Reliability®is a market leading plant reliability specialist, employing more than 100 professional condition monitoring engineers at its offices throughout the UK and Europe.

from expert engineers at AVT Reliability® and discussion with the client, the conclusion was reached that the vibration increase was due to a possible bearing issue. Bearings had not been replaced since 2003. As the fault was found early, further damage to the asset was prevented. If the fault had gone undetected, there could have been catastrophic damage, resulting in a more expensive repair and extended plant downtime. Benefits MSO-1 allowed engineers to analyze the data collected and predict when a failure was going to happen.The engineers at Highland Spring Group were then able to plan scheduled downtime and complete the planned work scope within three days, saving 48 hours of repair time, amounting to a total of £16,800. When the cost of the Machine Sentry® system is removed, the actual saving is £10,300 after this one incident alone. David Simpson, Site Engineering Manager for Highland Spring Group said: “To assist our goal in achieving a world class engineering department, the biggest area to improve was to reduce reactive maintenance and supply our operation customers a reliable preventive maintenance schedule, ensuring machine up-time is increased to meet our growing marketplace demand. “MSO-1 was chosen and installed with almost no disruption to our production line.The benefits are huge, with the early warning reports identifying potential issues and reporting recommended actions, which we add to our weekly maintenance plan and rectify. MSO-1 will be my option as we roll this excellent analysis tool out to other production lines.” Digital CM technology is the logical conclusion of the cultural shift from reactive to proactive maintenance. And with its price becoming increasingly competitive even as it becomes more sophisticated, companies of any scale have the opportunity to make unscheduled downtime a thing of the past. v l 9



Novio Packaging reaches new levels of quality with machine vision


ovio Packaging has selected an Omron FH series Vision System for use in its bottle production line in Denmark. The Omron system ensures that all of the bottles shipped to customers are of the highest quality, with no defects. Since 1978, Novio Packaging Group has produced and distributed primary packaging and packaging solutions for various markets, from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to the food and domestic non-food industry. The group is part of Berlin Packaging, the world’s largest packaging distributor. Novio Packaging has a broad network of operations throughout Europe and Asia, with factories in Denmark and England. These have been set up to ensure that the company’s customers receive bottles with a guaranteed high standard.

A need for accuracy and flexibility

The Danish factory required a sophisticated and flexible quality inspection system to cope with changes in the types of bottles being produced and achieve the right levels of quality. The management team explored systems

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that proved to be ineffective due to insufficient accuracy. In addition, users couldn’t make adjustments or programme the software themselves. The company subsequently started looking for a system that would eliminate defects down to one bottle out of 100,000. As a result of its investigations, Novio opted for a versatile solution from Omron. This included Omron’s FH vision system as well as its FQ2 cameras. The system is used on the production line, and incorporates lights and cameras set at varying angles in order to detect any defects that would affect the quality of a bottle such as scratches or dust. Peter Lykke, Novio Packaging’s Technical Manager, explains: “We use the FH vision system with four cameras to check the bottles we produce from all sides, to ensure that there isn’t any dirt and there are no black spots etc. on the bottles. The cameras carry out the checks on running conveyors, so we don’t need to stop the bottles for inspection. “In addition, we use two cameras on top of the line to check issues such as the dimensions of the caps, and to ensure that there is no residual plastic or anything missing from the caps that might cause a problem (such as making them too tight). Our customers use air conveyor systems and


the diameter of the bottleneck has to be very precise. It’s very difficult to check this accurately with any method other than a quality inspection system with a vision camera.” Any bottle identified as having defects is automatically discarded. This feature is integral, since the customer could send the entire shipment back due to one substandard bottle, incurring significant bottom line costs to Novio. A significant share of the finished bottles go to a leading juice company, so it’s vital to ensure there are no defects or items that could contaminate the juice or affect the appearance of the bottle.

Further benefits of the Omron system

As Novio produces different types of bottles at different times, another important requirement of the system was to provide new changeover possibilities. If the system wasn’t flexible enough, the firm would have to resort to expensive mechanical changes to ensure adequate images could be obtained of each bottle. The solution provided by Omron enables Novio to cope with rapid changeovers while meeting customer demands for a wider packaging

portfolio, involving smaller but more variable batches. This also helps to avoid any delays in the development of new products. The Omron vision system is precise, scalable and adaptable, and can easily cope with changes in the production of various bottle types. In addition, a single software programme allows Novio to apply, integrate and modify via the easy-to-use FH software. Peter Lykke comments: “One benefit is that after I’ve carried out the basic programming and set up the cameras, our technical staff can easily adjust the programme for new types of bottles themselves.” There’s no need to call in a specialist or a systems integrator to handle any changes, saving the company time and money. Novio Packaging leases the vision system for a monthly fee. “Omron has always been very helpful,” concludes Peter Lykke. “I always get good answers to any questions on software changes, a range of new ideas and advice on issues such as using the right lighting to gain the best inspection results.” He continues: “Quality is very important, as we provide bottles for juice and any blemish could be seen as dirt by the consumer. I believe that it’s essential to have an automated system to provide this level of quality, as it’s not possible for a human to inspect the bottle from all sides. Furthermore, if they looked away for just a second, a mistake could easily be made. We are therefore delighted with the flexibility and accuracy of the new system.” v l 11

Addressing enforced business transformation

Covid-19 has sprung an opportunity on manufacturers to transform their business and prospects. By Matt Bennett


oronavirus lockdowns apart, the need for business transformation through downsizing, upsizing, being more agile, opening a temporary facility and/or rationalising operations to improve efficiencies and cut costs has not gone away for some companies. The spotlight is very much on it in this era of Covid-19 and sudden, enforced re-thinking of how best to operate. And although business is booming for some manufacturers, it’s a case of ‘getting by’ for others. Added to the mix are thoughts of re-homing manufacturing in the UK as the attraction of manufacturing overseas fades for a number of reasons. What Covid-19 has done for business is to force rapid transformation in the guise of WFH – working from home – and working from temporary hub offices that might become more permanent. Clearly, not everybody in manufacturing can work from home or commute to a hub, but officebased workers often can and it’s an area where profit margins can be protected or enhanced.

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What we are currently experiencing is a large-scale social and business experiment in remote working, including a change to more flexible hybrid ways of working. Enforced business transformation like this has come with a silver lining: it’s been shown to work and not require expensive consulting fees. This can be attributed to WFH along with mobile computing and mobile telephony - generally as part of a cloud solution - and the willingness of all involved to make business change happen as quickly as possible. There is another type of transformation, where companies change tack to offer a new type of product or service, and/or move their sales online, but this article is about technology-enabled business change forced on us through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cloud computing – public, private or hybrid?

Cloud computing via a ‘public’ cloud is a typical enabler of WFH, other alternative place of work and business transformation, but it’s not the only

Business transformation one. There are public cloud/private cloud (internal network) hybrids, and private cloud only solutions. A public cloud - AWS (Amazon Web Services) is an example – allows a business to move to cloud computing at lower cost compared to setting up its own private cloud. In the latter case a business uses its own dedicated server – or a rented dedicated server outside the business premises - instead of sharing server space from the likes of AWS. There is a business case to be a made for both, and for the hybrid combination. All three require an internet connection, with WFH or a new hub set-up necessitating a look at 4G or 5G connections as an alternative to fixed-line broadband connectivity. For employees on the move, a 4G or 5G connection is an absolute must.

Connecting to the cloud

Staff can use work-dedicated laptops/desktops, tablets, smartphones or thin clients (also known as dumb terminals) for connecting to their work in whatever cloud option their employer is using. These devices will typically be purchased or rented by the employer organisation. Renting is a way of rapidly setting up a more mobile, flexible operation without the upfront costs of equipping staff with purchased equipment. It also allows for greater business agility, especially if, going forwards, business conditions mean that fewer devices will be needed. Likewise, short-term (e.g. one month, on a rolling basis) 4G or 5G contracts ensure that longer term contracts are avoided. Setting up a temporary or new work base, 4G or 5G connectivity means no wait for fixed line installation and associated costs. If a router is required, a private mobile hotspot, also known as a MiFi, can be purchased or rented. Mobile computing device users don’t use their own data allowances when using a mobile hotspot. They don’t even need a data SIM card in their device, or a dongle for their laptop. The card is in the (passwordprotected) MiFi, which typically allows up to ten users at a time to access the internet and thereby their work on a cloud solution.

Other considerations – and risks

Traditionally, business transformation initiatives have involved time spent on ensuring staff ‘buy-in’ to new ways of working and how well staff ‘bond’, or work seamlessly together, when working remotely. Covid-19 lockdowns have seen such steps skipped. How WFH staff communicate by voice and messaging will need to be addressed. Using their own personal smartphone number carries risks, including giving the number to people the user doesn’t know, and inadvertently inviting scam calls. A cloud, VoIP-based phone app addresses the risks and can use a landline-lookalike number with an area code that’s local to the business but can be used anywhere locally, regionally, UK-wide or anywhere else in the world. VoIP-based phone apps – AllTalk is an example – mean that employers don’t have to pay for a new smartphone for a dispersed workforce. The apps come with group messaging features and can be used via a computer, tablet or an employee’s own personal smartphone. They also mean that phone communication between staff, between staff and head or regional offices, and between staff and customers/suppliers/partners/freelance workers, can be made at very low cost; often free. Securing the data/information of mobile and remote workers is a must. Using personal smartphones and other personal devices (tablets/laptops/ desktops) for connecting to work in a cloud carries risks to the company’s data or information that staff are working on. IT managers around the world have expressed their concern at the practice, with viruses etc on personal devices a top concern. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed

before, during (or after, if it has not been addressed by then) business transformation. Cloud solutions – public, private or hybrid – can be protected, to a greater or lesser degree against viruses and ransomware, by security software, but the fewer opportunities for infection by personal devices the better.

A final word

Predictions of the death of the office may be exaggerated, but the trend towards a more mobile workforce and, with it, ways to transform how a manufacturer operates – and perhaps, transforms its prospects - is expected to continue. Business transformation increasingly looks like an ongoing, flexible process rather than the one-off ‘big bang’ change that it used to be, especially with a need to respond rapidly to sudden major threats including a changing business climate. v

Matt Bennett Matt Bennett is UK Managing Director at Cellhire plc, a leading global service provider of mobile communications that offers an easy way for businesses to stay connected. Established in 1987, the group has offices in the UK, USA, France, Germany and Japan. Partnering with network operators globally, Cellhire provides short and long-term mobile communication services to leading companies worldwide. l 13

News in brief Financing secured Amber Solutions, a technology innovator creating a modern hyper-intelligent electrical architecture, has completed a new $5.5-million round of financing and the securement of three new memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with leading global manufacturers of electrical products, smart automation systems and silicon chips. These new MOUs now total six agreements signed during the COVID-19 lockdown and nine overall for the company.This recent financing strengthens the company’s ability to continue refining and productizing its technologies into prototypes and pre-production products for evaluation, manufacturing and shipment by Amber’s growing number industry partners.

Supplier recognition

DuPont Interconnect Solutions (ICS), a global business unit of DuPont, has received the 2020 Global Supplier Award from TTM (Time-To-Market), one of the world’s leading Printed Circuit Board (PCB) fabricators. DuPont was honored as the ONLY winner in the Chemical category through a highly competitive rating process. “DuPont is a critical part of the team. We want to recognize the collaborative business relationship, technical knowledge and extensive regional support that DuPont demonstrates. We look forward to continuing our mutually beneficial partnership in the years ahead,” said William Ng, Vice President, TTM Global Supply Chain Management.

Deeper visibility

Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), an company, has been selected by Arçelik, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of household appliances, as its preferred cloud provider for machine learning and analytics across its entire operations. Arçelik, which owns 12 global appliance brands including Beko and Grundig, is relying on the breadth and depth of AWS services to transform itself into a data-driven organization and provide enhanced customer experiences, innovate new services, and lower costs across its operations in nearly 150 countries. By adopting AWS analytics, compute, database services, Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and storage, Arçelik is gaining deeper visibility across its organization, optimizing processes related to production and quality control, and driving efficiency across all business segments, from customer care to manufacturing.

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First for Europe Loop Industries, a leading innovator in sustainable plastics technology, and SUEZ, a world leader in environmental services, have announced their plans to build the first Infinite Loop™ recycling facility in Europe. Based on enhanced recycling, the partnership will combine the resource management expertise of SUEZ and Loop’s unique breakthrough technology for the production of virgin quality, food grade, 100% recycled and infinitely recyclable plastic. Located in Europe, the new facility will offer a sustainable and truly needed solution to global consumer goods companies. Loop’s patented and proprietary low-energy technology enables waste plastic to be recycled an infinite number of times, with no degradation in quality. Combined with the expertise of SUEZ, the Infinite Loop™ facility will respond to huge growth in demand in Europe from global beverage and consumer goods brand companies, committed to aggressive targets for a high level of recycled content in their products. This new enhanced recycling facility dedicated to PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) plastic will be the largest in the world, with the potential to produce the equivalent of approximately 4.2 billion food grade beverage bottles (with an average weight of 20 grams) made of 100% recycled and infinitely recyclable PET plastic annually. By leveraging Loop’s innovating technology, this facility will be able to claim savings of 180,000 tons of CO2 annually, compared with virgin PET production from a traditional petrochemical process. These savings are equivalent to approximately 418,000 barrels of oil.

New approach A new production process developed by Nissan looks set to speed up the development of car parts made from carbon fiber reinforced plastics, or CFRP. Lightweight yet extremely strong, the material can be used to make cars that are safer and more fuel efficient. It can also lower a car’s center of gravity when applied to upper body parts, making it more agile and exciting to drive. Nissan aims to use the new process to mass-produce CFRP parts and introduce them in more cars for customers.The innovation can cut the lead time to develop such components by as much as half, and cycle time for molding by about 80%, compared with conventional methods. While the benefits of carbon fiber have long been known, it’s expensive compared with other materials such as steel. Along with the difficulty in shaping CFRP parts, this has hampered the mass production of automotive components made from the material. Nissan found a new approach to the existing production method known as compression resin transfer molding. Nissan’s engineers developed techniques to accurately simulate the permeability of the resin in carbon fiber, while visualizing resin flow behavior in a die using an in-die temperature sensor and a transparent die.The result of the successful simulation was a high-quality component with shorter development time.

Manufacturing News Milestone shipments JPB Système, the leading manufacturer of efficiency-enhancing technology solutions for aerospace, aeronautic and other industries, has announced two key product milestones as it marks its 25th anniversary year. Having recently surpassed the sale of its quarter-of-a millionth borescope self-locking plug, the company is well on track to hit another landmark with production of its half-a-millionth LULYLOK™ B-nut self-locking device. Uniquely, the borescope plug successfully addresses a specific problem put to the company by aerospace giant, Safran, in the 1990’s to completely eliminate the need for lockwires when securing an engine’s connections prior to visual inspection. Developed continually since its creation, and now in widespread use with Safran, and other aircraft engine manufactures like Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney, JPB’s borescope self-locking plugs provide a safe and secure seal for the various borescope inspection ports situated around the turbine engine case. Similarly, JPB Système’s LULYLOK™ solution is equally popular among aircraft engine manufacturers. As an advanced B-nut for fittings, it features a unique self-locking device that ensures sealing of pipes, thereby preventing loosening and leakage caused by severe vibration and extreme thermal conditions. Like the borescope plug, LULYLOK™ addresses safety concerns by eradicating the need for a lockwire or safety cable to secure the threaded parts within the engine. This eliminates foreign object damage while reducing maintenance costs and installation time.

€59m manufacturing expansion Merck, a leading science and technology company, has announced a €59 million expansion of its high-potent active pharmaceutical ingredient (HPAPI) and antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) manufacturing capabilities and capacity at its facility near Madison, Wisconsin, US. This investment will allow large-scale manufacturing of increasingly potent compounds for therapies that have the potential to treat cancer. Completion is expected by mid-2022 and should add approximately 50 full-time jobs starting in 2021. “ADCs have posted incredible growth over the last decade, and regulatory agencies’ approvals in recent years demonstrate their promise as a targeted therapy,” said Andrew Bulpin, head of Process Solutions, Life Science, at Merck. “With more than 35 years of experience in this space, we have been a frontrunner in the development and manufacturing of biologics, conjugation processes and small molecules. This investment underscores our commitment to working with innovators to bring new treatments to patients quickly and more efficiently.” Merck’s new 6,500-square meter commercial building will be one of the largest dedicated HPAPI manufacturing facilities specifically designed to handle singledigit nanogram occupational exposure limit materials. The project is in addition to the company’s Madison campus, which was the first commercial ADC facility in North America designed to handle highly active materials. The new building will join Merck’s established campus in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which specializes in ADC bio-conjugation, active pharmaceutical ingredients, excipient and adjuvants manufacturing. With more than 35 years of experience in the development and manufacturing of small molecules, biologics and ADC technologies, Merck offers extensive experience in both clinical and commercial manufacturing. The company’s comprehensive service portfolio combines the steps of drug development and production — from pre-clinical to commercial — from a single source. This consolidation helps reduce risk and streamlines the process of getting therapies to patients faster. .

Smart partners Three leading UK manufacturers have joined an Industrial 5G Accelerator program as part of a collaboration between 5G technology leader Ericsson and Digital Catapult, the UK’s leading advanced digital technology innovation center. Seagate, Siemens and Tharsus have joined the program to co-develop individual use cases with the aim of unlocking business efficiencies through the use of advanced wireless technologies and proving the potential of 5G in a critical business sector. All three companies will be working alongside Ericsson, Digital Catapult and selected UK mobile network operators to identify smart manufacturing opportunities that focus on improvements for productivity, flexibility and connectivity in an industrial setting. 5G-powered technologies such as robotics, augmented reality (AR), condition-based monitoring, asset tracking and predictive maintenance will be used throughout the individual use cases. As a key technology set to underpin the global transition to Industry 4.0 and drive global economic growth, the Industrial 5G Accelerator is a bespoke, challenge-led program designed to accelerate the adoption of 5G within UK industries and help companies understand how 5G can transform products and services. The smart manufacturing market is set to grow to $1 trillion according to a recent report from ABI Research, with 4.3 billion wireless connections predicted by 2030. Over a 5-year period, a UK-based warehouse operator that adopts private cellular enabled Industry 4.0 technologies could realize a 13.0% increase in gross profit margin and an operational cost saving of $220.9 million. l 15 Christopher Nieper

Use your


Technology will help manufacturers navigate the new normal. By Wael Elrifai


he fallout from Covid-19 is forcing manufacturers to pivot quickly in a number of ways – moving from just-in-time to justin-case inventory management models, addressing workforce availability challenges and rethinking approaches to employee health and safety. To ensure business continuity, many manufacturers have adhered to their local government’s imposed measures, including split shifts to enable social distancing and prevent high rates of worker absence. Some have even mandated quarantine areas for goods arriving from ‘high risk’ countries. This, however, has had an enormous knock-on impact. Not only on ways of working but also on logistics, storage and even energy consumption of manufacturing plants. Don’t get me wrong. The majority of manufacturers have viable business continuity plans in place. But these are short-term, based on relatively low risk or infrequent scenarios, like tsunamis or earthquakes. Without much in the way or forewarning, manufacturers are now facing a truly global crisis, likely to wreak havoc on the industry. The United Nations has estimated a potential $50bn decrease in exports across global value chains as a direct result of the virus. And while it might be too early to draw a line on the balance sheet, the real gaps that the pandemic has exposed are clearer than ever. While manufacturers

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have been grappling with both supply and demand shocks, many realised that traditional supply chains are not fit for purpose. In many cases, resilience has been sacrificed for greater cost or time saving efficiencies. Now, manufacturers need to find ways to become more agile. They need to future-proof their operations by integrating new technologies to maintain both an effective supply chain and operational workforce. Trends we have already seen emerge, such as using data analytics to drive operational efficiencies, will, and indeed must, be accelerated.

Establishing the foundation for antifragile supply chains

What we’ve seen up until now is that when companies are under budgetary pressure, they rely on data to secure buy in from the wider business. This is smart thinking when it comes to making an investment during an economic crisis. But in the face of a global pandemic, manufacturers need to be nimble and agile enough to continue operating during times of unrest. Let me give you an example. I grew up in Lebanon, in the Middle East. Today, years after the Civil War ended, people still have access to electricity only 12 or 14 hours a day. But most of them rely on their own generators. As power production is so decentralized, this allows the


to consider an optimal solution and build greater resilience to mitigate detrimental effects on the operations. Gaining real-time insights into where supply chains are strained can open an opportunity to predict the risks and help diversify the available options.

Transforming the workplace for a safe return to production

system to be resistant and antifragile to unanticipated shocks. The point here is simple. The reason manufacturers are struggling to deal with the fallout of Covid-19 is because their supply systems are fragile. What this doesn’t allow them is to be flexible – for example, very few manage to use the data they have to identify and connect with alternative suppliers when there are sudden shocks to their supply chain. The overreliance on manual processes and the lack of visibility into their supply networks has created tangible impact on their production. So, how can manufacturers retool their supply chain to find an optimal solution in times of crisis? It might sound obvious, but the foundation of an antifragile supply chain is to become digital. Data and analytics have enormous potential to modernize and transform manufacturing operations. Yes, most manufacturers are already gathering useful data throughout their operations, but it’s essential that they use it effectively. Don’t rush out to install sensors on everything, oftentimes what you’ve got is more than enough to build a robust view of your manufacturing operations and supply chain. One way is by using what we call an Asset Avatar - AI algorithms that help simulate scenarios and take into consideration all costs, such as fuel or storage, alongside any other factors as the distribution curves in each country or city. This will allow manufacturers

A study by The World Economic Forum looking into building resilience across manufacturing, revealed that the number one priority for manufacturers is to protect their workforce. Manufacturers have already taken measures such as implementing home-working policies, pushing travel restrictions and visitor bans, or making wearing of protective equipment mandatory. However, protecting the workforce to safely return to work should go beyond PPE. Driven by manufacturers’ reliance on human capital and the impacts of social distancing, it is critical that they maintain the safety of their workers. And this is where new technologies can be levelled up to directly solve these pain points to also benefit in the long run. New technologies such as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) are already being deployed to help ensure social distancing in manufacturing facilities as well as optimise people flow. By using thermal cameras and LiDAR technology, manufacturers can detect the temperature of a person from a distance, so that workers can be screened for symptoms of Covid-19, while workspaces can be monitored for compliance with distancing recommendations. By combining this data with existing sensor data, manufacturers can perform machine learning analysis and identify potential high-risk areas, optimise operations management, and even develop policies around what to do when an employee has a fever or hasn’t washed their hands. Protecting human life has become even more of a priority during the pandemic. It’s essential that manufacturers look to new solutions and take a proactive approach to prevent and mitigate the impact of future pandemics. The manufacturing industry is not only a driving force behind the global economy, but it also contributes to a better quality of life. We depend on the success of manufacturing for ensuring continued production and quality of goods, while advances in technology will ensure a safer work environment suitable for the future production systems. v

Wael Elrifai Wael Elrifai is VP of Big Data, IOT & AI at Hitachi Vantara, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd. Working alongside each customer, Hitachi Vantara applies its unmatched industrial and digital capabilities to their data and applications to benefit both business and society. More than 80 per cent of the Fortune 100 trust Hitachi Vantara to help them develop new revenue streams, unlock competitive advantages, lower costs, enhance customer experiences, and deliver social and environmental value. l 17


to the rules

Paul Taylor takes a look at the health and safety requirements surrounding machinery


efore any item of machinery can be legally placed on the market in the EU, it must bear the CE marking. This cannot be applied unless the machine has been proven to meet the requirements of the Machinery Directive and any other applicable directives. The CE marking involves a four-step process: 1) Essential Health & Safety Requirements (EHSRs) 2) Technical Construction File 3) Declaration of Conformity 4) Affix the CE Marking All machines supplied in the European Economic Area (EEA) from 1 January 1995, must comply with the Machinery Directive and be safe. The Essential Health and Safety Requirements (EHSR) lay down the minimum compliance criteria. The preferred way to comply with EHSRs is by Risk Assessment and the application of harmonized EN standards, which are replacing the national standards of member states. The EHSR requirements are wide ranging, taking into account potential dangers to operators and other persons who may be at risk. A typical example of an EHSR is the requirement to provide adequate warning

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labels where there are moving parts that might trap parts of the body of personnel using the machine. Another would be the requirement to provide safety guards to machine tools. However, taking into account the state-of-the-art, it may not be possible to meet all the objectives set by EHSRs, as technologies often move more quickly than the standards trying to catch up with them. With this in mind, the machinery must be designed and constructed with the purpose of approaching these objectives. Within the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations, the Essential Health and Safety Requirements are divided into six sections: 1. EHSRs applicable to all machinery 2. EHSRs for certain categories of machinery, including foodstuffs machinery; machinery for cosmetics or pharmaceutical products; hand-held and/or hand-guided machinery; portable fixing and other impact machinery; machinery for working wood and material with similar physical characteristics 3. EHSRs to offset hazards due to the mobility of machinery 4. EHSRs to offset hazards due to a lifting operation 5. EHSRs for machinery intended for underground work 6. EHSRs to offset hazards due to the lifting of moving of persons The Machinery Directive’s more notable EHSRs include:

Health and safety Technical construction file

A technical construction file will prove due diligence and provide the evidence of compliance. It must also conform to the provisions set out in Annex VII of the Machinery Directive and remain available for inspection by a competent national authority for a period of ten years. However, it does not have to include detailed information such as the sub-assemblies of the machine, unless a knowledge of them is essential for verification and compliance with the EHSRs. As the documentation within the technical file must enable enforcement authorities to assess the conformity of the product, it is best to remember that they may not be highly skilled machinery engineers, so plain language must be used and explanations given. They are also entitled to demand the technical file is provided in any official EU language, so be prepared to translate it. The technical file can be a traditional paper file, or stored electronically, with hyperlinks to documents, and it must be updated as the product is adapted.

Declaration of Conformity

• • • • •

EHSR 1.1.7 The operating position must be designed to avoid any risk due to exhaust gases/ lack of oxygen EHSR 1.1.8 work stations that are an integral part of the machine must be designed for the installation of seating EHSR 1.2.2 Manual controls must be clearly visible and identifiable; the use of pictograms is recommended EHSR Fixed guards. Fixing systems must remain attached to the guards when removed EHSR 1.1.2 requires risk assessment to be carried out

When considering EHSRs, risk assessment is a vital step in ensuring compliance and therefore the fundamental starting point for designers of machinery under the Machinery (Safety) Regulations. Some useful references include the standard EN ISO 12100 ‘Safety of Machinery – Risk Assessment’, which defines risk assessment as ‘a series of logical steps to enable, in a systematic way, the analysis and evaluation of the risks associated with machinery.’ EN ISO 12100 goes on; ‘Risk assessment is followed, whenever necessary, by risk reduction. Iteration of this process can be necessary to eliminate hazards as far as practicable and to adequately reduce risks by the implementation of protective measures.’

The Declaration of Conformity must accompany every machine placed on the market. This is the manufacturer’s assurance to the customer that the product complies with the applicable directives. It must carry relevant product information and be signed by a responsible person on behalf of the manufacturer or importer. The alternative to a Declaration of Conformity is a Declaration of Incorporation. This applies to partly completed machinery that is intended to be part of an assembly but cannot itself perform a specific application. This declaration and assembly instructions for the partly completed machinery will then form part of the technical file for the final machinery assembly. The final step to prove compliance of machinery is to affix the CE marking to machines being sold in the European Union and UKCA mark for those being placed on the UK market (post Brexit). Regardless of what happens with the Brexit deal, the actual process for manufacturing compliant machinery for the UK market will have little effect from a legal perspective. As EU Directives are already transposed into National Law, the UK already has a legal system in place that applies. There will of course be text amendments to reflect UK legislative requirements, including the UKCA mark and removal of references to EU directives and the CE marking. While references to ‘harmonized standards’ will change to ‘designated standards’, the actual standards will remain the same as EU harmonized standards, and will be carried across as UK designated standards to maintain a single standards model. As a machinery end-user, before accepting any new machines check that they meet the requirements of the order and also conform to the Machinery Directive. A pre-purchase audit is a useful system that can help machinery buyers ensure that equipment is both safe and correct. v

Paul Taylor Paul Taylor is Head of Industrial Products (UK) at TÜV SÜD, one of the world’s leading experts in product testing and certification, with 150,000 product certificates in circulation globally. Its Product Service division analyses over 20,000 products each year in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Americas, using its technical expertise to help customers optimize market access. l 19

Keeping the lights on

With data becoming a more precious resource every day, do you have an IT Disaster Recovery Plan? Philip Bridge takes a look at the issue


nhancing data availability is something that is on the minds of many in the manufacturing industry. Today, data is king. Thanks to the digital transformation of the industry, the data mountain continues to get bigger and bigger. In fact, according to IDC, it will reach an incomprehensible 175 zettabytes by 2025. Unlocking this data has never been more critical. However, ensuring your teams have access to this data when the unthinkable happens can be a real challenge. Unfortunately, in the climate we now live, having that data made unavailable is not a question of if but when. Whether caused by an overenthusiastic staff member clicking the wrong button or a state-sponsored, ultra-sophisticated cyberattack, swift recovery from a data disaster can be the difference between extinction and survival. With that in mind, we have put together a template to help manufacturers familiarize themselves with the building blocks of an IT Disaster Recovery Plan (IT DRP). Filling out the plan will also encourage thinking about what it would take to resume normal operations if their data and infrastructure were implicated in a severe IT-incident. It is essential to get ahead of the problem and detail the policies and procedures you need to follow in the event of a disruption to critical IT services or damage to IT equipment or data. These processes will ensure that those assets are recoverable to the right level and within the right timeframe to deliver a return to normal operations, with minimal impact on the business. A good starting point is to undertake a thorough business impact analysis. In this, the first section identifies important IT-services needed for the business and the impact if interrupted. The second section focuses

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on the business needs regarding availability, recovery times, backup, data integrity and data confidentiality. Business process/delivery Supporting IT-service

Impact when interrupted, incl time when it becomes unacceptable

Factory production IT-system A

Assembly lines will stop immediately, unacceptable after 4 hours.

Finance IT-system B Will stop invoicing and reporting immediately, unacceptable after 24 hours. HR IT-system C Will mean use of IT-system B prepared manual procedures, unacceptable after 48 hours. All business staff Email system Will impact productivity immediately, unacceptable after 4 hours.

Data Action


Implementation plan

Change the backup solution RTO email system Secure erase of hard disks when replaced

Identify new solution for IT-system A in order to meet the business need of Recovery Point Objective

Analysis done in (date)

Discuss the cost for a shorter Recovery Time Objective with the supplier

Discussion (date)

Discuss a solution with Discussion (date) Ontrack in order to erase all hard disks in a secure way when replaced (for all systems with high or very high confidentially demand

Finally, you need to identify just how you will respond should one of your key systems fail. This part of the business continuity plan covers preparations to handle IT-interruptions efficiently so that you can reduce the impact on the business. Cyberattacks, rogue employees, natural disasters, media damage and human error are just a few ways you can lose access to your data. IT teams in the manufacturing industry are increasingly focusing on resilience as a strategic objective to ensure that the data that is core to their business remains available 24/7. It is a case of keeping the lights on when disaster strikes. It goes beyond simple business continuity and disaster recovery planning, though. It should encompass an entire culture and practices. In the age of digitization, data is integral to every business, so protect what is most dear. v


Business need of:

Availability RTO RPO Data

IT-system A


4 h

10 min Very high Low

IT-system B


24 h

24 h

Very high High

IT-system C


48 h

24 h

Very high Very high

4 h

12 h

Very high Medium

Email system 99.9%


integrity confidentiality

The Recovery Time Objective (RTO) is the time frame agreed upon to get the business process/delivery operational again after an IT-interruption. The Recovery Point Objective (RPO) is the acceptable amount of data you can lose in an incident without being able to recover it to a previous ‘point in time’. Data integrity is the demand that information stays intact, and data confidentiality is the demand that ensures that information is not made available to others. When the need for essential IT-resources is identified, you need to do an analysis to ensure you have the right level of robustness to support your business. The best way is to contact the individual responsible for each ITservice in-scope for the planning work and have an extensive discussion about the business need and what is covered in the service today. In the end, it is a business decision on what to have in place, including what risks the business is willing to take.

Philip Bridge Philip Bridge is President of Ontrack. KLDiscovery Ontrack, LLC (doing business as Ontrack) provides technology-enabled services and software to help corporations, state/local/federal government agencies, educational institutions and consumers solve complex data challenges. As a business unit of KLDiscovery, Ontrack provides marketleading data recovery services for any type of media – hard drives, SSD, servers, RAID, virtual, cloud, mobile devices, tape, NAS/SAN/DAS. Additionally, through proprietary technologies and expert services around the globe, Ontrack provides additional solutions for clients with email extraction, tape management, and data destruction. l 21

Get with

the system

UK manufacturers must upgrade, evolve or replace their legacy applications, says Philip Rashleigh


anufacturing SMEs often retain outdated equipment, IT hardware and software systems as several generations of more efficient, secure upgrades are introduced. While inertia and an unwillingness to master new systems and processes both play their part in failing to upgrade, cost-savings and risk are the main drivers. However, it is invariably a false economy, with huge financial costs, security compromises, commercial consequences and operational barriers for those who continue to use legacy systems. According to a 2017 study by global professional services company, Avande, they make up an average 31 per cent of any organization’s technology. Meanwhile, UK manufacturing lags far behind global pack leaders in adopting leading edge automation in the workplace. Industry leaders have repeatedly voiced their concerns at their inability to replace legacy applications with new digital initiatives. In 2017, the International Federation of Robotics reported that South Korea boasted 710 industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees, compared to Britain’s 74, underlining how slow we are to adopt leading edge production equipment and systems.

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It all means that a huge proportion of IT budgets – some estimates run at 60-80 per cent - are allocated to keeping out-of-date legacy systems running. They hit manufacturers’ growth and productivity targets in many ways. These include compromised security – legacy applications are particularly vulnerable to ransomware cyber security attacks and other hacking – declining customer service; damaged brand reputation; restricted innovation; impaired productivity; dissatisfied and demotivated staff; a lack of agility and business intelligence difficulties. All of these negative impacts are exacerbated by software vendors gradually ceasing to support older tools or APIs. Meanwhile, as senior IT employees retire, younger replacements are unlikely to be familiar enough with older technologies and codebases to be able to continue supporting arcane systems. Transforming and improving or exchanging technology can be expensive, but so is funding outdated and inefficient software systems. The investment in new technology can cost less in the long-term than maintaining old ones – it will also lift productivity and profits; help retain existing customers and attract new ones. Crucially, efficient, intuitive applications will also

Factory technology • Does sufficient support still exist for them? • Can the systems be integrated with newer technology for desired improvements? Approaches to legacy upgrades can vary based on the stage and status of existing frameworks. There are times where it can be faster and more effective to completely replace a system, rather than waiting longer to decide how to integrate the old with the new. However, depending on the state and age of your current systems, it may be that a total rip-out-andreplace isn’t needed. For example, adopting a modular approach allows organizations to rebuild legacy systems in phases. By separating the existing system into modular components, organizations are provided with the ability to review business needs, processes and workflows against each module during a rebuild, with an iterative and incremental upgrade path. This particular approach can also help to remove complexities that come with large-scale systems with convoluted business logic. System extensions can also be a viable alternative to ripping out and replacing legacy systems. By introducing automated workflows over existing systems, organizations can benefit from a richer user interface with additional functionality without having to replace the existing software or databases. While this sort of gradual introduction could well be a lower risk strategy, a complete replacement of legacy systems may be non-negotiable in some cases – for instance, when it is agreed that the old system is too expensive and/or poses too many risks to the business. In these circumstances, replacing the systems completely could be faster and more cost effective. Deciding which solution and approach is right for legacy technology upgrade projects will depend on the expertise within your team, the resources available and your business goals, as well as the complexities, time frames and your budget. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for manufacturing businesses however, when planning for such technology projects, organizations should keep in mind how the solution will support both short and long term scalability plans, tie back to wider business strategies, and provide the ability to react to growing and evolving business needs. v

boost staff happiness, drive top level people to your door and encourage innovation rather than stifle it. The challenge, then, is how to change or replace existing systems with minimal disruption and downtime. Deciding which route is best is not easy. Manufacturers must consider how to keep delivering in the now operating as normal to meet current organizational needs - whilst planning for future requirements, with upgrades, integrations or migrations. There is an array of options to consider, which vary depending on the performance of current systems, the type of software products preferred (i.e. off-the-shelf, bespoke, cloud hosted) and the scale of the business, both today and what’s planned for the future. When deciding what to do with legacy IT, ask the following questions: • What do existing systems currently offer the company and how long will they be valuable? • Do they still provide the responsiveness, outputs and speeds of delivery required? • Are the costs of running and maintaining them sustainable?

Philip Rashleigh Philip Rashleigh is Audacia’s technical director. Audacia is a Leeds and London-based software development company, specializing in the design, development and delivery of scalable and robust, business-critical software systems. Audacia has established a reputation as a critical technology partner with long-standing relationships; helping customers automate their processes by delivering intuitive and reliable technology solutions. l 23

The face of the factory

When it comes to factory design, where do we go now in the post-Covid-19 era? Paul McFadyen reports


he manufacturing industry in the UK is strong and has spent the last four years preparing for life after Brexit - but no one could have prepared for the devastation that Covid-19 has brought to global societies and industries. As the nation is adjusting to what is often called, ‘the new normal’, many factory workers have not seen much change in their working habits as they maintained their work flow with no ‘work from home’ options available - producers on the frontline have kept the country moving with food production, online retail and distribution, health and medical supplies, utilities - the often overlooked and unsung heroes. This has come at a price as factory workers have been among some of the largest groups affected by the virus; a meat factory in West Yorkshire, garment factories in Leicester, a chicken processing plant in Wales, a cement manufacturer in Bristol, a Leicester potato snack factory, and a

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slaughterhouse in Germany where over 1500 workers tested positive for Coronavirus are just some of the manufacturers that have hit the headlines - but why are factory workers among the hardest hit? Some contributing factors include close proximity working on production lines, symptomless positive cases that spread undetected, refrigerated production areas (lower temperatures preserve viruses well), lack of ultraviolet light, slack health and safety protocols, and loud environments that encourage colleagues to stand close together to communicate or to shout which also increases viral particle spread. There are so many contributing factors, many of which were unknown in the early days of the pandemic, so there is little value in playing the blame game - what we need to do is look at how to make changes to future proof the manufacturing industry by taking positive action from this point on. What we can take from the above factors is that factory design can

Factory design

play a large part in reducing the risks during future pandemics while also planning for post Brexit expansion. Factory design needs to look closely at what the factory is, or will be, producing and what its needs are; getting the basics of the flow of goods and personnel is at the heart of the issue to keep factories working to capacity - the ability to react to change is the lifeblood of the manufacturing industry. • Plan layouts that incorporate the potential to expand, adapt, and re purpose; look at foundation and base structure for weight bearing capacity, headspace, bay size to accommodate machinery, and adequate workspace for employees, consider needs now and in the future. • Consider how materials are handled during production to increase worker distance, reduce bottlenecks, reduce material handling costs and factor in where the use of cranes, hoists, and conveyors can streamline processes. • Utilize materials in the factory design that are sustainable, recyclable, or produced from recycled materials. Steel framed buildings offer a cost-effective option that can easily be added to in the future either upwards, or outwards. Solar power may not be offering solutions to run heavy manufacturing facilities, but tap into ecologically sound power options where possible, staff showers heated from solar power or grey water for toilet facilities are a great place to start. • Consider automating elements of your production - this can be especially useful where processes are executed in limited space. This may entail retraining and reskilling staff as part of the changing role of the factory employee; equipping staff with new skills in technology will lead to a more engaged workforce as their role becomes more varied and less mundane - utilize the skills of your workers. • Where automation is not possible due to limited space, limited finance, artisan, or hand finished products, look at how assembly lines can be reconfigured to create safer and more inspiring workstations.

• • •

Look at lighting and ventilation - lighting and air quality have been proven to affect employee productivity and fatigue levels, ensure these are adaptive, fit for purpose, and reactive; make sure you meet the statutory requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act, but emember to think outside the box and research newer, cleaner, more cost effective ways of doing things. Establish that the concept of all new or reconfigured factory design is right and do not be rushed during the design phase. The productivity curve, profits, and output could be disproportionately affected long term for the sake of a week or so in the planning stages. Be innovative and bold. Factories and manufacturing facilities need to be functional, safe, and maximize productivity potential, but embedding elements of space, light, and clever design detail can create a less boring and more stimulating working environment, which will lead to a more satisfied and productive workforce.

I genuinely believe that to safeguard the UK manufacturing industry, factory design has a huge role to play in future proofing the success of the UK economy. v

Paul McFadyen Paul McFadyen is Managing Director at metals4U. Based in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, metals4U was founded in 2002 as the UK’s first online supplier of metals, plastics, tube clamps and engineering consumables. metals4U is now an industry leader in supply of superior quality grades of steel, copper, bronze, and brass, power and hand tools, PPE, workwear, and engineering products to retail, wholesale, hobbyists, artists, DIY, construction, and industrial sectors. l 25

Factory harmony How humans and machines can work together in the factory of the future. By Patricia Torres


xports are a key indicator of the economic performance of any industrialized country. With an export volume of $1.49 trillion, Germany ranked third behind the USA ($1.65 trillion) and China ($2.5 trillion) in a global comparison in 20191. Meanwhile, France ranked sixth ($555,000 million) and the UK eleventh ($468,000 million). To ensure that the European and UK economies do not lose out in the long term, new concepts are needed to optimize the efficiency of industrial production. In view of the progress made in automation and artificial intelligence, a well-established and improved interaction between man and machine could help to ensure high economic standards and productivity. A promising model for the new harmony on the factory floor is based on intelligent, integrated and interactive design of tomorrow’s manufacturing processes. Many still believe that man and robots can only work against each other or, if need be, side by side; moreover, there is still a fear that machines will replace human workers. However, the coexistence of human workers

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and automated machine solutions and robots has become increasingly commonplace. Furthermore, digitalization provides companies in the manufacturing industry with an enormous inventory of technological options for implementing the factory of the future. Smart networking using artificial intelligence offers the opportunity to convert manufacturing data into strategic information. It also enables the smooth integration of highprecision robotics technologies that work at high speed, supplemented by methodically safe and simple interaction between man and machine.

New era of intelligent, integrated and interactive production

Increase efficiency, reduce costs, strengthen competitiveness - what is necessary to secure your market position in competitive global markets can be implemented with innovative solutions for flexible and efficient production. The potential of a technology that can revolutionize the factory floor of the future while promoting harmony between human and machine

Future factory

can be seen in the recent developments in collaborative robots, such as the Omron™ collaborative robot. The robot offers an innovative solution for the simple automation of applications that have traditionally been carried out by humans and for an area where automation has so far been very difficult. As well as enabling the automation of complex tasks using a 3D camera, it can be seamlessly integrated into an autonomous mobile robot. One example of its capabilities is bin picking: the robot quickly and precisely sorts different articles and deposits them where they are needed. The 3D camera locates the items and sends their coordinates to the robot, while the software, supported by AI algorithms, performs the advanced calculations required for optimized goods picking, e.g. for customized orders. Meanwhile, a mobile robot is responsible for the subsequent transportation of the goods. In this respect, the efficient combination of different production processes forms the basis for particularly flexible and reliable production and material handling. It also gives a foretaste of what will be possible in the future with ‘Factory Harmony’, where integrated, mobile and collaborative robots work in harmony with humans to ensure flexible manufacturing and customization.

Systematically avoiding malfunctions and breakdowns Operational excellence is an important basis for investment security - especially in view of the current changes in industrial production organization. Changing consumer behaviors are forcing manufacturers

to flexibly produce smaller quantities in a larger number of variants, saving as much time as possible. The factory of the future must therefore become more flexible and be able to convert production more quickly and produce smaller runs. The ultimate goal is to be able to deliver personalized products from an agile and networked production line. In an automation model that meets this requirement, all devices, machines and solutions should operate in an integrated manner. Effective quality control is essential in all production and packaging lines. Those who can identify defective products before they leave the factory, or even before they are produced, benefit from considerable time and cost savings and avoid costly product recalls, loss of productions and possible damage to brand reputation. Equally important is the quality control of packaging for products such as food or medicines. An illegible barcode or a wrong expiration date can lead to the need to dispose of faultless products. In addition, there is a trend towards stricter legislation, which gives top priority to unambiguous labeling for all types of products. For example, the EU has introduced new regulations in 2019, requiring production lines to meet even higher quality control standards. As a result of the increasing degree of automation in production lines, the need for automated processes in quality control has also been amplified. Among other things, it pays off if the machines are able to collect data in order to optimize predictive maintenance. The more data is collected and processed, the more ‘intelligent’ the machine can be to help l 27

Future factory

extend production line life, reduce downtime and increase productivity. For example, Omron’s Sysmac AI controller includes a predictive maintenance library based on AI, and collects, analyses and uses data on Edge devices to extend their life, detect anomalies and prevent failures. No internet connection is required, meaning users are no longer dependent on cloud computing and can leverage the AI potential for their business advantage.

Image processing supports error detection

An increasingly important factor in quality control on production lines is smart image processing - technically implemented either as a completely new solution or by partially retrofitting an existing system. Very compact image processing systems monitor production in real time and react immediately to any error. The data transmitted by an image processing system is processed on site and made available centrally via the cloud for detailed analyses so that suitable measures can be taken. In order for an inspection system to make intelligent decisions, data must be captured by a sensor such as a camera for image processing. These cameras can be set up to monitor various aspects of a product, such as detecting defects or checking labels for printing errors or missing information. The data is then analyzed with high computing power to compare the process with the actual and target results. When problems are detected, the system responds according to programmed rules. Sometimes it can automatically correct the errors, but even then the operator is always informed to ensure correct processes and in case additional action is required. Since this system is fully networked, it provides a better link between the machines on a production line, resulting in both more precise quality control and greater efficiency. When an error is detected, the system can often automatically compensate for it and production is not affected. Intelligent automation solutions of the latest generation work fast, offer high computing power, are easy to operate and thus ensure transparent quality control in the factory of tomorrow.

Flexibility is the engine for customer satisfaction and business success

Since customer and business requirements are constantly changing, the factory floor must also be more flexible in the future. Flexibility in the organization and arrangement of production resources is one of the key success factors for efficient production. This includes the mobility of the robots used and their adaptability to concrete requirements in practical use, which is another advantage of an effective quality control and process management system.

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By combining image processing, motion, control, functional safety and robotics in a single management system, production lines can be more easily adapted to short production runs and changing market requirements. The line layout can be quickly redesigned and the recognition pattern for quality control easily updated in the software. This ensures that different product variants or even different products are produced and packaged flawlessly. In addition, such a system brings the benefits of future-proof orientation by being adaptable to new regulations. As a result, manufacturers do not have to worry about changing their production lines, but can simply initiate a firmware update for the existing solution if necessary.

Conclusion: ‘Factory Harmony’ determines production of the future

The networking of humans and machines is more than just a trend towards the efficient organization of processes and the distribution of tasks in manufacturing plants. The tangible benefits of tomorrow’s high-performance factory are already showing how the systematic harmonization of human and machine-based capabilities is revolutionizing production with the help of artificial intelligence and robotics, and is breaking new ground for the production methods of the future. v


Patricia Torres Patricia Torres is Industry Marketing Manager Food and Commodities, Omron Europe. As a leading company of automation centered on its proprietary Sensing & Control + Think technologies, OMRON Corporation is engaged in a wide range of businesses, including control equipment, electronic components, social systems, healthcare, and the environment. In the field of industrial automation, OMRON supports manufacturing innovation by providing advanced automation technologies and products, as well as through extensive customer support, in order to help create a better society.

Process in focus

How on-demand gas mixing benefits manufacturing’s transition to Industry 4.0. By Mathew Devitt


he demands of transitioning to Industry 4.0 are creating the need for new processes to keep pace with tighter tolerances, increased production rates, and adaptive systems aided by machine learning and artificial intelligence. The move from analog to digital systems, using smart sensors to allow for real-time responses to changing system processes, yields increases in productivity and flexibility while allowing plants to adapt to customized and flexible work environments. One of the key places where these changes occur is the way manufacturers use mixed gas. Historically, the size and complexity of gas mixing systems meant that most industrial consumers of mixed gas bought premixed gas directly from suppliers. This meant manufacturers had to adapt their processes to consume a limited number of gases with limited flexibility to changing systems on demand. Modern manufacturers increasingly find the need to be able to respond in real-time to changing process conditions. On-demand gas mixing systems answer the needs of today’s smart manufacturing environment. Through the application of smart sensors to the gas mixing process, mixes are traceable in real time and can feed data into process computers. Because of the responsiveness of these systems, changes in process conditions are immediately reported and mixtures adjusted, flow rates changed, or the system shut down in real time. The ability to rapidly change mixtures on-demand creates flexibility in lean manufacturing situations where production lines pivot between products. Traditional bottled gas requires adaptation to the available gas, whereas a gas mixing system can take inputs of often up to ten different constituent gases and mix them on-demand based on the immediate

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needs of the process. The result is a manufacturing process that is more agile, more productive, and more cost effective. Applications like on-demand manufacturing challenge traditional manufacturing and produce an advantage in highly competitive market spaces. The ability for a production floor to quickly change between multiple products allows manufacturers to maintain a competitive edge while diversifying their offerings in unstable market spaces. Gas mixing systems can programmatically change gas mixtures based on production input allowing for automated changes in production with varying gas mixtures. These mixes can be preprogrammed to flow at set rates, or add a smart sensor down the production line to provide feedback to the gas mixing system. This means that both standard, traceable inputs and IIoT-enabled critical process conditions can be maintained automatically with minimal intervention. The data is also logged and can be stored locally or exported to centralized databases. Data logging ensures reliable process control and auditing for process improvement or failure mitigation. The results are improved performance, fewer failures, and the ability to constantly refine and improve processes. A number of industries are already benefiting from the use of ondemand gas mixing systems. Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) used by the food packing industry has seen process improvements through the use of gas mixing systems. The ability to purchase and store cheaper, pure gases which can be mixed as needed has generated both cost savings and flexibility. Digital outputs of these mixing systems also ensure USDA/FDA traceability and give system feedback for real-time quality control. When it comes to industrial furnace applications, careful control of

Alicat Scientific

the gases used and the resultant BTU output are critical. Since many parameters can be monitored in combustion processes (gas flow rates, gas pressures, stoichiometry, temperature, etc.) this data rich environment is ideal for the application of technologically advanced gas mixing equipment. Even as the incoming fuel composition changes, or the downstream heat requirements vary, a properly engineered, modern gas blending solution will adjust autonomously, and in real-time to maintain the desired result. Many fabrication plants use in-house gas mixers to provide variable, precise multi-gas mixtures to facilitate welding and cutting processes. For heavy industrial applications requiring welding with shielding gases, ondemand mixed gases reduce costs through the purchase and storage of cheaper pure gases. Systems can also be set up to mix different gases for various welding applications. Component gas use is tracked and can be

uploaded to data centers for tracking and inventory maintenance. For organizations requiring extensive validation and calibration of gas sensors, a single dynamic gas mixing system has the ability to automate a unique blend for each sensor, and rapidly validate sensor functionality. This data is fed into a centralized database and checked against historical data and required tolerances to ensure optimal operating parameters. With tighter control on sensor calibration, affected processes attain more optimal operating environments and generate less waste yielding greater efficiency at reduced costs. As more manufacturers transition to Industry 4.0 to benefit from IIoT and big data, the move to on-demand gas mixing is an effective way to increase productivity, maintain a competitive advantage, and reduce costs. These gas systems allow for the purchasing of cheaper, pure, gases which can be changed as necessary to adapt to changing processes and conditions while maintaining traceability. On-demand gas mixing systems fulfill the requirement of creating value in today’s real-time, data-driven processes. v

Mathew Devitt Mathew Devitt is Marketing Manager at Alicat Scientific, the leaders in mass flow controllers and flow meter solutions. Alicat pioneered the use of laminar differential pressure flow technology, improving on traditional differential pressure metering. It manufactures and develops custom flow control, flow meter, and pressure solutions for both gas and liquid applications. Its mass flow meters boast the industry’s highest turndown ratio, resulting in fast and accurate measurement over a wide flow range. l 33

Below: Stolle EMS Coolant Filtration System

Canny business


ounded in the USA, Stolle Machinery is the world’s leading producer of machinery for can and end manufacture. As part of its global footprint, the company has expanded its operations across multiple continents, establishing offices and facilities in Latin America, China, India, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. Headquartered in the United Kingdom, Stolle Machinery Europe serves food and beverage canmakers throughout Continental Europe, the British Isles, the Middle East, and

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Africa. Though the company’s main facility is situated in Carlisle, Stolle Europe has an additional UK location in Altham, as well as another plant in Poland. Led by Executive Vice President Steve Higginson, the company’s success is built upon its unique positioning in the market; with the exception of a palletizer, Stolle Machinery offers every piece of equipment - including conveyance - necessary for a can line, along with design, layout, installation, and commissioning services. “Stolle Europe provides the organizational

glue between the equipment supply and the customer’s requirement for cans,” Steve explains. “When you buy that kind of equipment, somebody has to specify it, plan its placement in a factory, install it, commission it, and then get that process operational. In other words, it’s a bit like buying all the ingredients, but you don’t know how to cook. Somebody has got to turn the ingredients into a finished dish. That’s where we come in. Of course, we do have competitors, but they have to get their equipment from somewhere else, and

Stolle Machinery Europe

Already receiving bookings for 2022 and beyond, Stolle Machinery Europe offers the food and beverage industry a comprehensive package of services that help turn investments into a reality also, they are not can makers. We have got the can making experience and the end making experience. There is nobody else like us. “When an independent manufacturer comes to us and says, ‘I want a can factory’, our usual response is ‘how many cans?’ and ‘what sizes?’. If they want a billion cans, we know that they need a 3000 a minute can line and we will then design and install around it. The person requesting the factory more than likely do not have the experience in the industry, but it doesn’t matter, because we can fill in those

gaps. In addition to bringing the nuts and bolts of a project - the design, the layout, the utilities you will need and where they should be - we are bringing a wealth of experience that turns someone’s investment into a reality.” Serving not only as a regional hub for genuine Stolle OEM parts, field service, and complete technical support for can and end lines, Stolle Europe is a hub for three key supplementary groups: Stolle Global Systems, Stolle EMS, and Stolle Conveyance Systems. Acquired over time, these subsidiary

businesses now collaborate under the Stolle Europe umbrella. The result is a business that, as Steve suggests, not only offers vast machining and assembly facilities, but also turnkey construction, upgrade, and process analysis services for the can and end manufacturing industry. Traditionally focused on businesses with whom Stolle Europe has already established a relationship, the company’s targeted acquisitions strategy has driven growth and facilitated diversity in its product offering. l 35

Below: Vortex Compound End Liner

Below: Air conveying

“Stolle Conveyance Systems, which was ECI Cumbria, was a company involved in our layout design, so as our systems business grew, the natural progression was for them to become part of the family,” Steve remarks. “EMS - now Stolle EMS – an existing manufacturer of, can washers, ovens, and component machines that were missing in

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our portfolio. These key can line elements were not manufactured in the US, or Brazil, or Vietnam, or China where our other facilities are, but they were manufactured in Poland and the UK, so it was a natural sequence of events for Stolle Europe to absorb that company too. “Over time, the acquisitions have led to us become a highly diverse operation,” Steve

Stolle Machinery Europe


Below: Inspection Conveyor

adds. “There are now many different elements to our business, including the spares and aftermarket activities, which were worth $1 million in 2006, but are now in excess $30 million dollars. We have our conveyance business, which is the hardware that conveys a can from one machine to another, and that plays nicely into our systems work, which

covers some of the line layouts and design services we offer for factories. We offer a service department and rebuild facilities from Carlisle, and all our sites have equipment build capabilities.” Supported by investment from its parent company in the US, Stolle Europe benefits from over 60,000 square feet of manufacturing

Due to the demand for cans, we expect to see more manufacturing opportunities in the UK in the future, which will create more jobs, so we are currently recruiting. Some of our products are already sold out through 2021, so we are also increasing capacity, both in terms of manpower and space to help provide more, helping us to fulfil customer programs which already seem buoyant into 2023 l 37

Altham Fabrications Altham Fabrications is a well-established company that specializes in sheet metal fabrication, laser cutting and structural steelwork. It operates from a brand-new spacious factory located at Frontier Park on the Hyndburn/ Blackburn border. Here, it carries out a broad range of sheet metal fabrication projects, and manufactures a variety of products to the highest standards. Such activities are part of a complete manufacturing and installation operation, which includes a full ‘Measure, Make, and Fit’ service geared to meeting customer’s specific requirements. It specializes in the design, manufacture and installation of heavy fabrications for the food and non-food industry. It has a complete design and build capability and has completed projects worldwide. Committed to growth and continuous improvement, Altham Fabrication is currently working towards achieving ISO 9001 2015 Quality Management System, ISO 14001 2015 Environmental Management, and ISO 45001 2018 Health and Safety Management. Altham Fabrications is proud to be associated with Stolle Machinery and looks forward to continuing this relationship.

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space in Carlisle, where the company produces all its conveyance and has the ability to rebuild various pieces of equipment, including diesets, bodymakers and decorators. Washers are produced in Altham, which is also home to Stolle Europe’s Precision Machine Shop – an innovative site currently working on two R and D bodymakers called The Canceptor and also the launch site for the new Stolle necker. “Among our recent purchases was a new Mazak turning machine for our Precision site,” Steve reports. “We are very lucky in that we’ve been well looked after by Stolle Machinery in terms of providing investment. There is, of course, a process to go through, but we’ve been kept well abreast of our ability to fund what is an actively growing market.” Together with the significant financial backing, outside influences beyond the company’s control have also been instrumental in Stolle Europe’s expansion, Steve claims. “As a business in the middle of the supply chain, we’re very much dependent on how our customers perform. Over the last couple of years, demand has been driven by pressure

Stolle Machinery Europe Below: Stolle E-NCKR

RHF Fans

on plastics, causing people to turn to metal packaging as a result. The Covid-19 situation has had an even bigger impact because people don’t want to re-use packaging, whereas metal packaging is single use. It gets recycled, and in some cases, it can end up in the material in a can plant within two to three weeks. “Changes in people’s shopping patterns

have benefitted the company too,” Steve notes. “Shoppers have been buying in bulk because they could only go out once every so often, so two-piece food cans have been popular, but also beer and beverage cans as well because pubs and social outlets have been closed or restricted, and a two-piece can is the best package to keep drinks safe and fresh.”

RHF Fans are a world renowned manufacturer of industrial axial and centrifugal fans with a portfolio of over 20000 fan designs serving multiple industries throught the world from our pupose built factory in Manchester. It has been our pleasure to work extensively with Stolle EMS and their professional personnel by providing energy efficient premium products backed by a service second to none. It is important that Stolle are fully confident in RHF as we provide them with both mild and stainless steel fans throughout their range of ovens and washers, and that we work in close partnership year on year. l 39

Below: Stolle Concord Decorator

Above: Optimus Can Dryer

Though 2020’s Covid-19 crisis has presented Stolle Europe with new opportunities for growth, the company would not have been able to take advantage of the increase in demand were it not for its swift adaptation to new ways of working. Within days of the virus’ outbreak, Stolle Europe formed a crisis management team that quickly agreed to implement safety initiatives above and beyond government recommendations. Meeting daily, the crisis team guided the company through lockdown, ensuring the safety of Stolle’s employees and the long-term health of the business. “Alongside the implementation of government mandated social distancing and PPE usage, we have been fortunate to avoid any lay off situations and any furlough instances were kept to an absolute minimum. We have also taken additional initiatives for the wellbeing of our employees and will continue to do so, as they are critical to our business. “We’re a global organization and obviously the travel restrictions have had a significant impact on how we do business, but it’s given us a chance to develop our standard operating procedures and that will benefit customers in the future. We’ve provided some technical assistance for clients over video calls, and our global network of offices means we still tend to be able to support customers locally. No matter what, our primary objectives from a crisis management point of view have always

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Stolle Machinery Europe Below: Standun B7 Bodymaker

been to look after our staff and ensure the survival of the business.” An industry veteran, Steve’s experience has been invaluable throughout 2020 and has enabled the company’s smooth expansion in a time of global upheaval. Also responsible for Stolle’s Asia-Pacific office in Vietnam. Steve was part of a team in 1995, when the first two piece and end manufacturing facility was installed in Vietnam. Having played a role in a number of landmark industry projects over the years, Steve is ideally positioned to lead Stolle Europe into the future. What will that future look like? Steve cites a factory constructed by Stolle Europe for Quality Pack in Hungary as an example of what the company is capable of achieving. “It began with an independent manufacturer that already produced their own beverages, wanted to make their own cans,” he recalls. “The result was a pioneering greenfield factory. It was the first two piece can and end plant in Hungary.” Completed in 2018, Quality Pack was a full turnkey project where Stolle Europe was responsible for providing Systems services that included equipment, full mechanical and electrical installations, startup and commissioning of the can and end lines, production ramp-up, and training of plant personnel. With demand for cans increasing, and projects like Quality Pack earning the company more admirers across the industry, Stolle Europe is preparing for its best decade yet. “In the next few years, we will be continuing our systems program, as well as integrating the acquired businesses into one big operating model,” Steve declares. “Due to the demand for cans, we expect to see more manufacturing opportunities in the UK in the future, which

will create more jobs, so we are currently recruiting. Some of our products are already sold out through 2021, so we are also increasing capacity, both in terms of manpower and space to help provide more, helping us to fulfil customer programs which already seem buoyant into 2023. “As so many things change, we will remain a people business. We have a wealth of experience across our business groups and strong management teams, that doesn’t make us better people it just means we have different responsibilities. We place great value on the input of our employees because we are a family as much as anything.”

Stolle Machinery Europe

Services: Manufacturing, design, and turnkey systems for the can and end manufacturing industry l 41

Meeting the challenge An acclaimed aluminium diecaster, trusted by a host of international prestige brands, CastAlum is a forward-thinking company that is now leading the charge in utilising additive material technology

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t was in the winter of the year 2000 that ground was first cut on a greenfield site in Welshpool, Mid Wales, which would become the home of CastAlum, an internationally recognized aluminium diecaster. Originally supplying cast only parts to a single customer, the company has since expanded to supply a range of high pressure and ‘squeeze cast’ products to clients in the UK, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and beyond. CastAlum’s components are cast, cast and machined, assembled and tested in-house, and today find

themselves within vehicles produced by the likes of VAG, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Fiat, Porsche, Mercedes, Jaguar Land Rover and other prestigious marques. “CastAlum is a naturally proactive and aggressive business, and one that has built its reputation upon being best in class and producing particularly challenging products,” explains Engineering Director, Paul Dodd. “Ours is not a foundry that makes what I would call ‘punch and crunch’ products, but rather we target higher end, higher added-value components. With regards to high pressure diecasting, we have ten fully automated high pressure diecasting cells in the range of 1000to-2000 tonne locking-force, each with its own integral bulk-melting tower furnace and in most cases up to four robotic devices. Where previously we focused on steering gears, we have more recently increased our knowledge base to specialize in more transmission-type components. “Squeeze casting wise, we have three fullyautomated cells in the range of 1600-to-1800 tonne locking force for the manufacture of

HCM Engineering HCM Engineering are proud to have worked alongside the team as CastAlum since their beginnings in Welshpool over 20 years ago. At HCM Engineering, we have been designing and manufacturing the large complex tooling and foundry equipment that CastAlum require, as they continue to operate in the premier league of die casting, making parts other countries can’t make. It’s refreshing to see real investment in the latest plant and equipment for additive manufacturing. This enables the supply base to up their game and trail blaze behind CastAlum as an industry leader and provide cutting edge foundry equipment. l 43

indirect squeeze castings in aluminium, again with their own individual integral bulk-melting tower furnaces and robotics. These allow us to produce heavier, more structurally dense parts for transmissions that are heat treatable. Core products made from this process include steering knuckles, and power take-off covers and housings where elevated mechanical properties are required.” In the last decade in particular, CastAlum has invested heavily in the development of new products, processes and capabilities. One of the most exciting elements of this has been its investment and understanding of additive material technology to aid with conformal cooling. This has allowed the company to change what is viewed as feasible within its field. “We began our additive journey in 2013, spurred on by the experiences of one of our favoured tool makers, and we could immediately see a range of benefits and huge potential from it,” Paul continues. “Where we did face a challenge was in replicating the technology over a number of tools running at the same time and gaining consistency. It quickly became clear to us that, whilst there was a huge appetite for additive technology, there was little actual knowledge out there as to how to best apply it. Add to that the fact that, while it was mostly suited towards use on refined, skeletal, lightweight structures, we wanted to use the technology to produce heavy, dense lumps of tooling with a complex water course running throughout. This, ultimately, led to us forming

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Having the technology and experience under our own roof means that we can look to offer help to anyone out there that is looking for ways to manage temperature through conformal cooling, whilst maintaining our competitive advantage a tri-party consortium – via Innovate UK – in conjunction with British engineering company Renishaw and Coventry University.” The objective of the consortium was to gain an understanding of how best to apply additive technology to steel tooling, how to make the process repeatable, and to identify its limitations in conducting these tasks. It also has provided CastAlum with the knowledge needed to create a solution that gives it considerably more design freedom in terms of cooling. “Dealing with the heat generated by the casting process is a considerable challenge,” Paul affirms. “We are pouring aluminium at around 700 degrees, injecting it at huge speeds and pressures, cooling it down as quickly as possible, and starting the pattern all over again. With that can come certain quality defects if the cooling process is ineffective, including soldering, leak paths and enhanced porosity. With the vast l 45

majority of the parts we make having pressure tight requirements, ineffective cooling has the potential to cause costly downtime. “One of the University’s contributions in Coventry to the consortium was to identify the optimized cooling geometry and heat transfer at which we can run the additive material technology in order to generate our products in various different geometric shapes and sizes. This knowledge gives CastAlum a massive competitive advantage.” Today, CastAlum can proudly boast that it is the first aluminium caster in the UK (and possibly in the whole of Europe) to have introduced additive material capabilities to its own premises, and as Rhys Jones – Additive Manufacturing Project Manager – reveals, this has the potential to give the company farreaching potential. “Having the technology and experience under our own roof means that we can look to offer help to anyone out there that is looking for ways to manage temperature through conformal cooling, whilst maintaining our competitive advantage,” he says. “For example, we have held some initial discussions with a company that is relatively local to us that is in the process of converting electric vehicles and is having to deal with the issues of the heat generated by electric motors, drive systems and batteries. So, as a potential next stage in our own development, we could look to assist such companies with their cooling, before possibly developing castings that solve their problems entirely.”

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For CastAlum, our mission is not to be the cheapest, rather it is to be the very best, and testament to that approach perhaps best comes from the fact that the programs we find ourselves picking up are typically not new ones

Looking at how 2020 has played out for the business, Paul details how CastAlum has been fortunate in the fact that, coming into the new year, the company was seeing what he describes as a natural reduction in output as various programs were coming to an end. “This meant that the potential effects of the lockdown that began in late March as a means of combating the Covid-19 pandemic were greatly reduced,” he adds. “Since the UK started emerging from lockdown, we have seen a fairly quick bounce back in activity in most areas, picking up build orders for a couple of new programs. These programs are currently focused around

engineering activity, so will not turn into sales and production activity for another six months or so yet, however they look very promising.” With 2020 also marking the 20th anniversary of CastAlum’s inception, it seems as opportune a time as any to enquire as to what the longterm future holds for the business, and it is clear from speaking to Paul that the company sees itself remaining class leading, not only in regards to the incredible advances it is making in additive material technology, but in all aspects of its work. “Since the year 2000, we have marked the last two decades with a pattern of steady, consistent growth,” he proclaims. “Having spent the last 18 months or so bringing existing programs to a conclusion, our outlook for new programs that will require components and solutions to challenging problems sees us on a predicted, progressive growth spell through to 2025 and beyond. “For CastAlum, our mission is not to be the cheapest, rather it is to be the very best, and testament to that approach perhaps best comes from the fact that the programs we find ourselves picking up are typically not new ones. Rather, they are existing programs where the customer has yet to succeed in overcoming

their casting or cooling challenges, and they ultimately turn to CastAlum, because we have a proven track record of success. So, in the long-run, we expect growth to eventually return to pre-pandemic levels, and we will continue to ensure that we remain the supplier of choice for complex components, all while providing a rewarding place of employment for our workforce!”

CastAlum Services: Aluminium diecasting T: +44 (0)1938 557557 l 47

Flying high

Through creativity, hard work, and personal sacrifice, Whitebird has become one of North America’s leading manufacturers and distributors of corrugated solutions


oth a manufacturer of corrugated solutions and distributor of packaging, sanitation, and safety products, Whitebird has over 40 years of experience in the graphics and commercial printing sector. Established in the 1980s by Henry Heikoop Sr and Jack Tamminga, the company survived recessions and industry pressure to become an adaptable and valued partner to many local Niagara businesses. After diversifying its offering in the late 80s, Whitebird began focusing on corrugated materials, distributing to thousands of companies across Ontario. “In the early 2000s we decided to invest in 600 sizes of corrugated stock cartons and bulk up our offering,” reports company President Hendrik Tamminga. “We then moved from 20,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet to help with space requirements. In late 2010, we invested in manufacturing equipment to help control the process and provide better service to our customers and that’s evolved to what

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we are today - we like to do things right, and we like to do things fast.” In terms of the company’s key products and services, Whitebird can offer its clients highly custom boxes, trays, displays, and ecommerce supplies, as well as more standard products such as garbage bags, bubble wrap, and janitorial supplies. Alongside the ongoing appeal of a broad, high-quality product offering, Hendrik suggests that Whitebird’s success can be explained more generally. “The key to our longevity and loyal customer base is down to our ability to solve problems for our clients,” he says, “particularly when it comes to tight timelines and packaging projects that take some creative engineering to help move the goods well protected. It is also true to say that without the support of our vendor partners, we wouldn’t be where we are today.” Another contributing factor to Whitebird’s growth over the last few years - up to 30 per cent in total - is the company’s commitment to technology. Based in Hamilton, Ontario,

Whitebird’s primary production and distribution space covers 123,000 square feet and is home to the company’s newest addition to its equipment lineup – the EFI Nozomi C18000. The 71-inch C18000 is a single-pass, LED inkjet, ultra-high-speed digital press was Canada’s first. Operating at speeds up to 246 linear feet per minute, the press can print over 10,000 35x35inch boards per hour. A premier technology for high-volume digital corrugated packaging production, it has received top industry honors, such as a 2018 Printing Industries of America InterTech™ Award and a 2018 SGIA Product of the Year prize. As more and more of the globe’s leading corrugated manufacturers turned to EFI Nozomi presses to help meet growing demand for high-quality digital production, Whitebird seized the opportunity to transform its future. “We were first to the market in Canada with a single-pass digital press to print full colour for the e-commerce packaging market and it’s given us a huge competitive advantage. We’re

Whitebird so proud to blaze a trail like that in such a crowded space,” Hendrik states. “It’s the latest in a long line of technological additions we have made in the last few years. For example, we own quite a few pieces of legacy corrugated equipment to service a huge ecommerce market including a Bobst Specialty Gluer for complex finishing projects.” Operating from two main manufacturing sites, with a third location being used for the fabrication of protective shields and other Covid-related products, Whitebird’s celebrated production capabilities continue to help the company win new business. In late 2019, premium meat and seafood delivery service Farm 2 Fork came to Whitebird looking for boxes that were easy to set up, pack, fill, close, and palletize, whilst still reminding customers about the quality products within. The fact that Whitebird was capable of printing directly to corrugate instead of employing the use of print plates was important to the company as it allowed for multi-color graphics and flexibility in the messaging used. Working closely with Farm 2 Fork, Whitebird

ordered in special board with a digital top liner and water-resistant adhesive for the boxes. A coating was applied to achieve a high gloss look and the manufacturer printed directly onto the board using the Nozomi press. The result was a box that showed off Farm 2 Fork’s new graphics and remained structurally sound when packed and refrigerated. The delivery service’s founder Jonnel Sloane was thrilled with the results. “Whitebird packaging has added value to our brand because every time a customer goes in their freezer and sees the boxes, they are reminded of the quality of our products and service that is associated with our brand,” she said as the new boxes were rolled out. “Our customers’ reactions at their doors are that they always love the boxes. I believe branded boxes create a connection with the customer and the brand.” More recently, in March 2020, McMaster University’s Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) approached Whitebird with an opportunity to produce face shields for hospitals to help with the surge in demand for

PPE brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. “As a manufacturing research group, we knew we had a role to play in helping with the COVID response,” states Simon Oomen-Hurst,

MMRI The MMRI is a collection of advanced manufacturing equipment, knowledge and experienced professionals focused on delivering valuable and implementable results to industry. They provide support in machining process development and troubleshooting, product design and quality, predictive maintenance and more. With over 20 years’ experience serving industry, the MMRI has completed hundreds of projects with large and small manufacturers in Ontario and around the world. The MMRI knows that success takes more than technology and provides agile, hands-on expert support at all steps, from conception to implementation on your floor. For more information on partnerships, project funding and MMRI’s new training, visit l 49

Program Manager of MMRI. “Shortages of PPE in hospitals and long term care homes was looming. MMRI had suppliers, hospitals, an approved design and a production process ready to go, but was missing key aspects to execute, such as sales, labour and distribution. When we connected with Whitebird’s team things moved quick, and the hands-on approach of their leadership really made this a success.” “I was extremely proud of our team as we were able to pivot and start producing PPE within two weeks, eventually getting up to 70,000 shields per day,” Hendrik reveals. “Our product quality was rated excellent by the hospitals and on time delivery was amazing. We certainly will remember this time as a milestone. Due to our exceptional performance, the clients have asked us to continue with production, so we’ve made the decision to invest and carry on manufacturing PPE in the same space.” Though Whitebird’s operations were not drastically altered by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, the wider business community

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continues to experience uncertainty that could still impact the company in the future. No matter what happens in the coming years, one thing that is sure to continue is Whitebird’s commitment to sustainability. As a business, Whitebird is dedicated to offering environmentally friendly products to its customers. Consequently, the firm only purchases raw materials sourced from suppliers that are FSC and SFI certified. The

calculated average of recycled content in corrugated sheets material currently being processed at the Whitebird facility in Hamilton, Ontario, is approximately 69 per cent, and this is comprised of 64 per cent postconsumer fiber and 31 per cent virgin fiber. Brown liners in use by the company are up to 95 per cent recycled, whereas white liners used by other businesses can be as low as 21 per cent recycled.


As is evident in the company’s green strategies, Whitebird is a firm with its eyes on the future and the endless opportunities it represents. Building on the family principles of the company’s founders, Hendrik, and fellow next generation owner William Heikoop, hope to continue working with the same high standards of quality, reliability, and integrity. Though Whitebird’s largest market is currently Ontario, the pair believe that the company’s reputation for personalized service, quality products, and competitive prices, can facilitate a major breakthrough in the US market within the next five years. “I see Whitebird as one of the leaders of

packaging and manufacturing innovation in North America,” Hendrik asserts. “As the pandemic has exemplified, things have certainly changed since the founding of Whitebird in the 80s many positive changes, some negative. What has remained is a large number of loyal employees who have stuck with us through the good and bad times. A servant leadership style is certainly helpful in employee retention and the willingness to get your hands dirty as an ownership team. We’ve learned things from making mistakes over the years and it’s our wish that we will soon be renowned for having the best workplace culture in our industry. The way the team performed

during the difficult early portion of this year suggests that we are definitely getting close to that idea and I can only see things improving for the company, both externally and internally, over the course of the coming decade.”

Whitebird Products: Corrugated solutions manufacturer l 51

Beyond robots

A privately owned engineering, integration, and custom manufacturing firm, for Production Systems Automation, diversification has paved the way to exceptional growth


ecognizing America’s fastest growing private companies, the prestigious Inc. 5000 list has provided many of the USA’s most well-known brands with their first taste of national exposure. Major names like Intuit, Zappos, Under Armor, Patagonia, and Microsoft, are among the list’s previous honorees, and in August 2020, Production Systems Automation (PSA) joined the illustrious ranks. Thanks to three-year revenue growth of 626.38 per cent, PSA ranked 761st on the list, placing it in the top 20 per cent of the USA’s most dynamic independent businesses. Speaking to Manufacturing Today,

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PSA Owner and CEO Michael McHale is quick to recognize the contribution of the company’s workforce. “I want to personally thank the entire team at PSA for their dedication in supporting the needs of our customers at such a high level,” he says. “I truly believe that the growth we’ve experienced has been driven by our staff. We set a vision four years ago of what we wanted the company to look like and we’ve worked towards it with all our employees. We have a very dedicated team that has worked incredibly hard to help the business grow. “I think the automation sector is a very

people-centric environment and we are always challenging our staff with new technologies, continual learning, and pioneering projects that really drive them towards bigger and loftier goals,” Michael adds. “Every day, our people come to work knowing they have something new and innovative to get stuck into. We encourage discussion too. Our staff have the ability to comment on projects and our process is naturally very team-oriented, so everyone’s point of view gets listened to.” After founding its first location in Aston, Pennsylvania, in 1985, PSA began life as an engineering company building and installing

Production Systems Automation electrical control panels for its clients. Growing in line with technological advancements, the company soon added mechanical engineers and machinists to its existing group of electrical engineers and fabricators. A second location was established in Duryea, Pennsylvania, in 1999, extending the company’s service portfolio and allowing PSA to move to its current 21,000 square foot facility, which houses all engineering, electrical and mechanical production, full-service machining, and military work onsite. In the early 2000s, PSA began installing and programming robots to work in its clients’ industrial applications. This line of work has endured, and today, as a robotic systems integrator for both ABB and UR Robotics, the firm is staffed by qualified electrical and mechanical engineers, designers, welders, electricians, machinists, and technicians, both at Aston and Duryea. Always looking for new opportunities, in 2018, PSA added repair and installation work to its offering. The company also designs a line of ‘standard products’ for industry specific customers and works with the US Military and Department of Defense on contracts relating to drone technology and ammunition housings. Such strong diversification means that clients look at PSA as more than just a turnkey automation solutions specialist, but as an industry expert with an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge. “Being so well diversified allows us more channels to the market to grow into, which then leads to the overall expansion of our business and our growth,” explains Director of Sales and Business Development Joseph Redding. “We are kind of unique in our offering to the marketplace. We are different to a traditional integrator. Though we focus on the robotics and controls system integration at our core, what differentiates us is the fact that we don’t solely rely on those services. For one, our military and government work provides a lot of revenue and allows us to focus more energy on the robotics and controls integration side because those are areas with fairly long sales cycles. Along with the service and repair business at Duryea, our standard products line, which includes bedbug ovens, decontamination units for PPE, and test stations for the hot fill PET plastic bottle industry, help to make us successful, and prove that, as a business, we are not a one-trick pony.” The diversification Joseph celebrates has helped to stabilize the firm and drive its continued expansion throughout 2020 - a challenging year for the worldwide business community, but another record-breaking year of growth for PSA. In many ways, Joseph

argues, the Covid-19 pandemic has helped the company to improve. “The collaboration that working from home has required means the pandemic has opened the door to a lot more conversation and a lot more interaction than we might have had before,” he reveals. “Microsoft Teams has allowed us to stay in contact with our customer base, keeping projects moving and preventing them from going stagnant. Incorporating Teams meetings and other virtual processes has changed how we do business on a daily basis and it’s something we expect to carry through with us, even when the pandemic is over.” Of course, PSA is no stranger to technological innovation, and the company is widely recognized as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for its clients, providing everything from CNC machining to panel building, water jetting to welding, programming to system delivery. Having built strong partnerships with OEM manufacturers of industrial products and market leading producers of innovative equipment, PSA

leverages the best technology the marketplace has to offer. “Whether it be camera technology, sensors, robots, or conveyors that we are trying to integrate into a solution, by partnering with the OEMs that drive innovation we are always at the forefront of what’s available on the market,” Michael comments. “CNC programming, robot programming, drive control programming, and PLC programming - we do everything. What it means for our clients is that when something comes in-house, they don’t have to worry about vendors seeing their drawings or any other secretive parts of their processes being revealed because everything is taken care of by us. It’s a key technological advantage over our competition.” Among PSA’s latest projects was the development of a robot retrieval system for Dorman Products in 2019 that allowed the company to catalogue recycled Toyota Prius batteries. More recently, PSA has developed two robot systems for Mia Products, designed l 53

Production Systems Automation afraid to make the most of that opportunity.” Thanks to years of reliably delivering on the desires and requirements of its clients, PSA has become renowned as a customer-centric business that puts people first. This approach not only benefits the company’s clients, but also its staff, and when Michael discusses the organization’s future growth strategy, it is clear that PSA’s valued employees are the firm’s priority. “We are going to continue growing all of our verticals and diversifying the business because it continues to prove successful and helps us to stabilize our projects, our cash flow, and the job security of our workforce,” Michael declares. “Honestly, that is the most important part to us - especially with the current global situation making the company secure, safe, and stable for our employees, so no one ever has to worry about losing a paycheck. That is strategy number one, and then, from there, we will grow through potential acquisitions as those opportunities present themselves, as well as expanding our geographical footprint.”

American Conveyor Systems Because ACS is driven to be a total onestop source for our many customers, we understand the importance of providing them with turnkey solutions. With our many years of experience in the design and build of material handling and specialty equipment, we needed to add the peripherals that would make us a more comprehensive choice. Now that we are partnered with PSA, we have the total offering to exceed our customers’ highest expectations. PSA offers us electrical design & programming, electrical panel fabrication, robotic design & programming and electrical field service. Our material handling systems vary from day-to-day, so having PSA’s services available to us is key to our success. Robotic integration, programming, product detection, counting and vision systems, and complete panel fabrication, coupled with field techs who travel to our installation sites, all allow us to provide the highest quality, low-cost solutions

to handle the packaging of Italian ices. Alongside the release of an intuitive collaborative palletizer for the wider marketplace, 2020 has seen PSA launch the SaniPro 2000, an oven capable of treating and decontaminating N95 masks. Joseph explains more about the timely innovation: “We are not what I would consider a product-driven organization,” he begins, “but we do design and manufacture some standard products. We developed the SaniPro 2000 because we saw the need when Covid-19 came about. We were initially manufacturing a bedbug oven, which uses dry heat to kill bedbugs, but we soon found that dry heat could also kill Coronavirus. We then discovered that if you add moisture to the heat, you can even more effectively treat protective equipment used around the virus. With this knowledge in mind, we pivoted on that offering and came out with the SaniPro for that specific market. Our core business remains as an integrator of equipment, custom building machinery for other people’s manufacturing facilities, but if we see a gap in the market that we can exploit, then we are not

Production Systems Automation Services: Engineering, integration, and custom manufacturing l 55

On a roll 56 l

Nova Tissue Constantly evolving, Nova Tissue is a family run manufacturer of toilet tissue with a reputation for utilizing the latest equipment to execute on contemporary market trends


hen people hoping to purchase toilet roll began to gather outside the gates of Nova Tissue’s production facility earlier this year, Managing Director Khurram Iqbal knew that 2020 was going to be different. During what Khurram - tongue firmly in cheek - describes as the ‘infamous toilet roll shortage of 2020’, demand for Nova Tissue’s products skyrocketed, to the extent that the firm was receiving hundreds of emails and telephone enquiries a day. The surge was unlike anything the company’s MD had ever seen before. “We were absolutely inundated,” he recalls. “From supermarkets to homeless shelters, foodbanks to people turning up at our factory – everybody wanted toilet roll. We have always operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so there wasn’t really a great deal more we could do in terms of quantity, but for three months we were flooded with orders.” Since then, as Covid-19 restrictions have continued to impact businesses across the UK and Europe, Nova Tissue has experienced a lull in the market. According to Khurram, it is not a phenomenon unique to the UK, but something being felt across the breadth of the industry. “When we speak to colleagues and other companies in the industry, everybody is in the same situation,” he says. “The whole market seems to be depressed at the moment. Manufacturers of away-from-home products for hotels, pubs, and restaurants are also suffering because much of the hospitality sector is still subject to major restrictions. Even on the consumer side, money isn’t being spent in the same way it was before the pandemic. The high streets are not busy, and we suspect that this is likely to continue until at least the end of the year.” Despite the challenges, Khurram is upbeat about the company’s current standing and is keen to use the market downturn to prepare Nova Tissue for the future. Unwilling to dwell on the momentary reduction in sales, Khurram is focusing on using the second half of 2020 to ensure that the company is ready to take advantage of any opportunities that may present themselves as soon as regular levels of demand return. “As a business, we are concentrating on what we can control. Once we make it through Covid-19 and Brexit, we know that we will

be able to hit the ground running in terms of new product ranges, refreshed pricing, and our preparedness to take on new opportunities,” Khurram asserts. “From speaking to our customers, we are aware that if we can lay the groundwork now, there is no reason why we can’t be in a very, very strong position in six months’ time.” One of the reasons Khurram is so confident about the future of Nova Tissue is down to the company’s strong family culture. Founded by his father in 1986, Khurram purchased the business in 2017 and the company’s family dynamic has never been lost. With multiple generations of the Iqbal family still working at Nova Tissue, Khurram believes that the firm maintains a strength, unity, and resilience that only working with family can induce. “Nova Tissue has always been a family company at heart and I still have siblings, uncles, and brothers-in-law working here in key positions throughout the factory - not just in the office but down in the warehouse too,” Khurram reveals. “I think it brings a dynamic to our business that you wouldn’t find in large companies. It extends to our customers too, many of whom we know on a first name basis. We like to create close relationships with our clients and we have a customer retention rate well above the industry average. “In terms of managing the family dynamic, we probably have more open discussions than you might expect in a normal corporate environment, but it definitely makes for a relaxed and enjoyable place to work because you’re in such close proximity to people you enjoy spending time with,” Khurram adds. “There is a strength and closeness throughout the management team here that I think is only possible in a family business.” Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, adaptability has become a vital trait for businesses wishing to succeed in a difficult climate. Renowned for its ability to evolve and adjust, Nova Tissue is always finding ways to give better service. Constantly redefining, redeveloping, and redesigning its offering, the company ensures that its products are perfectly suited to the requirements of both its customers and, most importantly, its end users. It is this ability to understand the market that has helped to inspire Nova Tissue’s longevity and continuing growth. “We always have an eye on the final end l 57

user,” Khurram claims. “As a starting point with all our products, we ask ourselves: ‘If we were the end user, would we purchase this product?’. We like to make sure that everything we produce is not only visually appealing on retailers’ shelves, but also, if it’s kitchen towel, it needs to be strong and absorbent, and if it’s toilet roll it must be soft and luxurious.” A manufacturer and supplier of various toilet roll and kitchen roll products, including economy packs, luxury packs, two-ply, threeply, perfumed, and jumbo rolls, Nova Tissue is proactive in its search for product development opportunities, aiming to predict market trends rather than react to them. One of the latest trends the firm has tapped into is eco-friendly products, a range that Khurram suggests is being directly driven by user demand. “Eco-friendly products are something really

Julius Schulte Söhne GmbH & Co. KG Julius Schulte Söhne GmbH & Co. KG (est. 1886), is Germany’s only independent producer of core board. For 134 years, we have been under family ownership and produce paper and board in Düsseldorf/ Germany; easily accessible in the heart of Europe. We are the recognized partner for all board solutions in the industry, for market leaders and medium or small sized private customers.

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Nova Tissue

contemporary and it seems that everybody at the moment is looking to purchase goods that are more sustainable, that have ethical supply chains, and that are produced and manufactured locally,” he states. “We currently have a range of eco-friendly products under the brand name Soft on Nature, which incorporates both toilet roll and kitchen roll. It is something being requested by people emailing our company; even school children have been writing to us to say that this is something they believe should be more widely available. We want to service that demand.” The new eco-friendly range that Khurram describes works as part of Nova Tissue’s larger sustainability efforts. As well as exploring carbon offsetting schemes, the company sources all its raw materials locally from established, accredited suppliers with FSC and PEFC certification. Another way the company stays ahead of its competition is by embracing the latest technology and equipment. Nova Tissue is proud to work closely with manufacturers across Europe in order to stay abreast of the latest news on new machinery that could give the firm a competitive edge. “Year-on-year, we replace some of the older equipment in our facility with newer, more modern, more reliable, automated technology, allowing us to make products faster, more efficiently, with less downtime and less reliance on service work, maintenance and engineering,” Khurram explains. “This is something that, despite the Covid-19 situation, and despite Brexit, remains a constant part of our plans and we budget for it year in, year out. “A lot of the equipment we have onsite at present comes directly from two partners that we work with particularly closely,” Khurram continues. “One of them is Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC), and the second

always performed well in the export market,” Khurram comments. “What sets us apart are our fantastic service levels, whether it is someone who buys from us twice a year or a major customer who purchases ten truckloads a week.” Buoyed by the success it experienced in the early part of 2020, Nova Tissue is ready to move forward – something that comes naturally to a company built on values of ambition and enterprise. Beyond Covid-19, Khurram believes that, with the right support, the business will soon be on a roll again. “Due to the pandemic,” he remarks, “the UK manufacturing sector is currently receiving backing from the Government. If it continues, there is no reason why we can’t be optimistic about the future of the whole tissue converting industry in the UK.”

is Rolco Europe. Based in the Netherlands, they are a family company like us. Not only do they provide us with new equipment, but they work really closely with us to make sure our very specific requirements are met. We are not always just looking for new machinery but for something bespoke that fits in with our operation, the size of our premises, and the types of changeovers we want to do.” As well as profiting from the marketleading capabilities of the firm’s pioneering new equipment, Nova Tissue clients also benefit from customer service tailored to their individual needs. “We deal with independent wholesalers, retailers, and chemist chains. We also export to Ireland, Africa, Malta, and our products even end up as far away as India and Pakistan. Considering toilet tissue and kitchen roll doesn’t really lend itself to export, we’ve


Year-on-year, we replace some of the older equipment in our facility with newer, more modern, more reliable, automated technology, allowing us to make products faster, more efficiently, with less downtime and less reliance on service work, maintenance and engineering Nova Tissue Products: Toilet roll and kitchen roll l 59

Generating a buzz


Founded in December 1999, Holtec Gas Systems (Holtec) is today an internationally recognized, experienced designer and supplier of nitrogen generation systems

We believe strongly that the strength of one’s reputation goes a very long way, so we are very passionate about making sure all of our customers are happy customers


oltec Gas Systems (Holtec) was the brainchild of its President, Thorstein Holt who – with many years of experience in the field of gas separation under his belt – recognized an opportunity in the market for a company that would be able to provide the most efficient nitrogen generators around. More than 20

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years later, Holtec has designed and fabricated solutions for a variety of industrial, food and beverage, and manufacturing applications worldwide, and continues to provide a complete turnkey solution, from concept to engineering design, fabrication, commissioning, and personnel training. Nitrogen generation has been shown to provide an affordable, energy-conscious alternative to liquid nitrogen/high pressure gas cylinders. Holtec supplies both membrane and PSA type generators – either as standard models or custom-built in accordance with precise specifications – that are ready to hookup to a compressed air supply. It also provides engineering support, as well as repair services for existing installations. “Our customers are – and have always been – our number one priority, and we make it our mission to respond rapidly to existing

customers needing support, as well as new customers needing proposals,” Thorstein explains. “Our experience in the gas separation industry dates back to the early 1980’s, and our employees have an in-depth knowledge of nitrogen generators that helps them to design, build, service and support all of our products. Based on the broad experience of our team, we come up with new ideas to improve our products to make them more efficient and user friendly. “We spend a significant amount of time on research and development to improve the system efficiency to reduce air consumption, and therefore lower the operating cost to make the return of investment time shorter than that of our competition. We focus, as well, on building long lasting systems, which require very little maintenance. So, in summary, reliability, efficiency and customer service are the main

Holtec Gas Systems

Left: Kenneth Jones, Co-Owner and COO and right: Thorstein Holt, Owner, President, and CEO

differentiators that have contributed to Holtec’s success.” Effective research and development has also been of constant importance for Holtec and its ability to produce the most efficient, user friendly and durable systems on the market. “Over the last decade, for instance, there has been a continuing movement towards pressure swing adsorption (PSA) type nitrogen generators being the technology of choice,” Thorstein states. “Holtec’s strength was in building larger PSA systems marketed under a series titled HNS, however, in 2017 we launched what has become a highly successful smaller product line designated HNBS, and this has allowed us to further cement our reputation for being a one-stop-shop for generators of all sizes.” At the same time that the company has been increasing its physical product range, it

has also been developing important supporting technology, such as its HoltecConnectTM and EnergyAssistantTM features for PSAs. The former is a remote monitoring and control tool that allows the company to operate and troubleshoot its nitrogen generators from anywhere in the world, which has become particularly useful in these challenging, Covid-19 dominated times. The latter, meanwhile, turns Holtec’s generators into variable capacity systems, where users can save up to 60 per cent of their air if they only consume 40 per cent of the rated capacity. Also in the case of PSA technology, Holtec has also developed and proved-out a comprehensive and accurate design simulation program to ensure its system designs perform as predicted every time and at the optimum efficiency. As a result of having this simulation program, there is now no longer a need to run costly factory acceptance tests for large systems, as they consistently meet or exceed the guaranteed performance. One of the biggest recent developments involving Holtec was its announcement in June 2020 that it would be investing some $3 million into purchasing and updating a 50,000-squarefoot facility in its home of St. Charles, Missouri. “This investment represents an immediate increase in shop floor space of over four times our previous location, with an additional equal

amount of space that is currently being leased to a tenant,” Thorstein details. “We looked at a lot of properties before we found one in St. Charles that met our requirements. One was for it to have high ceilings, so we could install a large overhead crane, which is already in place. By having this capability, we can assemble larger nitrogen generators in-house with increased efficiency to reduce cost and fabrication time. A larger forklift truck was also purchased to increase our production capabilities. Another big investment was a large air compressor so we can test large nitrogen generators as well, without having to charge our customers extra. “Other benefits include the fact that, previously, we had to store parts and materials at several different locations in Illinois and Missouri, whereas now everything is stored under one roof. This reduces storage, shipping cost, and production time, and increases our manufacturing efficiency. We have therefore been able to reduce the price and delivery time of many of our nitrogen generators to make us even more competitive. We have a big back yard where we are able to build large containerized nitrogen generators, which was a more difficult task at our old location.” Having the right infrastructure and technology in place is, of course, of vital importance for any business, but as Thorstein l 61

Alicat Scientific Precise Control. Fast Response. Accurate Measurement. Alicat’s digital mass flow meters, mass flow controllers and pressure controllers provide fast, accurate results in almost any environment. Our devices are NIST traceable, and custom tuned and calibrated based on your application needs. Part of the international Halma group, Alicat Scientific designs and manufactures instruments used in industrial applications, as well as medical and scientific instrumentation requiring high-precision measurement of gas and liquid flows. We custom build, tune and calibrate every unit, tailoring the flow and pressure instruments to your specific needs. Learn more at

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goes on to highlight, it is the people that make up Holtec that are the most important element of all. “Our products and services are provided by our employees and their creativity, and without them there is no business,” he proclaims. “Purchasing our new facility shows our employees that we are in this for the long run, and it has energized everybody in a very

positive way. Not only has it led to increased efficiency, but also to new thinking and even a more pleasant working environment. We have also found that, with Covid-19, having a bigger place makes it easier with social distancing to keep our critical business in operation.” At the time of our conversation with Thorstein, the company was in the midst

Holtec Gas Systems

of preparing to appear as a speaker at the Growing Global 2020 – Globalization in Transition online interactive event on September 25, 2020. “The Growing Global event is hosted annually by the World Trade Center of St. Louis,” he tells us. “We have been working closely with them for many years, and they have connected us with Missouri’s Department of Economic Development and other resources to help Holtec and other Missouri businesses grow their export business. At this year’s event, we will share our experience in order to help other companies understand the important aspects of growing their export business. We expect it will be a good opportunity for us to connect with many possible local customers, as well as new suppliers.” Looking beyond the Growing Global 2020 event, Thorstein feels that with its new facility having lots of space for expansion and growth, Holtec is in a good place to further grow its sales and distribution network, and in turn, add

new employees to its team so that it can meet increased production demand. “We have the potential to double or triple our revenue in the next several years, and therefore get the best use out of our new facility,” he adds. “Effective research and development will be needed to continuously improve our nitrogen generators for this to become a reality.” In looking ahead to the future, Thorstein is also able to reflect on the past and on the success that Holtec has had. “When I started this company in my basement more than 20 years ago, it was a very different time,” he reminisces. “Not many people had the special blend of nitrogen generation technology expertise and manufacturing experience to field a competitive nitrogen generator product. Since then, the landscape has changed drastically. Where Holtec has led the way, many other companies have attempted to follow. We have outlasted many of them, but every day we are hearing about others just starting. Our goal is to outlast these too.

“We will do so by spending a lot of time brainstorming, testing, discussing, debating, and sometimes even yelling at each other about how to create the best quality, yet affordable, nitrogen generator. We believe strongly that the strength of one’s reputation goes a very long way, so we are very passionate about making sure all of our customers are happy customers. Our promise is very simple. When we sell a nitrogen generator, it’s going to do what we said it would do; and if by chance it’s not right, we will make it right. In 20 years of business, that has never been an issue, so it’s not a scary or bold claim for us to make, ever.”

Holtec Gas Systems Products: Nitrogen generation systems l 63

Engineering innovation By nurturing loyalty and sustained growth, Ramfoam offers unparalleled expertise in foam conversion, from design and prototypes, through to high-volume supply

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stablished as a privately-owned SME in 1995, Ramfoam is the UK’s leading manufacturer, converter and supplier of closed cell polyethylene and open cell polyurethane foam. “We specialise primarily in the conversion of expanded polyethylenegrade foams for use across a diverse range of UK and international markets, from healthcare and automotive to aerospace and leisure,”



We knew immediately that we wanted to support the NHS, particularly amidst a growing and pressing shortage of PPE products, so we rapidly joined the ranks of the 16,000 other businesses who applied to assist

states the company’s Group Sales Director, Timothy Mulqueen. Covering a total work area of 90,000-squarefeet, Ramfoam’s main facility is based in Oldbury, in the West Midlands, from which it serves customers in the UK, Europe and ROW. It is here that the company also sought out a new, 100,000-square-foot building in which to install new machinery and manufacture its new and

market leading RamfoamCare+ Protective Visor. In addition to these sites, Ramfoam also has a facility in Dubai, UAE – called Ramfoam Repackaging Services LLC – which opened in 2016 to serve its Middle East and Africa-based customers. “Our manufacturing processes range from the simple splitting of foam sheets, to highly complex CNC machined components, while

our vast array of products and applications include everything from product case inserts, medical accessories and exercise mats, to buoyancy aids, construction insulation and cushioning, and automotive door and roof systems,” Timothy continues. “What sets us apart, is our continual investment into the latest and most advanced manufacturing technologies, which allows us to be world leaders in the l 65


Above: Group Sales Director, Timothy Mulqueen

Masstemps Ltd Masstemps Ltd are a provider of temporary, contract and permanent recruitment solutions, incorporated in 2006. Whether you need a candidate for a single day to provide cover, multiple candidates over a longer period of time, or a skilled candidate for a permanent role, we offer unrivalled service levels and competitive rates. Masstemps Ltd have been providing our services to Ramfoam Ltd for over 10 years and have taken great pleasure in assisting with their current project to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

conversion of polyethylene foams. As a business, we are constantly adapting and evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of the industries we supply, and this rapid adaptation is what enabled us to become one of the primary suppliers to the NHS. “When the UK first went into lockdown in March as a means of suppressing the virus, Ramfoam – like many other manufacturers and processers globally – had no choice but to face the titanic challenge of quickly adapting,” Timothy highlights. “We knew immediately that we wanted to support the NHS, particularly amidst a growing and pressing shortage of PPE products, so we rapidly joined the ranks of the 16,000 other businesses who applied to assist. “This decision, coupled with existing experience in medical markets and our ability to design and test our protective face shield in a matter of weeks, led us to be awarded a DHSC contract to supply three million RamfoamCare+ visors each week to the NHS. As a direct result of that contract, we’ve been able to create over 500 new jobs and safeguard in excess of 1000, either directly with Ramfoam or throughout our wider supply chain.” Elaborating on the above achievement,

Timothy explains how the company already possessed significant experience in converting medical-grade foam products for the healthcare market in numerous applications, and therefore knew that it was more than capable of creating a market-leading product that would help to protect frontline medical workers. “We had previously been approached by a number of companies to supply foam strips for face visors, and with input from our existing NHS contact base, we were able to create the RamfoamCare+ Face Visor in record time,” he says. “In early April 2020, we set out to develop something that could offer the maximum amount of protection in the most comfortable, sustainable and cost-effective way, and that didn’t cause painful sores or open wounds around the ears after long periods of use. We wanted to create a visor that was manufactured from world-class modern British materials, with the least number of components possible (just two), to allow easy self-assembly in seconds using replaceable and recyclable components, and finally to create high-volume production capabilities. After a very intensive period of design and testing, the team was able to l 67

Dax Electrical Dax Electrical were delighted to be invited to assist Ramfoam Ltd at their new facility with the installation of the electrical infrastructure for their production set up. We worked with Ramfoam to design and develop the installation program around their production schedules, working practices and deadlines. We therefore had to be flexible and extremely responsive to their needs. Ramfoam Ltd, from management to production line staff, have been a pleasure to work for and we look forward to a strong working relationship in the future.

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develop the RamfoamCare+ Protective Visor in a matter of weeks.” Now that production is fully underway, Ramfoam has made its visors commercially available beyond the NHS and is currently supplying schools, retailers, private healthcare bodies and hospitality venues throughout the UK and rest of the world. It is also proud to offer its premium face visors in fashionable colors with fun sticker accessories, direct to consumer via its customer facing brand UltimateVisor. Ramfoam benefitted greatly from already having a highly multi-skilled workforce that had recently taken part in a reskilling process before Covid-19 hit, which meant that it held a comprehensive skills matrix in-house. “When we recruited for the extra jobs created by the NHS contract, as well as the usual qualities of diligence, adaptability and attention to detail, we sought out staff who would have the same level of commitment and dedication as we do,” Timothy continues. “Every member of our team at Ramfoam is incredibly proud to play a role in helping to protect the NHS. Every one of us who comes to work in the morning knows that each visor we manufacture is a chance to stop the spread, lower the transmission risk and ultimately even save someone’s life – and there is absolutely nothing more motivating for us as a workforce and a business. “Meanwhile, from an infrastructure point of view, we had also previously invested heavily in the automation of some of our equipment, including press machinery and wrapping, which meant we were able to ramp up production quickly. Additionally, we sought the support of Warwick Manufacturing Group’s High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult who, along with the team from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), added significant value by helping us with factory modelling, mapping and automation. WMG assembled a team as part of their Digital Innovation for Manufacturing project to support our highly ambitious scale-up plan. Their use of 3D shop floor simulations helped us to test its layout and process assumptions digitally, prior to moving into our new facility, which – along with the help of Nissan Motors UK - enabled us to de-risk our scale up plans.” This year – 2020 – marks the 25th anniversary of the company, and this milestone gives Timothy the opportunity to not only reflect on the whole team at Ramfoam’s success to date, but also what the coming years may hold. “We are firm believers in the necessity for adaptability in manufacturing. If we hadn’t been able to continually identify

Ramfoam would strongly encourage all trading sectors to explore the use of protective visors as an addition to traditional face masks – and the benefits that these can add to your business in terms of protecting staff, ensuring consumer confidence and showcasing corporate branding,” he enthuses. “Visors protect the most vulnerable areas, such as the eyes, nose and mouth from splashing or spraying, while the anti-fog visor and the latex-free foam headpiece are washable and recyclable making them highly cost effective. As we move through what could be a difficult winter, we want to help protect as many staff in as many sectors as possible and halt the virus, and in addition let’s make Great British manufacturing great again.”


Services: Foam suppliers, manufacturers and converters

new trends and needs in our key markets, our business might look very different today. The quote that sums up our premise most succinctly is Charles Darwin’s observation that ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ Aligned to that is our ethos that when the team pulls together, everyone achieves more. “As with most organizations, our initial medium to long-term plans have had to flex to accommodate the new normal that is life with Covid-19. However, we remain keen to continue to positively impact our customers and extended community wherever possible. As part of our plan to venture into new markets, we are actively investing in the business by expanding our operational leadership along with the creation of a new in-house design team using state of the art software to offer 3D visualization of products, and an enhanced service offering to our global customer base and partner network, along with additional hiring across sales and related support functions in the business. We strive to be the international partner of choice for foam related solutions – and we will achieve this by entering new countries and markets, enabled by dedication, hard work and team effort.” In concluding his thoughts, Timothy has one final, important point to make, and it refers back to the success that the company has had with its RamfoamCare+ Protective Visor. “We l 69

Seeing the future clearly

Continually striving to improve the quality of its products, processes and services and fill its unique role in providing solutions that use optics as an enabling technology - Optikos Corporation has well and truly earned its reputation for being ‘The Optical Engineering Experts®’


ounded in 1982, Optikos Corporation (Optikos) can rightfully – and proudly – refer to itself as ‘The Optical Engineering Experts’. The company’s engineering team is the largest independent optical engineering group in

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the world, enhanced by opto-mechanical, electrical, software, and R&D engineers that form teams capable of solving and executing complex applications of optical technology to organizations globally. Optikos customers seeking engineering design and product

Optikos Corporation

development expertise benefit from the company’s deep experience working on literally thousands of projects ranging from inception and design feasibility of an optically based product, to manufacturing and volume production. Meanwhile, those who require

optical testing capabilities can choose from the company’s standard and custom metrology products, or its in-house IQ Lab™ services, to help them to assess the performance of optical assemblies and camera systems. Today, applications that utilize the kinds of

products and systems created by Optikos range from medical devices and diagnostics to automotive cameras, missile seeking testing systems, geospatial mapping technology, and beyond. This was far from the case, however, as recently as two decades ago, and the l 71

Optikos Corporation Below: Stereo Endoscopic Distal Imager

Lenox Laser Lenox Laser is a precision laser drilling company specializing in small hole technology. It has been a critical supplier of optical apertures and flow control orifices for device and instrument manufacturers worldwide for over 40 years. Lenox Laser has enjoyed continued success as an Optikos supplier over the past 15 years. The keys to the successful relationship have been the experienced engineering and production teams’ ability to recognize requirements, communicate effectively, and quickly develop the processes needed to meet the high-quality standards expected in a time-sensitive manner. Lenox Laser continues to expand its capabilities and processes to help fulfil the changing needs of industry-leading customers.


Below: Optikos Design Review

Whether it be in the fields of life science, consumer products, industrial instrumentation, geo-spatial imaging systems, military guidance and targeting systems, security, or the automotive sector, you will be hard pressed to find an area of industry today that isn’t touched by optical technology

company’s own growth has run parallel to the greater adoption of optical technologies, as President and Founder Steve Fantone goes on to detail. “It is true to say that among the broad range of markets and technologies that we now cover, many did not exist 20 years ago,” Steve says. “For instance, back then, CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensors were only just beginning to be realized, but you could already see that they would eventually supplant CCDs (charge-coupled devices), and sure enough that began to occur, initially in high-end applications such as military solutions and costly medical devices. As CMOS sensors became more affordable, so too did they become ubiquitous, to the point where

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today they can be found throughout a wealth of industrial and consumer products.” For its part, Optikos has spent the last several decades being what Steve calls a ‘purveyor of the application of optical technology’. “What differentiates us, is that we take a broad system view of optical technology and the markets or industries in which it can be applied. Whether it be in the fields of life science, consumer products, industrial instrumentation, geo-spatial imaging systems, military guidance and targeting systems, security, or the automotive sector, you will be hard pressed to find an area of industry today that isn’t touched by optical technology.” The efforts of Optikos to help facilitate this technological expansion have, in part,

Below: Gene Sequencing Optical Engine

Below: 6-Channel Multi-Spectral Imager

contributed to the company today occupying a unique market niche. Something that has also proven invaluable has been its ability to engage and interface with clients from all walks of life. “One of the things we recognize is that every client’s corporate culture will be unique, and rather than looking to modify that culture in any way, we have committed ourselves to having an adaptive system of doing business that allows Optikos to become a part of a strong, integrated partnership,” Steve explains. “We also have something internally that we call The Optikos Experience, and this reflects the way that we want to form long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with not only our

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clients, but also our suppliers, employees and the broader community. We want all parties involved to have a positive and memorable experience when working with us, and for our clients this includes being respectful of their intellectual property – so that they get control over what they pay for in terms of services rendered – and emphasizing that we are with them for the long haul.” Such has been the success of the Optikos approach to doing business that the company has registered growth of approximately 82 per cent over the last three years alone, a feat that has been recognized by its listing in the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of North America’s

fastest-growing privately held organizations. In speaking with Steve, he pinpoints the life sciences and automotive sectors as being the primary sources for this growth. In the case of the former, the company has begun to move into a greatly expanded facility – adding a 25 per cent increase in overall floor space – including additional clean space dedicated to life sciences projects and precision optical assemblies. “We made a strategic decision around six years ago to put extra emphasis on these particular fields,” Steve details. “Today, in Massachusetts, we are peer residents within one of the world’s leading life sciences hubs and have formed a good degree of knowledge in how best to work alongside a group of clients whose core competencies rest more in chemistry or biotechnology, rather than optics. This means opening up our entire breadth of services to them, from design and prototyping, through to manufacture and production, and giving clients access to the wealth of expertise at our disposal. “In terms of our automotive industry presence, if someone had said 20 years ago that we would now have self-driving cars that have a dozen cameras and optical sensors inside them we would probably have considered them from another planet. This scenario, of course, is now a reality, and the widespread use and adoption of optical technology in vehicles has also driven the need for test instrumentation in order to assure appropriate imaging quality and sensing over demanding environments. We continue to work with companies supplying the industry to improve the performance and lower the cost of enabling technologies such as LIDAR which will only further increase the optical content of motor vehicles.” Surrounding Steve is a passionate, dedicated team of individuals. Some of these men and women have been with the company for over two decades and offer unrivalled product development, technical expertise and experience on a daily basis. Alongside them is a younger contingent of employees, and Steve is particularly proud of the fact that Optikos provides them with career opportunities that would otherwise take decades to realize in larger organizations. “Our people are empowered at an early point in their careers here,” he says. “They are encouraged to work alongside some of the most experienced people within our industry as we cultivate their journey, giving them the chance to confront the types of challenges that we believe will make them successful.” Designated as being an essential business

Optikos Corporation Below: Geospatial Mapping Lens

by defence, life sciences, and security clients, Optikos remained operational through 2020 when other companies were forced to shut down as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Its employees responded quickly and efficiently to the challenge of keeping operations running, and with activity levels increasing as the weeks pass by, the company has every reason to be optimistic about what the future holds, especially in the markets that have been highlighted above. “When I look at an industry such as life sciences, it is clear that spending on technology in this field will only increase in the years ahead, and the same goes for automotive imaging, sensing, LIDAR and cameras,” Steve enthuses. “One of the great things about the optical industry is that we are very much at

the forefront of the implementation of many technologies, and a particular strength of Optikos is that we see product development from the point of product inception, all the way through to shipping it out of the door and servicing it in the field. That is a mindset that is different from most product development firms. “As a business, we are also of the view that we want to always be on hand to support our clients in achieving their respective goals. This means, while we do offer a full spectrum of services, if one should only want Optikos to carry out the design element of a project, then we are more than happy to do so. Clients are rational, and if they see that it makes business sense for us to take on additional tasks such as manufacturing or production then we will

take that work on gladly as it serves all parties’ interests. Alternatively, if we identify that we are not in fact the right company for that client or its requirements, then we will do all that we can to help them to find one that is. We look to align our interests with our clients, because at the end of the day, we want them to be successful and it is truly their success that helps ensure our own.”

Optikos Corporation Services: Thermal processing sevices l 75

A new way of thinking From a home garage to the Inc. 5000 – NeoInsulation has come a long way in seven years, and revolutionized the insulation industry in the process


hen Justin Mecklenburg joined the operational team at NeoInsulation in 2014, he was intrigued. A career entrepreneur, Justin sensed the company’s potential immediately. Excited by the firm’s state-of-the-art protective solutions, Justin was compelled to increase his involvement in the business and by April 2015, he was its majority owner. The decision paid off and today, with Justin leading the firm as Owner and CEO, NeoInsulation is a multi-million-dollar organization offering the industry something truly unique. With a nod to the company’s origins, Justin explains that NeoInsulation has been special from the very start.

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“NeoInsulation was founded back in 2013 by a third-generation oil roustabout,” he says. “The guy had been working in the field for a long time and was constantly being called out to deal with frozen pipes. Each time, he would have to steam the pipes and reinsulate them, and he noticed that he was going back to the same locations over and over again, so whatever method they were using was clearly not working. One night, he was watching a show on the Discovery channel and there was an episode about neoprene, a material used in wetsuits to keep divers warm in the ocean. It made the roustabout think - if neoprene can keep divers warm, I wonder if it can keep pipes warm too? The next day, he bought some

neoprene and a sewing machine, sewed a few pieces of it together in his garage and the idea was born. “From that humble beginning, NeoInsulation has really gone on to revolutionize the insulation industry,” Justin adds. “It is an industry that has not seen much advancement or innovation over the last 30 or 40 years, but Neo has turned it upside-down with new pioneering, patented insulation applications that are removable, reusable, water resistant, fire retardant, and completely safe.” Today, in 2020, NeoInsulation offers insulation products for two primary purposes: freeze protection and heat retention. The company has also recently introduced a variety


of electrical services to its offering. These include electrical heat tracing, which involves providing a heating element to be used in conjunction with insulation. “We continue to evolve and improve our product line,” Justin reports. “We are always trying out different raw materials, whether it is a different form of interior insulation, a different type of Velcro, or a different exterior fabric. It’s important for us to constantly look for ways to upgrade the product, but still, there is little doubt in my mind that we simply have the best offering available on the market today. The fact that our product is removable and reusable is critical because traditional forms of insulation are not and so anytime you have to remove them, you have to pay somebody to come back out and reinsulate your equipment. That is not necessary with NeoInsulation, so your maintenance costs are virtually zero.” At present, NeoInsulation manufactures all its products in the United States. A 25,000 square-foot facility in Oklahoma City is home to the majority of the firm’s in-house operations, but in order to meet growing

demand for its products, NeoInsulation has recently partnered with an Arkansas-based outsourcing firm. With over 600,000 square feet of production space, the manufacturer produces a variety of standard insulation products for NeoInsulation, preventing the company’s Oklahoma facility from ever becoming overwhelmed. Rising demand for NeoInsulation products comes as a direct result of the company’s success in the oil and gas industry. Having developed what Justin describes as a ‘niche in the midstream sector’, the firm serves a group of customers who, by nature of their work, are constantly changing their valves, pipes, and equipment. “The midstream sector presents us with a very fluid situation and the companies who operate in that market have developed a fondness for NeoInsulation because of the removability aspect of our product,” Justin reveals. “We have recently won some very large contracts with major midstream players in the US on natural gas processing facilities. It’s very exciting.

“We continue to get work in new geographical areas across the country too,” Justin adds. “For example, we are currently performing projects in South Texas. Now, if you are familiar with South Texas, you wouldn’t think we’d be doing much insulation down there because it’s pretty warm, but that is where our heat retention insulation has really come into play. A lot of refineries intentionally heat up their commodity in order to separate the oil and gas from the water and so it is our job to retain that heat through insulation. “We are also performing HVAC work for large institutions like hospitals in Oklahoma and universities in Texas. The heating and air-cooling side of the business is a new venture for us because we started out solely focused on oil and gas, but we identified HVAC as a great opportunity and we are trying to expand our activity into that area.” As part of NeoInsulation’s latest research and development efforts, the company is now looking towards the introduction of Smart Covers – insulation covers that provide their own heating element. In addition to eliminating l 77

Below: Justin Mecklenburg

Directex At Directex, we are privileged to have a very strong business relationship with NeoInsulation. We provide them with multiple raw materials including; elastic, hook and loop, polypropylene webbing, sewing threads, and fabric. With our onestop-shop concept, NeoInsulation orders multiple materials from Directex that not only create cost savings by combining multiple products into large shipments, but also streamlines packing list and invoice processing. Directex can provide your company with the same cost savings in addition to; custom warehousing programs, custom products, product development support, excellent customer service, technical performance data, and much more. Give us a call and let us see if can help you like we helped NeoInsulation.

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the need for an external heat source, the firm is hopeful that Smart Covers will be able to report data such as temperature and pressure drops back to a centralized location. Intelligent technology and data collection will help to modernize what is already a groundbreaking product, but Justin argues that NeoInsulation’s success is not solely down to innovation. “We are very innovative as an organization, but honestly, the biggest differentiator between Neo and other companies is the talent that I have been able to find and put together to form my team,” Justin proclaims. “I’m a big believer in culture and developing people and I’ve been very fortunate to amass a team of people that are not only creative, but also aggressive and very willing to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. It has allowed us to execute with excellence, which is one of our mantras. If you can execute with excellence, and you have the best product, you’ve got a really good chance of success.” Having owned and operated multiple businesses throughout the course of his career, Justin believes that nothing is more critical to a

company than its people. From his early days leading NeoInsulation, the CEO has made it his priority to instill a culture that worked best for the company, its employees, and its customers. Justin’s efforts are reflected today in NeoInsulation’s united focus on teamwork and a ‘servant attitude’ that aims to make life easier for every single one of the firm’s customers. “Our approach to service is taken straight


from Jeff Bezos at Amazon,” Justin declares. “We are absolutely obsessed with our customer. That filters down through our workforce. I spend a lot of time making sure we’ve got the right people on the bus in the right positions because it is vital that new hires share our values, understand our vision, and really buy into it. We want to be an organization where our employees are here for much more than just a paycheck.” One way Justin aims to accomplish this is through NeoInsulation’s employee profit sharing plan. As part of the initiative, every quarter, the company disperses 20 per cent of its profits between all members of staff. “People think I’m crazy for doing it,” Justin says of the plan, “but it allows all our employees - no matter how high up or low down they are on the chain - to feel like an owner and believe they can benefit from the growth of the company. In my experience, it means that they start making better decisions for the business as they know it is going to affect their bonus and their bottom line.”

The company’s performance in recent times certainly justifies Justin’s methods. In August 2020, NeoInsulation was named on the annual Inc. 5000 list, the most prestigious ranking of the USA’s fastest growing companies. The achievement comes on the back of growth of 212 per cent over the last three years, earning the company a place at number 2005 on the list and putting it in the top 50 per cent of America’s most dynamic independent businesses. The accomplishment has already got Justin itching for more. “We are excited about our growth potential,” he remarks. “I just met with my executive team last week and discussed this in detail. We currently have field offices in Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, and North Dakota, but we expect within a year or so to have field offices in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, South Texas and Colorado. We go where the work is. It doesn’t require intense amounts of capital for us to set up a field office, so we have the flexibility to grow and expand very quickly. Eventually, we aim to take that expansion overseas.” In what Justin terms a ‘highly fragmented’ industry with many small businesses jostling for position, the CEO believes that NeoInsulation can grow to dominate the sector in the next few years, becoming the standard name for

insulation in the industry. “I joke with our employees and tell everybody that I want our company name to be used as a verb,” he laughs. “I want people to say, ‘Hey let’s Neo this facility’, or ‘Let’s Neo that!’ I think once you’re used as a verb you’ve made it.” In order for NeoInsulation to take that final leap and solidify itself in the consciousness of its consumers, Justin, as always, is aiming to focus on his people. “My main objective over the next three to five years is to continue to develop our team, changing lives as we change the industry,” he asserts. “Profits will come, I have no doubt, but our number one objective is to develop people - professionally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually - growing together as a unique workforce and a better workforce.”

NeoInsulation Services: Insulation solutions l 79

Happy returns Inventing, developing, designing, and manufacturing returnable transit packaging (RTP) for more than 60 years, Schoeller Allibert is a market leader in RTP solutions, with active operations across the globe


orn out of a belief that more could be achieved together, Schoeller Allibert was formed through the acquisition and consolidation of some of the industry’s most successful returnable transit packaging (RTP) manufacturers, including Schoeller, Wavin, Perstorp, Arca, Linpac, Allibert, and Paxton. The result is a business that is, today, one of the largest producers of RTP for material handling in the world. “Due to the fact that the company has been shaped by such a large group of quality RTP firms, Schoeller Allibert has a history and heritage unlike anyone else in the industry,” explains UK Operations Director Jackie Johnson. “The knowledge and experience

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in the company helps us to provide our customers with value in their supply chains through the products we produce. I believe that what truly sets this organization apart from its competitors though, is that we are very customer-centric in how we operate. We are a solution-based provider, as opposed to a company that makes boxes. For us, it is all about the solution, not the individual product that may eventually come to function in that role.” Though Schoeller Allibert is headquartered in the Netherlands, the company’s UK branch - where Jackie is based - is located in Winsford, Cheshire. Acting as the centre for all UK production, the Winsford facility has recently benefitted from a significant program of

investment directed towards both machinery and people. According to Jackie, the aim is to drive the site towards becoming a vital part of Schoeller Allibert’s efforts to deliver ‘the latest generation of returnable packaging solutions’. “In terms of technology, we are an injection molding manufacturer, so any technology related to the manufacture of injection molded products is key for us,” Jackie remarks. “The investment we have received recently will go towards increasing the automation of our facility, but we will be doing so in conjunction with developing our people. We are working very closely with our operations teams to deliver an upskilling program for our staff that is designed to work hand in hand with any automation or new technology that we


Schoeller Allibert Limited

Though we continue to take advantage of the appropriate automation opportunities, our main focus right now is on investing in people because people are what makes a business successful. It might sound like a cliché, but it is true, and there is a reason why so many companies see it as a key to success

bring into the site. This enables employees to develop and enhance their skillset to move from manual roles to those where they can acquire greater technical knowledge. For example, operators can, and have, developed from assembly roles to engineering apprenticeships. Additionally, investing in our technology, automation and people helps us to continue our absolute focus on quality consistency, driving innovation, reducing lead times, and achieving excellence in health and safety.” Focusing on customers across seven key market segments - agriculture, automotive, food and beverage, food processing, retail, industrial manufacturing, and pooling Schoeller Allibert offers a comprehensive range of standard and bespoke RTP solutions, from foldable large containers to pallets and dollies. No matter what is being manufactured, when it comes to RTP, Schoeller Allibert has become synonymous with high quality, durable, sustainable products that contribute to efficient supply chains through lower transport costs, reduced waste, and enhanced green branding. “In a traditional manufacturing facility, you have a production plan and a work order and a product is developed around that,” Jackie

states. “At Schoeller Allibert, we do things differently and try to bring the customer closer to the people who are preparing the machines or doing assembly work – the people actually manufacturing the product. Rather than being told about order number 22341, our staff know the name of the customer and often have an understanding of their business - this is their product, their colour and this is the specification. It means that the customer is always part of the process.” The emphasis Schoeller Allibert places on its clients is supported by a central innovations team dedicated to improving customer supply chains – a department that Jackie claims is ‘the strongest in the business’. With the ability to design and develop new products from concept to production, the innovation team regularly works closely with customers, offering supply chain solutions that reduce cost, reduce environmental impact, and add value. Among solutions the innovations team has helped to implement in recent times are the introduction of Euroclick stackable containers, the Schoeller Allibert System Integrator (SASI) range of containers and the new eCommerce ready Maxinest® Etail product. Schoeller Allibert has also begun supplying Maxinest crates to Cleveron picking robots adopted by several major retailers. It is a step into the future for a pioneering product that, in many ways, laid a foundation upon which the RTP industry has grown. “Originally created and introduced to the retail market by Paxton’s, one of Schoeller Allibert’s consolidated companies, the Maxinest has been in the market for over 20 years,” Jackie reports. “It is a proven, sustainable product that has spawned a lot of me-too versions over the years. “What strikes me about the Maxinest is that it facilitates an efficient supply chain that becomes invisible at the point of sale, ensuring that the product retailers are looking to promote is forefront and not the packaging in which it is kept. As an RTP solution, the Maxinest also contributes immensely to reducing carbon footprints because it is l 81

Champion Mouldings Champion Mouldings Ltd are a 4th generation family run business, which has been in operation for over 50 years. Champion Mouldings Ltd have rapidly become recognised as an innovator in the plastics industry. We have manufactured and supplied Schoeller Allibert with their requirements for injection mouldings and blow moulding components at the Winsford site for over 30 years. Over the years many changes have occurred within Schoeller Allibert and Champion Mouldings have been there to support them. We at Champion Mouldings Ltd, pride ourselves on the good working relationship we have developed and maintained over the years.

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recyclable and it nests when it is empty, so you are optimizing your return logistics space. For me, that is what makes our product essential in the marketplace.” Being so well established in the market has been greatly beneficial to Schoeller Allibert throughout a year that Jackie admits has been challenging from an operational perspective. Though the Covid-19 pandemic has led to many staff being forced to work from home, the Operations Director says she is proud of

the way the company’s workforce has adapted and responded. “I think it has been a real success in the way people have approached it,” Jackie declares. “The commitment and effort people have put in to ensure that we still deliver quality work and support the team onsite has been very encouraging. Under normal circumstances, you could go and have a chat with somebody if you wanted to look at optimizing the run of a production plan or something like that, but

Schoeller Allibert Limited “Though we continue to take advantage of the appropriate automation opportunities, our main focus right now is on investing in people because people are what makes a business successful. It might sound like a cliché, but it is true, and there is a reason why so many companies see it as a key to success,” Jackie asserts. “All our operators are getting opportunities to do business techniques courses and apprenticeships, which will only serve to benefit this organization. Ultimately, we want Schoeller Allibert to be recognized as a company with the capability to deliver a lean efficient plant supported by a highly competent and committed workforce. We’re not far away from achieving that.”

Schoeller Allibert Limited Services: those tasks have had to be done remotely. Our teams have created new ways of doing things. They have looked at new templates and adapted how they work to support the operation when they are not there. People have engaged before being instructed. It’s been a story of ownership and responsibility.” The post-Covid-19 outbreak environment Jackie describes is reflective of Schoeller Allibert’s larger culture of inclusion and teamwork. This ethos, and the workforce’s belief in it, was illustrated in 2019 when the company experienced labor availability issues during its peak season. After launching an initiative called Project Unity, the whole business came together to support operations and achieve a shared goal. Jackie has seen similar togetherness in 2020. “We supply into some key areas, such as food, retail, and supply chains for the NHS, so it has been an extremely busy time for us, but our team has got right on board. In particular, some of our employees got together in their own time, took some redundant material, and manufactured their own tool to create visors for the NHS. The business supported the group as they produced and assembled the visors and we eventually supplied them free of charge to local hospitals and care settings around the area. That is the sort of culture we’ve got - a can-do culture focused on the customer and overall success of the business.” Having cultivated such a dynamic, efficient, and united workforce, Schoeller Allibert now plans to focus on providing its teams with skills for the future. As employees embark on academic and vocational upskilling and

multiskilling programs over the next 12 months, Jackie is confident that the company will remain at the head of the RTP industry for years to come.

Returnable transit packaging solutions

Colson UK Limited

Colson UK Limited is part of the Colson Group, the Global leader in castor and wheel solutions. We design and manufacture a large range of castors and wheels for all markets across the UK.

tel 0121 556 7221 email web l 83

Leading the way

Servicing a wide range of customers from the nuclear, construction, healthcare, and mining sectors, Royston Lead’s modern approach to specialist lead production is changing the way the industry thinks


ith its usage traceable as far back as the Prehistoric Age, lead has played a vital role in human history. Forged and developed into countless different products and applications across the years, the material remains as popular and versatile today as it was in the beginning. Nevertheless, due to the lead industry’s longevity, and the familiarity of its core material, many people have, over time, developed a number of misgivings about lead. As a progressive company doing things differently in a very traditional industry, Royston

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Lead’s mission is to change the way we think. “Let’s be honest,” begins Ian Crabbe, Royston’s Managing Director, “if you say lead to anybody, they will think almost instantly of lead pipes by the Romans. Following that, they usually believe that, because the material is so old, everything that lead could be used for has already been invented. “At Royston Lead, we respond to these arguments through the way that we operate. Firstly, we have deliberately employed skillsets from outside of the lead industry to give us a fresh perspective on what we do. Our

Sales Manager, for example, has a different background and has brought along a focus on customer care, our service offering, and many other things you would not traditionally associate with a manufacturing business. We are highly client-centric, and working with a close network of partners, we aim to find solutions for any customer request. “Secondly, as we move into more automation and better controls in our manufacturing process, we have not only been able to improve quality, but also our in-house health and safety performance and our environmental

Royston Lead


We are never afraid to use modern production techniques, like automation, in what is a very historic business, and we have found that it not only helps productivity, but also quality control because you have a system that has better checks and gives you a better understanding of what your clients want

performance too. Robotics and better tooling take people away from tasks where previously they were close to lead work or interacting with the material in a way that we would rather limit. You actually get to a point where you start to see lead in a slightly different light. It’s infinitely recyclable and low energy in terms of using old scrap lead to create new products, and as such, it is part of the modern world’s circular economy.” Originating from a boilermaker called George Royston & Sons, Royston Lead began to focus on lead production in the mid-1900s,

and by the turn of the century, had become a global supplier of lead-related products, from anodes to window sash weights, sealing materials for the industrial sector to lead ballast for use in shipping. As the business progressed through good times and bad, its offering grew, allowing the firm to become a valued supplier to a variety of industries across the globe. Its success led to a buyout and by 2015, Royston Lead joined a group of top UK lead businesses, alongside the EnviroWales smelting facility in Ebbw Vale, and rolled lead sheet distribution businesses servicing the construction sector in

the UK and Europe. It was at this time that Ian joined Royston, tasked with reviewing what the company did well and what could be improved to make the organization more profitable. “When I joined the business, we were doing about £8 million in turnover and our focus was mainly on the domestic market,” Ian recalls. “The first thing we did was analyze each area of the business, sector by sector, focusing on how to rebuild the company’s skills, sales proficiency and production capabilities. One of the things I noticed was that the anode business that had been so strong in the latter part of the previous l 85

century wasn’t really all that active. I ended up heading out to South America, which had always been a great market for us, and tried to understand what we could do to improve sales of our anode products. We refocused our sales and support presence in the region to address the issue, began to rebuild that business, and then moved on to do a similar thing with lead shielding, looking more globally, getting

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the products back up on to their feet again in regions like Continental Europe and the Middle East. “Over the last five years, we’ve increased our turnover to around £20 million, moving from an almost wholly domestic business to one that is now broadly 50/50 between domestic and

export sales. It’s surprised some people, but our products travel extremely well and it allows us to approach those international markets efficiently and easily. It’s also helped by the fact that the price of lead is set by the London Metal Exchange, so everyone in the world is working at a very similar lead price. By looking at innovation, process efficiency, and quality, we are now able to compete, not just on a national stage but on an international level too. Last year, we sold into southern Africa, South America, Europe, the Middle East and India.” Year on year, Royston Lead strives to improve and update its products and processes, adding new technologies or services to its already comprehensive offering. Since Ian joined the firm, Royston has focused on anode products, shielding for the medical sector, and most recently, ballast and specialist ballast for the shipping industry. Driven by a culture of continuous improvement, Royston challenges its employees to always ask ‘why?’ when it comes to the company’s technologies and production methods. The approach continues to help the firm find better ways to operate, and despite the maturity of the lead industry, Royston has lodged two new patents in the last 12 months. As part of the company’s evolution, Ian explains that Royston is looking to introduce more automation and robotics in its manufacturing processes. “We have decades of knowledge in this business and we always try to make the most of that, but we also understand that there is room to do things differently and space for new ideas,” he states. “We are never afraid to use modern production techniques, like automation, in what is a very historic business, and we have found that it not only helps productivity, but also quality control because you have a system that has better checks and gives you a better understanding of what your clients want.”

Royston Lead best products in that particular market, so it’s important for us now to understand why it is best and what we can do to make the product or service even better. “We do see the Covid-19 hangover being a little bit longer than any of us had hoped, and along with any other manufacturing company in the UK, we would most definitely welcome progress in our relationship with Europe at the end of this year, but we also believe that change brings new challenges and opportunities. As long as you are awake, listening to your customers, and preserving those key relationships, change allows you to find new ways of working and sometimes those new ways are better than the old ones.” By combining the experience of its workforce with modern manufacturing processes, Royston has built what Ian calls a ‘client-led ecosystem’ supported by strong supplier relationships and the latest technology. The resultant increase in turnover has allowed Royston to feed more funds into Research and Development and new product creation. “Looking forward, there are more process improvements and automations that we want to implement, primarily in the casting side of the business, but also in other areas,” Ian adds. “There are three automation projects which are currently nearing completion. We have the automated production of anodes, which uses a patented technique, including the robotic handling of the semi-finished product and the finishing of the product on an automated system. At the same time, one of our ballast customers procures a substantial amount of material from us, so we’ve introduced an ABB robot with a changeable head, which allows us to cut the material to shape and package it in an automated process line. The final project is stamped products, for which we have put an automatic stamper with a robotic offload facility to allow us to make products more quickly and efficiently.” In a year dominated by Covid-19, Royston has maintained sales as a consequence of the global nature of its business, continuing to receive orders from overseas customers, even while the UK market slumped. Among other things, a rise in demand for lead shielding in the medical sector has kept the firm busy throughout 2020 and, as a company working with lead, Royston’s already stringent health and safety procedures made for an easy transition to a Covid-safe working environment. Though a degree of business uncertainty remains - fueled not only by Coronavirus, but also Brexit - Ian is confident that Royston’s focus on quality and

customer service will spur the business on to further growth. “In terms of quality, if you take anodes as a classic example, many of our customers say that we have some of the best anodes, if not the best anodes, in the world,” Ian reveals. “What’s clear is that we produce one of the

Royston Lead Products: Specialist lead products l 87

Chemistry for tomorrow The year 2020 marks the 175th anniversary of William Blythe Ltd, Ltd, one of the UK’s leading specialty chemical businesses and a company that has a hugely exciting future ahead of it


ounded in 1845 – in Accrington, Lancashire – William Blythe Ltd is one of the oldest specialty chemical businesses in the UK. Initially formed to produce inorganic chemicals for the local textile industry, today the company delivers specialty chemical solutions to help its customers meet modern technological challenges in markets ranging from life sciences, performance coatings and polymers, to electronics, catalysts and renewable energy. William Blythe Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Synthomer plc, and with this support utilizes industry-leading manufacturing technology, which it combines with world-class

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chemistry R&D and analytical capabilities to cultivate an evolving portfolio of inorganic derivatives of elements such as copper, tin, iodine, zinc and tungsten. The core capabilities that it uses to create its product range are controlled bi-tri metallic precipitation, redox reactions and hydrothermal synthesis. In more recent times, the company has also worked closely with a range of customers pursuing novel applications for functionalized graphene oxide and doped metal oxides. “One of William Blythe’s major markets is polymer additives, specifically inorganic materials that go into flame retardants in PVC and polyamide, and from those that facilitate

the thermal stabilization of polyamide,” explains William Blythe’s Business Director David Crossley. Very much an international business, some 70 per cent of William Blythe’s sales are export driven. Sales and Marketing Director, Kevin Hudson, is able to divulge exactly why the company, and its products and solutions are so well travelled. “We manufacture high purity, rigorously defined, consistent products, coupled with the ability to customize our products where the need arises. We combine this with excellent customer service and on time deliveries, which is appreciated by our customers all over the world. Furthermore, we

William Blythe Ltd

possess a high level of expertise in controlling both the physical and chemical properties of our products, and are constantly looking at where we can offer product enhancements, and this is what drives our business forward.” A recent example of the company’s product development efforts has been its creation of its own high capacity, granulated, finished absorbent: DURAGUARDTM. Engineered to give industry leading performance, it is designed to remove sulphur from hydrocarbon streams, and boasts unrivalled absorption capacity and durability to natural gas processing operators. In fact, such has been the success of DURAGUARDTM, that in the 18 months since

it was developed it has become one of the company’s biggest drivers of growth. The manufacturing epicenter of the company is its 26-hectare site in Accrington. “Here we have three core manufacturing plants,” David states. “We have our high-volume copper plant, where we manufacture a range of copper derivative products used predominantly in the catalyst and gas purification industries. We then have the tin plant, where we manufacture our flame retardants and tin catalyst products, and thirdly our iodine plant. Here, we manufacture our iodine specialty chemicals that go into a wide range of applications including food additives, electronics, pharmaceutical and printing. “On site, one will also find our own effluent

treatment plant, where we treat all of the effluent generated from our processes. The treated effluent is then discharged directly into the sewer under strict controls that we adhere to under our IPPC (Integrated Pollution Prevention & Control) and trade effluent consent permits. As an Upper Tier COMAH (The Control of Major Accident Hazards) site we have a lot of experience in handling hazardous chemicals such as bulk chlorine, hypochlorites and hydrazine, which gives us a unique opportunity to handle most hazardous chemicals and work with those who want to manufacture products that require high hazard raw materials.” The aforementioned effluent treatment plant is also a critical element in William Blythe’s l 89

PCI Membranes PCI Membranes (supplier of tubular membranes to William Blythe), is a world leader in the custom-built crossflow membrane filtration systems for liquid separation using membrane technology. For over 50 years, their systems provided process solutions for a wide variety of filtration applications using microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis technologies. By using PCI products, a high-quality product maximizes the purification and concentration process – resulting in optimizing yields, capacity and saving raw materials. The product line comprises leading polymeric crossflow membranes and various membrane configurations, making PCI the preferred choice for filtering water, wastewater treatment, food and beverage and industrial applications.

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scale up of its new advanced materials activities, particularly those with graphene oxide, which produces a lot of acidic effluent that has to treated. “When it comes to graphene oxide, we first identified that our capabilities would fit nicely with manufacturing this advanced material back in 2015,” David continues. “We quickly scaled up production to pilot levels, and have already secured commercial sales as a polymer additive where the unique properties of graphene oxide give significant benefits in the end application. We are also working on a large pipeline of opportunities for a wide range of applications which will deliver significant growth in the near future. With the strong future of graphene oxide clear, we are committed to the scale up of this new material and have plans in place to expand current capacity from hundreds of kilograms to over one ton per year in 2021.” A second advanced material that William Blythe has spent considerable time developing is its LUXACALTM product range. LUXACALTM is a doped tungsten oxide nanomaterial used in ‘inkless’ digital printing and as an active

material for the absorption of radiation in the near infrared (NIR) wavelength range. “We developed this specifically for a client that wanted to make use of a new printing technology which required a NIR absorber to absorb laser energy, transform it into heat, and cause an image to appear,” Kevin says. While the company had no direct previous experience of manufacturing such a material, the R&D team looked at all possible routes and established that hydrothermal synthesis was the best option. Over the last five years, the company has developed a range of hydrothermal reactors that give it the capability to cover the entire scale up process for new materials, from a five-liter laboratory plant, to a pilot plant of 40 liters, through to a 1000-liter main plant, which it has installed on site. This new hydrothermal synthesis capability allows the production of novel nano sized doped metal oxide materials with different functionality, and what is unique to William Blythe is the ability to produce these materials at commercial scale. “Another area of increased focus for William

William Blythe Ltd product coming on stream in the polymer additives field that we are excited to soon be able to share with the industry, and we believe that will drive demand in the next few years. All things considered, therefore, there is a lot of positivity and optimism within William Blythe for what is ahead.”

William Blythe Ltd Services: Bespoke inorganic chemical products

Blythe is energy storage,” David adds. “We have several projects ongoing with Innovate UK as part of its Faraday Battery Challenge initiative, where we are working with different companies on active anode and cathode materials for niche and next generation cells. We have also made a significant investment into our R&D laboratory to install application capability that will allow us to manufacture coin cells, quickly getting access to performance data on new active materials.” If William Blythe delivers on the above pipeline of projects, then it will unquestionably be enjoying significant growth in the future. In the meantime, however, the company finds itself navigating the highly disruptive year that has been 2020. “The Covid-19 pandemic obviously resulted in working practices changing quite dramatically at the beginning of the year,” David confirms. “As we were classed as an essential business we were able to continue to operate, however we moved some of our people to work from home wherever feasible, whilst being able to safely implement social distancing and other procedures on site to ensure a Covid-19 secure workplace in line with government guidelines. The safety of our workforce was our number one priority throughout, and their collective ability to keep us operational and still meet all of our customers’ deliveries on time and to specification has been fantastic to witness.” Due to the nature of its products and the wide breadth of markets that it serves, the company has thus far been able to ride out the challenges posed by 2020 and the global pandemic. Looking ahead, there are a number of aims that it has to ensure that it pushes forward with its growth strategy. “For us, the immediate future is about delivering

on products such as DURAGUARDTM – which continues to win market share – and LUXACALTM, while also supporting our core business of polymer additives with more application data,” Kevin states. “We have a new

William Blythe owns all right, title and interest in the Information portrayed within the wording of the above William Blythe editorial, and all other intellectual property rights and data associated with this information without limitation. All trademarks and logos, including the LUXACALTM and DURAGUARDTM trademarks are the property of William Blythe. Copyright © 2020 William Blythe, all rights reserved. l 91

Putting passion into practice Following a recent investment in new processes, TJ Books is ushering in a new era of efficient book production suitable for a dynamic modern world

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TJ Books

The new automated finishing line basically takes a printed reel product and converts it into a complete book with no other touchpoints. The technology is all barcoded, so each book goes through individually in terms of content and size of product


ased in Padstow, a fishing port nestled amongst the shady coves and sandy beaches of the North Cornish Coast, TJ Books has been a core part of the local community for nearly 50 years. Employing 123 people from the region it has always called home, TJ Books has harnessed its workforce’s passion for print, enabling it to become one of the UK’s largest independent manufacturers of quality books. On average, the organization produces 1000 titles a month and upwards of eight million books annually. At the head of this dynamic operation is Managing Director Andy Watts, a man who has helped transform the business since taking up his current role in 2018.

“TJ Books is predominantly a book printing business and the markets we operate in are what are deemed STMA, which is science, technical, medical and academic, and also trade books, which would be your normal autobiographies, interest books, and various other subject matters,” Andy says, elaborating on the company’s work. “Over the years, we have established a reputation for producing a high standard of product. Our size has helped too. We are large enough to accommodate quite a bit of volume, but small enough to still offer our customers that personal approach. “That’s really what sets us apart from our competitors – our people and our ability to create strong relationships. Relationship building

is absolutely paramount in this line of work. Each job comes to us as its own little project and often requires collaboration between customer and supplier. It’s important to work together and devise a clear plan about the best and most efficient way to use the client’s money. Books can have different demands depending on whether they are event driven, led by author requirements, or a whole host of other things. It is still very much a personal business.” Andy arrived at TJ Books in 2018, leading a management buyout with his business partner Andy Adams. They have since led the business through the uncertainties presented by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. The company’s stability throughout this period has been l 93

supported by an ambitious three-year business strategy they implemented not long after joining the firm. “The first year of the strategy was about learning, the second year was about planning, and the third year was about doing,” Andy explains. “When we first arrived, we reviewed our efficiencies, and our position in the marketplace, and then decided that we needed to become more customer-driven in terms of listening to what our customers want. To back that up, we did a review of the processes and the team, making strategic improvements where required. 2020 is year three of the strategy. “Obviously, we were hit by Covid-19 in March and that became a bit of an issue. Our capabilities were decreased to around 50 per cent for a period of time, but we were lucky in that we didn’t have to completely shut down. “One benefit of the slowdown is that it gave us the opportunity to move the plant around and install new equipment. We really took advantage of that time to put us in the best possible position for when we come out of this troubled year. Most importantly, we haven’t altered our strategy at all; we’ve powered on

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through because not doing so would have been a long-term mistake.” As part of the strategy, TJ Books recently enjoyed a major rebrand - the company was previously known as TJ International - as well as investing £1.5 million in new processes and modern equipment designed to improve efficiency and increase the firm’s offering. Already a largely technology-driven business, TJ Books manufactures its products using a portfolio of technologies that Andy describes as both ‘mature in the marketplace’ and ‘relatively new and cutting-edge’. “From a printing point of view, we use lithographic, toner-based, and inkjet methods of printing for both mono and color books. Inkjet printing, in particular, is an area that is progressing very quickly at the moment,” he reports. “From a finishing perspective, again, we use a mixture of traditional methods and new innovations. Traditional equipment tends to be for larger volume, longer run products, and the newer machinery is a form of automated production. “To tie all that together,” Andy adds, “we rely heavily upon management information systems (MIS), which can do a variety of things to help

us run the business and relieve touchpoints.” As part of the company’s latest investment, TJ Books will be introducing a brand-new management information system into its operation later this year. Over nine months in the making, the system has been designed by American firm EFI and is set to go live in December 2020. “EFI understands our industry, from digital printing right through to the necessary management information systems. We started a project with them around a year ago now, looking to replace our existing system, which has been in use for eight or nine years,” Andy remarks. “The objective has always been to be best-in-class in terms of our customer facing capabilities, including customer service integration for raising orders, creating estimates, and increasing transparency. “The next stage is to ensure that the manufacturing plant is scheduled efficiently so that we can get the most product out of the business. The final area will be accurate reporting in terms of what we are producing and what each product is costing us to produce. They are the main drivers behind introducing a new MIS.”

TJ Books Below: TJ Books’ Managing Director Andy Watts

our most discussed topics. Like the majority of businesses, we have taken a bit of a hit in our sales line this year, so over the next one or two years, we need to work hard to get it back up where it was and then we can think about pushing the business forward. “Further down the line, it’s all going to be about offering a wider gambit of products to our customers and offering them in a quicker turnaround time,” Andy notes. “Publishers are concentrating on taking risk out of their businesses at the moment, especially in terms of stock, so they want to order less books, but they want to be able to have them quicker and more often. Everything we do will be targeted towards that because if we don’t stay in tune with what our customers want then there will be no TJ Books.”

TJ Books The new management information system will not be the only new arrival to TJ Books in 2020, as earlier this year, the company added an automated finishing line for digitally produced books. Andy claims that automation in manufacturing is a key focus for the company moving forward and that customers can expect to see increased efficiency as a result. “The new automated finishing line basically takes a printed reel product and converts it into a complete book with no other touchpoints,” he declares. “The technology is all barcoded, so each book goes through individually in terms of content and size of product. “Combined with the new MIS, these technologies are likely to have a hugely positive impact on the business in terms of our service levels and cost of production, and then our ability to increase sales on the back of that. It was important for us to make the sales we’ve got more efficient and we now have a really solid platform to build on.” An innately forward-facing business, TJ Books sees the future as an opportunity to grow and develop. As an ISO 14001 and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited organization, the company is committed to recycling 100 per cent of its production waste and is constantly looking for new ways to operate in a more environmentallyfriendly manner. This culture of continuous improvement carries through to all areas of the business, including manufacturing, where Andy sees great potential for development. “The focus, which has really been highlighted by the Covid-19 experience, is to

dig deeper and see where we can automate even further,” he reveals. “The pandemic has accelerated some of our thinking about how we can introduce more automation into the business, to the point where it is one of


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Domsjö Fabriker AB

Top of the tree Domsjö Fabriker understands more than most other businesses that we have a responsibility for the world’s natural resources and how they are used, and this is reflected in the way its world-leading biorefinery operates and produces sustainable products

‘‘ Björn Vedin

Our collective mission is to be a responsible, local manufacturer that is responsible for producing and selling sustainable, specialty products that originate from our forests. By having full control over our raw materials, we are safe in the knowledge that our products come from sustainable and traceable forestry l 97


haracterized by its steep granite cliffs and rocky offshore islands, The High Coast in the Ångermanland province of north eastern Sweden, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000. In close proximity to the site, one will be able to find the Domsjö Fabriker biorefinery, which has roots in the area that date back to the early 1900s. It was in 1903, to be exact, that the site on which the biorefinery stands began life as a sulphite mill. It was the brainchild of Frans and Seth Kempe – sons of the founder of Mo & Domsjö, J. C. Kempe – who were the first men in Sweden to carry out tests on a method for producing sulphite pulp. By the 1930s, production levels at Domsjö Fabriker had increased to such a level that the mill began to move into the production of cellulose for manufacturing viscose pulp. By the 1940s, the mill had helped facilitate the birth of the region’s chemical industry, and what followed was almost six decades of continuous growth and technological advances. In 1999, Mo & Domsjö sold Domsjö Fabriker to a private consortium, whose

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investment helped in the mill’s full transition into a biorefinery, responsible for refining the renewable raw material from wood into products that boast a strong environmental profile. Then, in 2011, the entire business was sold to the Aditya Birla Group, a leading multinational business with its base in India. “Today, our main product streams are cellulose, lignin and bioethanol,” explains Domsjö Fabriker Chief Executive Officer, Björn Vedin. “Cellulose is our principal offering, with the major field of application being viscose for fashion and textiles. Made out of softwood, cellulose can also be found in a number of other products, such as medical tablets, food, sausage casing, tires and paint. Approximately 50 per cent of our total cellulose output is sold internally into the wider Aditya Birla Group, with the rest making its way into specialty applications elsewhere around the world. “Domsjö Fabriker is also the world’s second largest producer of lignin powder, with our lignin delivered to around 60 destinations worldwide, while our third stream of revenue is derived from the production of bioethanol, which is extracted from the unique cooking

process where the sugar from the wood is gathered and fermented in our ethanol factory. We also produce our own biogas, which we use internally as an energy source.”

Force for good

The company’s unique manufacturing process allows it to produce high quality products adapted to its customers’ high demands within what is the world’s only closed-loop and chlorine-free bleach plant. “We source the raw material – softwood – mainly from sustainable Swedish sustainable forestry, consuming some 1.4 million cubic meters per year,” Björn details. “The wood is debarked and chipped, before being fed with cooking chemicals into our digesters. The bark is burned, and provides energy in the form of steam, which we feedback into our own system to power activities. During the cooking process, hemicellulose and lignin is dissolved, with the form being fermented and distilled into bioethanol. After cooking, the cellulose is washed and then bleached with hydrogen peroxide in our closedloop bleach plant. Finally, the bleached cellulose is dried, sheeted and packed into bales, with

Domsjö Fabriker AB the entire process – from log to finished bale – taking about 40 hours.” When Domsjö Fabriker began its journey towards becoming a biorefinery, it did so with the goal of making the most out of a tree in order to create sustainable products derived from the forest. This desire to be a force for good in the development towards a sustainable bioeconomy, utilizing forests as a unique resource, continues to sit at the heart of the company’s culture and act as a motivator for its 330-plus employees. “Our collective mission is to be a responsible, local manufacturer that is responsible for producing and selling sustainable, specialty products that originate from our forests,” Björn confirms. “By having full control over our raw materials, we are safe in the knowledge that our products come from sustainable and traceable forestry. Swedish forests are special in that they are harvested at a lesser rate than they are planted, which guarantees future access. This helps to give our products the qualifications necessary to play a major role in what we hope will be a bio-based society, in which fossil fueled l 99

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Domsjö Fabriker AB energy sources are replaced by sustainable alternatives.” In December 2019, Domsjö Fabriker made the exciting announcement that it had agreed to co-operate with independent Swedish scale-up company Ecohelix AB to establish a demo scale plant for the production of the hemicellulose copolymers developed and patented by Ecohelix. This news follows a successful partnership between the two players on a pilot scale plant that is located at the Domsjö Fabriker mill, which has been used to verify the raw material, the process, the products, and to produce sample material for potential customers. Results and feedback from this work have been extremely encouraging, resulting in the need for a larger, demo-scale plant. Potential customers will eventually be supplied with sufficient product to do further development and verification work.

Positive actions

Ecohelix’s hemicellulose copolymers boast excellent barrier properties and a low level of viscosity. Typical applications include various pulp and paper chemical and cosmetic processes, where the polymer’s unique properties can be utilized. Said polymers are also highly efficient ingredients in formulations for gas and grease barriers. In many applications, Ecohelix polymers will ultimately be able to replace equivalent, fossil fuel-based products. Under the agreement, Ecohelix is responsible for constructing the plant and erecting it, managing its operations to verify the properties of the raw materials, processes and products at a larger scale, and for gathering data for the next development step, which would be an industrial-scale production unit. For its part, Domsjö Fabriker is tasked with supplying the raw material stream to the plant, providing the necessary space to make activities possible, and with supplying all relevant utilities, services and support functions. “Projects such as that which we have undertaken alongside Ecohelix are of huge interest to us at Domsjö Fabriker, as each one helps us to reach our own goal of making more sustainable use of – and products from – our raw materials,” Björn states. “Other projects we are looking into include those that could facilitate greater and more varied use of the biogas that we produce.” As Björn reflects upon the year to date, he is honest in admitting that 2020 has been an incredibly tough year for the business. With around 50 per cent of its products being sold internally to its Indian parent company – much of which then finding its way to the clothing

industry – the shutdowns imposed by global governments in an effort to suppress the Covid-19 pandemic had an almost immediate impact on a significant part of the company’s revenue stream. While Domsjö Fabriker has been the recipient of Swedish government subsidiaries, it has been its own actions in recent months that have helped it to weather the storm. These have included identifying cost savings, creating great efficiency across the business, and actively pursuing new sales and business opportunities. The above actions have given Björn and the rest of the Domsjö Fabriker team cause for optimism for the future. “Being active in what is a particularly niche market, we believe that

exciting times do lay ahead for the business,” he affirms. “We are looking forward to getting out there and exploring new markets and opportunities, while of course continuing to support our internal consumers, ensuring that they continue to receive the products and services they have come to expect.”

Domsjö Fabriker AB Services: Biorefinery producing cellulose, lignin and bioethanol l 101

Freedom to

breathe Motivated by the belief that people are more than their medical conditions and that technology should evolve to make life easier, and through the application of totally groundbreaking engineering, Ventec Life Systems created its life-changing product VOCSN

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Ventec Life Systems


ollowing his father’s battle with ALS, founder of Ventec Life Systems Doug DeVries was determined to redefine respiratory care and provide better technology for all ventilator users. With the ambition to improve patient outcomes and reduce caregiver challenges in the hospital and home, Doug and his team dedicated themselves to inventing VOCSN, a single unified respiratory system that seamlessly integrates five separate devices including a ventilator, oxygen concentrator, cough assist, suction, and nebulizer. VOCSN is 70 per cent lighter and smaller than five traditional devices and includes an intuitive touchscreen that makes operating the device simple, providing peace of mind for caregivers in the hospital or home. “People should not have to use five different medical devices to treat any medical condition. And yet, the reality has been very different,” explained Mark SooHoo, VP Marketing and Communications at Ventec Life Systems. “Hospital workers must learn multiple devices and spend valuable time switching circuits to deliver multiple therapies. Patients’ families are overwhelmed as their homes turn into mini

hospital rooms to support all of the different devices.”

Continuous improvement

The Ventec team designed VOCSN from the ground up, but combining five devices into a single unit that is fully functional, energy efficient and dependable required intense reengineering. Following an extensive product development period where over 700 essential components were created from scratch (and eight patents were granted) the Ventec team worked with those requiring treatment, as well as doctors, nurses and health care professionals to understand their pain points and to build an integrated, user-friendly medical device. VOCSN was FDA cleared for use in the US in 2017 and cleared in 2018 in Japan, and patients have been using it across the continuum of care from hospital to home. Home health companies provide VOCSN for patients in the home, Long Term Care Facilities (e.g. Skilled Nursing Facilities) provide VOCSN for patients who cannot go home or are transitioning to the home on a ventilator, and hospital customers use VOCSN in critical care settings. Thanks to VOCSN, patients

become more mobile and caregivers have more time to care for their patients. The brilliance of VOCSN has also been recognized by many awards over the years, with the most recent being the 2020 GeekWire Award for ‘Hardware of the Year’. “VOCSN is not only simple to use, but it is designed to enhance patient care, such as helping to reduce the risk of infection as caregivers no longer need to switch between therapies or take a patient off the ventilation to administer cough, suction, or nebulizer therapies,” added SooHoo.

Bisearch Bisearch is a long-standing partner of Ventec Life Systems and supplies an LCD solution that is integrated into Ventec’s flagship—VOCSN. We take pride in partaking in Ventec’s journey, especially in times like this, in which we can make a difference in the world through our services. It is our mission to continue to offer the highest quality products that are critical to saving lives. l 105


We remain dedicated to expanding the benefits of integrated respiratory care. We want to empower patients and caregivers to not only leave the house, but also have oxygen, cough, suction, and nebulizer therapies with them in one device, so they are not intentionally leaving those therapies behind. This allows for greater compliance because they’re easier to use and they’re with the patient at all times

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Ventec Life Systems The team’s history of patient-centric design includes decades of work developing respiratory innovations but the team is not done. “In December 2019 we announced Multi-View, which is the first and only comprehensive report for ventilator patients that provides clinicians with insights of not just ventilation but also medication delivery (oxygen and nebulizer) and secretion management (cough and suction),” said SooHoo, illustrating the continuous process of improvement at Ventec. “Multi-View builds on the benefits of integrated care by enabling caregivers to track and monitor all five therapies and understand what is going on holistically with the patient, something that was previously impossible.”

Extraordinary achievements

Having amassed a vast amount of learning and understanding of the intricacies of respiratory care, it is no surprise to learn that Ventec was on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response, educating the media and the country about respiratory care and the need for true critical care ventilators to arm medical professionals battling the pandemic. “During

this pandemic, ventilators are a key resource in the public health safety net to ensure the right ventilator is available at the right time for COVID-19 patients in respiratory distress,” said SooHoo. “We were a rapidly growing company but only producing about 200 VOCSN per month. We knew that ventilator demand in response to COVID-19 would vastly exceed what any ventilator manufacturer was currently producing, so we sought an out-of-the-box solution. We partnered with General Motors (GM) to mass produce critical care ventilators. In just one month, this partnership delivered critical care ventilators to front line medical professionals saving lives. Overnight, we exponentially grew the company’s production and received an order from the U.S. government for 30,000 critical care ventilators to support the Strategic National Stockpile. We completed the large order on time by the end of August. Simply put, the speed and scale of the increase in ventilator production is unprecedented,” SooHoo stated. This amazing partnership between Ventec and GM was celebrated by a visit in April 2020 by US Vice President Mike Pence to GM’s Kokomo

Plant, where GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and Ventec CEO Chris Kiple gave a tour of the ventilator production and testing lines. Chris Kiple acknowledged the extraordinary achievements of the partnership, and stated that “nothing is impossible for the combined power of American innovation and American workers.”

Inspirational support

In her own statement, GM CEO Mary Barra recognized the value of team work on the project: “General Motors and Ventec have worked seamlessly as one team with one mission: to make sure more critical care ventilators are available for those who need them. We delivered our first units in just one month because we have had incredible support from our suppliers, the Kokomo community, and state and federal officials. Their passion and commitment is helping turn the tide of the pandemic. We are incredibly grateful to our team and everyone who has supported this lifesaving work and we appreciate the support and encouragement of Vice President Pence, Gov. Holcomb and Secretary Chao,” she said. Having been inspired by the support of the l 107

White House, the team at Ventec and GM were also bolstered by the feedback from the heroes battling the pandemic on the front lines. “We are very grateful to Ventec Life Systems and General Motors for the VOCSN critical care ventilators we received in April,” said Dr. Suzanne Pham, of Weiss Memorial Hospital. “The devices they built in just one month are currently helping patients battling COVID-19, and are valuable tools enabling our medical team to save lives. I’m proud to say we have had many patients beat COVID-19, wean off the ventilator, and safely return home.”

Team response

As the pandemic continues to ravage the US population, the need for critical care ventilators continues beyond the US government’s order and while Ventec hopes that mitigation efforts stop the spread of the virus, it remains committed to maintaining an increased production capacity for as long as it is needed. This requires not only superhuman efforts from its own manufacturing team but also from the entire supply chain: “As GM CEO Mary Barra said, our suppliers have ‘moved mountains’ to provide the vital parts and supplies necessary to build 30,000 critical care ventilators in just over five months,” agreed SooHoo. “Each supplier has their own heroic story of how their team rose to the occasion to meet this extreme need.

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Ventec Life Systems From the beginning of our partnership with General Motors, we have worked closely and honestly with our manufacturing partners, which has been key to the success of this partnership.” SooHoo also directed the spotlight for praise onto the Ventec team itself: “We are proud of the dedication, talent, and hard work our entire team has devoted to our response to COVID-19,” he affirmed. “Everything we do is truly a team effort. We are just one small part in the overall response to COVID-19, and ultimately our job is to provide life-saving medical devices to the true heroes - frontline medical professionals including respiratory therapists, doctors, and nurses - who are helping patients and putting themselves in harm’s way every day.” He continued: “When scaling 80x in just five months, trust and teamwork become even more important. The first confirmed COVID-19 case in the US was less than ten miles from our headquarters and manufacturing location. We cannot build critical care ventilators working from home so our offices have remained open from the beginning and we immediately implemented strict health protocols to keep our team members safe. “Beyond that, we stay motivated because we are united behind a common mission together. We are proud to produce critical care ventilators that provide tools for frontline medical professionals to save lives. We know that doctors, respiratory therapists, and nurses are working tirelessly to fight COVID-19, and our team’s mission is to provide them with the tools they need to help their patients.”

by looking at it with fresh eyes and taking a ‘back to the drawing board’ approach. “No other company combines five therapies in one device, and we are proud to be leading the charge for integrated respiratory care,” SooHoo concluded. “From the day it was founded, Ventec Life Systems has always focused on how it can improve and innovate in respiratory care, and bring care-changing innovations to life for patients, medical professionals, and caregivers. “We just don’t have enough time or space to talk about how excited we are about VOCSN, but don’t just take our word for it. Please visit our website at and explore our patient stories to see real-world examples from patients and caregivers using VOCSN today.”

Ventec Life Systems Products: Created and manufactures integrated solutions for respiratory care

Springs & Things We were proud to help our valued customer, Ventec Life Systems and ramped up production quickly to support the ventilator program. Springs & Things manufactures custom springs, wire forms and ‘shaped things’ for customers across North America. How may we help you? Please send us your samples, drawings and ideas. Our highly creative team can make design suggestions to move faster through the prototyping process. Designed to Perform. Manufactured to Last. Rely on our team for quick, custommade solutions for short and large runs. Springs & Things will look for ways to reduce costs without ‘sacrificing quality.’ ISO 9001:2015

Integrated care

Given the expertise of companies such as Ventec who are dedicating their efforts to fighting COVID-19, there is a post-pandemic future on the horizon where attention will once more be placed on growing the business as a whole. “We remain dedicated to expanding the benefits of integrated respiratory care,” stated SooHoo. “We want to empower patients and caregivers to not only leave the house, but also have oxygen, cough, suction, and nebulizer therapies with them in one device, so they are not intentionally leaving those therapies behind. This allows for greater compliance because they’re easier to use and they’re with the patient at all times. “Our team continues to look for ways to add additional features and functionality, improve data and tracking with Multi-View, and ultimately continue to serve our patients and their caregivers with the tools they need to live better.” It is rare that a company can enter a sector and totally disrupt the existing technology l 109

Working together

Lori Postma unpacks a shipment of VOCSN critical care ventilators at Gary International Airport Saturday, April 18, 2010, in Gary, Indiana.The ventilators are produced at the General Motors manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana. GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce the ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo for General Motors)

The joint venture between Ventec Life Systems (Ventec) and General Motors (GM) illustrates what great achievements can be made when companies work in collaboration with a special purpose


he bringing together of ventilator expert Ventec Life Systems and the manufacturing power of GM began with a phone call on March 17 between GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and representatives of StopTheSpread. org, the nation’s co-ordinated private sector response to Covid-19. suggested GM work with Ventec, in order to produce its VOCSN ventilators on a much larger scale. During this pandemic, ventilators are a key resource in the public health safety net to ensure the right ventilator is available at the right time for Covid-19 patients in respiratory distress. Following the calls on March 17-18, a flurry of activity ensued. On March 19, a GM team departed for Ventec’s facility in Bothell, Washington, and on March 20 GM engaged its global supply base and within 72 hours, it had developed plans to source 100 per cent of the necessary parts. March 20 also saw the formal announcement from GM and Ventec, in cooperation with, that they were going to collaborate to enable Ventec to increase production of its respiratory care products to support the growing fight against the pandemic.

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Ventec leveraged GM’s logistics, purchasing and manufacturing expertise to build more of its critically important ventilators. As Chris Kiple, Ventec Life Systems CEO stated at the time, this partnership will help save lives. “With GM’s help, Ventec will increase ventilator production. By tapping their expertise, GM is enabling us to get more ventilators to more hospitals much faster,” he said. Mary Barra, GM Chairman and CEO added: “We are working closely with Ventec to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products to support our country’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis.” Within days of these statements, crews began preparing GM’s Kokomo site in Indiana for production, and hiring commenced of more than 1000 team members from the community to join current GM employees to ramp up ventilator production.

Standing proud

On March 27 President Trump signed a Defense Production Act memorandum, and on that same day, GM and Ventec announced that GM would build Ventec’s VOCSN critical care ventilators at GM’s Kokomo manufacturing

facility with FDA-cleared ventilators scheduled to ship as soon as April. The effort was in addition to Ventec taking aggressive steps to ramp up production at its manufacturing facility in Bothell, Washington. The companies added thousands of units of new capacity with a significantly expanded supply chain capable of supporting high volume production. GM contributed its resources at cost. Chris Kiple commented: “The unique partnership combines Ventec’s respiratory care expertise with GM’s manufacturing might to produce sophisticated and high-quality critical care ventilators. This pandemic is unprecedented and so is this response, with incredible support from GM and their suppliers. Healthcare professionals on the front lines deserve the best tools to treat patients and precision critical care ventilators like VOCSN are what is necessary to save lives.” Mary Barra noted that the company was proud to stand with other American companies and its skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic. “This partnership has rallied the GM enterprise and our global supply base to support Ventec, and the teams are working together with incredible passion and commitment. I am proud of this partnership as

Ventec Life Systems and GM

Workers prepare to build ventilators at the GM manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, Monday, April 6, 2020, where GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce VOCSN critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors)

we work together to address urgent and lifesaving needs,” she said. She added: “GM is in the position to help build more ventilators because of the remarkable performance of GM and Ventec’s global supply base. Our joint teams have moved mountains to find real solutions to save lives and fight the pandemic.” Delivering ventilators on this scale and in this short time frame meant that GM and Ventec had to contend with a raft of challenges, including the implementation of extensive health and safety protocols in the workplace. Indeed, protecting the health of the GM team building Ventec’s critical care ventilators in Kokomo was a top priority and strict protocols were put in place to look after the team on site. Extensive screening, cleaning and other CDCrecommended procedures were instigated when volume production of Ventec’s critical care ventilator began in April.

Exceptional performance

Dr. Jeffrey Hess, GM’s corporate medical doctor, confirmed that a safe workplace was imperative, given that the men and women building these ventilators raised their hands to help save the lives of people suffering from Covid-19. “We will

create a safe workplace using CDC guidelines and scientific data,” he stated. Terry Dittes, vice president, UAW-GM Department also acknowledged the vital role that the team was playing in this effort: “As our nation struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic, volunteer UAW-GM members are doing a tremendous service for our country by volunteering to come to work to make ventilators in Kokomo. For that reason, the UAW has worked with GM to put in place stringent CDC health and safety protocols. Our goal is to make sure that each and every day, people return home to their families and communities safe and healthy. We applaud their courage in volunteering in our nation’s time of need, and we commend GM for working with the UAW to save lives across the country.” It is hard to believe that the team achieved so much in such a short space of time, with another significant milestone reached on April 8, when The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded GM a contract under the Defense Production Act to build 30,000 VOCSN V+Pro critical care ventilators, by the end of August. By April 17, the first VOCSN V+Pro critical care ventilators produced by the joint venture

were delivered by UPS to Franciscan Health Olympia Fields in Olympia Fields, Illinois and Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. A third shipment was delivered by UPS to the Gary/ Chicago International Airport on April 18 for distribution to other locations where the need was greatest. In just one short month, the teams from GM and Ventec went from an introductory phone call to delivering life-saving technology to frontline medical heroes.The partnership between GM and Ventec has now delivered more than 20,000 critical care ventilators to the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).The companies are on track to complete the federal government order for 30,000 critical care ventilators by the end of August (at time of writing). The partnership between Ventec Life Systems and General Motors illustrates what can be achieved when two exceptional companies work together for the greater good. It combines global expertise in manufacturing quality and a joint commitment to safety to give medical professionals and patients access to life-saving technology as rapidly as possible. The entire GM team is rightly proud to support this initiative. l 111

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Flying W Plastics

Putting the W in



A manufacturer of polyethylene pipe products since 1984, Flying W Plastics is preparing to double its capabilities with the opening of a brand-new production facility


t Flying W Plastics, quality reigns supreme. In the business of manufacturing polyethylene plastic pipes for more than 35 years, reliable high quality has been key to the firm’s longevity. Selecting only prime grades of polyethylene resin from reputable resin manufacturers, all material used in the production of Flying W products passes through the company’s Quality Control laboratory before it is put into use. The lab then tests all finished goods to ensure they comply with applicable manufacturing standards, before being labelled with identity codes to allow for complete traceability through production and delivery. It is a level of detail that permeates all areas of the organization. “Flying W Plastics manufactures its products to comply with, or exceed, the highest industry standards available,” explains company President Doug Morris. “We take pride in our products and make every reasonable effort to ensure that when they arrive in the field, they perform as expected, last as expected, and meet or exceed the expectations of our customers. Further to this, our lab, facility, and

records are inspected by NSF at a minimum of twice per year to ensure our products meet their high standards, as well as our own.” With sizes and specifications to meet diverse project needs, Flying W pipe products cover a range of commercial and industrial applications, including water and sewer, gas collection and gathering, telecommunications, electrical conduit, geothermal, power plants, and landfill. The products are sold through a vast network of distributors, many of which are national and international companies. At present, Flying W’s production capabilities exceed five million pounds of finished goods per month across ten production lines. Sizes manufactured include ½ inch through to 20 inches, but this is all about to change. Following the recent purchase of a 169,000 square foot facility in Jacksonville, Florida, Flying W is preparing for a major expansion to its manufacturing capabilities. “While our business is concentrated in the eastern half of the United States, we ship products to every state in the continental US, to Canada, and several other countries. The new Jacksonville facility adds five production lines to what we already have available to

We did a lot of research and it means we can now look forward to using some of the industry’s best technology in Jacksonville. The new KraussMaffei equipment processes twice the amount of plastic we are used to, so we’ll be taking a huge leap forward in that area. We currently have 11 or 12 lines up here at our existing West Virginia facility, yet the five lines down in Jacksonville will manufacture the same amount of product, and probably more, because the new lines are simply more efficient

us, creating an additional 70 million pounds capacity annually to help serve our wider customer base,” Doug states. “The new JAX facility will also allow us to produce 24-inch pipes, as well as generating 45 to 50 new jobs as we start manufacturing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The geographical advantages of the new facility mean that we will be able to utilize the Jacksonville port, which will allow us to move into the Caribbean market where inclement weather, such as hurricanes, has led to a growing need for infrastructure to be buried underground, which often requires HDPE plastics.” Among the groundbreaking new equipment on show at the Jacksonville facility when it opens its doors in late September will be KraussMaffei extruder technology. Offering high output and increased efficiency, the extruder will go a long way towards doubling Flying W’s production within just one year. l 113

“We did a lot of research and it means we can now look forward to using some of the industry’s best technology in Jacksonville,” Doug remarks. “The new KraussMaffei equipment processes twice the amount of plastic we are used to, so we’ll be taking a huge leap forward in that area. We currently have 11 or 12 lines up here at our existing West Virginia facility, yet the five lines down in Jacksonville will manufacture the same amount of product, and probably more, because the new lines are simply more efficient.” A forward-thinking company not only in its use of modern technology, but also in its commitment to environmentally friendly practices, Flying W is proud to manufacture sustainable piping solutions for the 21st century. At the center of the company’s positive green credentials is the fact that all Flying W products are manufactured from high density polyethylene (HDPE). “Starting with a leak-free joint for pressure systems, HDPE pipe is the greenest choice for municipal water, sewer, and storm water applications,” Doug asserts. “A lower environmental footprint is the hallmark for HDPE pipe. Starting with its low energy requirements for manufacturing, and continuing

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throughout transportation and installation phases, the energy needed to completely install a HDPE pipe system pales in comparison to the economic and environmental cost of pipes from various metals or concrete. HDPE pipe’s resistance to corrosion and abrasion will also create a longer utility life for generations to come. This translates into direct consumer savings and strong enhancement of our environment.”

Strong levels of trust

Deemed to be an ‘essential business’ during the early stages of this year’s Covid-19 pandemic, Flying W has operated without interruption throughout 2020. However, in a year like no other, the business has been forced to make a number of operational changes that are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future. As far as Doug is concerned, none of these changes have been more important than the procedures put in place to protect the company’s valued employees and clients. “People are our most important asset,” he professes. “We have multiple long tenure employees that have successfully participated in our profit-sharing programs and they continue to bring new innovations to the table and

contribute to many process improvements. “Put simply, we wouldn’t be where we are without them,” Doug adds, “and that’s why we have done so much to protect them at work this year. As a result, not one person has been sick with the virus. Our managers have done a great job getting their teams to adapt to these unprecedented times and, for example, have facilitated a switch over from 18-inch production to 12-inch production, which we can do 30 per cent quicker. “Our whole team has really stepped up to the plate at a time when we’ve needed them most. We benefit from a strong relationship and when they see me worried about something, they put it upon themselves to come up with solutions. I can sleep at night knowing that the team here is always doing their best. I can take my family out and refresh my mind knowing that this business is under control. When you have great people in your organization that you trust, it just makes everything roll.” As well as supporting its close network of wholesalers throughout the pandemic, Flying W has also been looking at the potential for new projects with metal conduit, infrastructure for fiber optics, and golf course irrigation. Though the global downturn brought on by

Flying W Plastics

Coronavirus has impacted some of Flying W’s business activities, the company has used the lull to prepare itself for the future. “Some areas of interest for us were really coming up big in 2019 but there is not really a sector that hasn’t flattened out since the pandemic,” Doug admits. “Consequently, our goal has been to tighten up the ship and be ready for when business comes back. I don’t know any company that has been going gangbusters this year, but we have stayed

committed, we’ve got good people, and we’re on track with the Jacksonville project. We will certainly appreciate the good times whenever they come because it has been a struggle, but we’ve put ourselves in a position to succeed.” As Coronavirus complications continue, and with the US presidential elections on the horizon, Flying W is aware that uncertainty may plague the business world for the rest of 2020, but Doug argues that it’s nothing the firm can’t tackle. “From our base in West Virginia,

we continue to grow and adapt,” he says. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been able to jump from one thing to the next, performing maintenance on the plant, cleaning, streamlining, and making the most of slower times so that our efficiencies are in good shape for when everything gets back to normal. “Looking beyond this year, we see brighter times ahead,” Doug declares. “I want companies to want our products. I would love to develop some flexible, specialty products and take them from infancy into production. As a business, we will be comfortable getting to $100 million or $150 million in revenue so that we can take care of our people and they can take care of themselves.”

Flying W Plastics Products: Polyethylene pipe products l 115

Full steam ahead Over 130 years of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and strategic planning have contributed to Spirax Sarco becoming a leading manufacturer of high-quality products and services for the control and efficient use of steam

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Spirax Sarco l 117



art of multi-national engineering group Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc, Spirax Sarco is a world leader in the management of steam, providing steam systems, products and packages for industrial, commercial and institutional customers the world over. Manufacturing Director of Spirax Sarco Ltd, UK, Greg GodfreyWilliams, explains more: “We are experts in steam and condensate management, heat control and thermal energy management, site surveys, energy audits, digital monitoring solutions and training,” he says. “At any given moment, our experts and specialist products are helping our customers heat hospitals, produce food on an industrial scale, sterilize pharmaceutical equipment, or generate a constant supply of hot water. As steam specialists with over 100 years of experience, we adapt to our customers’ changing needs while offering them solutions based on a legacy of knowledge and expertise.” Whether designing and manufacturing new products, solving customers’ operational challenges, improving industrial efficiency using digital monitoring solutions, or educating customers across nearly 50 training centers

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Greg Godfrey-Williams, Manufacturing Director

worldwide, Spirax Sarco is always aiming to deliver value for its customers and shareholders. In terms of the company’s routes to market, over 70 per cent of the company’s revenue is generated directly from sales to end users, contractors and original equipment manufacturers. Greg believes that this direct sales approach is a key differentiator for the business. “Spirax Sarco employs over 1,200 sales and service engineers globally who visit customer sites and use their expert application

Our excellent apprenticeship programmes lead people into skilled jobs within our factory and support other areas of the business such as product development and sales. Apprenticeships are also used to develop our existing staff in a range of areas such as energy management and Lean skills. Our leading international graduate scheme allows university leavers to experience all areas of our business including markets outside the UK. This is combined with our Year in Industry initiative which helps us bring in diverse talent across the group

Spirax Sarco knowledge to design engineered solutions that increase our customers’ operating efficiency, safety, and sustainability,” he remarks. “We operate in both mature and emerging markets and have a direct sales presence in 66 countries, as well as serving customers in a further 64 countries via distributors. Our extensive global infrastructure enables us to rapidly branch into neighbouring markets, giving us a first-to-market advantage. These projects are only possible because of our direct sales approach and are largely self-generated.”

Problem solvers

Highly flexible in its approach, and capable of serving a wide array of markets, Spirax Sarco’s services have been in high demand throughout 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic. In April this year, Spirax Sarco Ltd received an urgent call from a UK hospital in immediate need of a solution to stop oxygen storage tanks from freezing. A video conference call was promptly organized to provide the hospital with expertise from Spirax Sarco engineers in both the UK and Italy. It transpired that hot water was needed in situ to help relieve the problem, so the company

recommended a steam-to-water mixing valve, combining the site’s steam supply with cold water to produce the hot water required. From video call to product delivery – Spirax Sarco solved the problem in a matter of hours. Furthermore, Spirax Sarco Ltd has been working in conjunction with MercedesAMG High Performance Powertrains and University College London to machine a critical component for use in the UCL-Ventura breathing aid, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device used to provide lifesaving oxygen to Coronavirus patients. “The part is a specially designed quick-fit connector that helps to safely manage the flow of oxygen, ensuring that as many patients as possible can receive the vital supply they need. In less than a week, we began production of 300 parts every 24 hours before quickly increasing this to 450 parts,” Greg reveals. “We are proud to be able to offer our skills and resources to support the nation’s fight against Covid-19, whilst continuing to supply many of our customers who are also playing a vital role in responding to this virus, from hospitals, to pharmaceutical companies, to food manufacturers.”

Meridian Business Support Meridian Business Support is an awardwinning recruitment agency that operates in multiple specialist markets throughout the UK. It specialises in temporary, permanent and contract recruitment. It has been working with Spirax Sarco, the world leader in steam system management, for ten years supplying them with CNC Machinists, Welders, Technicians, Assembly Operatives, Logistics Operatives and Office and Professional workers amongst many others. Meridian works on-site at Spirax Sarco to supports its workers during their assignments and prides itself on being Spirax Sarco’s recruitment partner. l 119

Spirax Sarco In order to serve so many critical customers throughout the pandemic, Spirax Sarco has relied upon its substantial network of production facilities located across the globe, including a 60,000m² site in the UK, consisting of two extensively equipped machine facilities, an assembly plant and a state-of-the-art engineering Research and Development unit. “We have a number of strategically placed manufacturing facilities around the world in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, but the factory in the UK is the largest,” Greg clarifies. “Our production sites follow a number of lean principles through the flow of production from raw material to finished products and shipping. We continue to invest in new technology, building upon our current capabilities, which include multi-axis machine centres, a press shop, grinding, turning, welding, fabrication, assembly, painting and testing equipment. Furthermore, our modern Research and Development facilities in the UK are testimony to the quality products we manufacture for our customers’ existing and future needs.” Of course, high-tech production facilities are no good without a skilled workforce to

populate them and consequently Spirax Sarco has created an environment where people can thrive, develop, and offer diverse opinions and ideas. At the centre of the company’s commitment to staff development is its focus on encouraging young people to enter into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines by offering comprehensive apprenticeship and graduate programs.

Diverse talents

“Many of our senior leaders have come through the apprenticeship route and our current focus is on engaging with local communities to provide role models and industry links for local children to help inspire them to pursue a STEM based career,” Greg reports. “As a company, we organize and support many different activities and events like the Cheltenham Science Festival, inspirational school visits, work experience opportunities, and graduate and apprenticeship engagement days. We see developing talent as absolutely critical to our success and it’s something that has become even more important to us over the past few years.” Sean Spencer joined Spirax Sarco in 2016 on the company’s Graduate Programme and is now a Research Engineer for the company in the UK. He has recently had a project funded by EU Horizon and Innovate UK for the

Engineering Technology Group The Engineering Technology Group is proud of its long-standing relationship with key account Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc, having previously delivered several Nakamura-Tome WT150II machines for the production of standard products and medical parts, and two Chiron DZ15W IWW machines for standard bodies, one of which is fitted with an ABB automation cell. Graeme Thomas, ETG’s Business Development Director comments: “The working relationship and communication between the companies are second to none, and the engineering team at SpiraxSarco is experienced and a pleasure to work with. Our contact at Spirax-Sarco is held in high regard by the whole team. Moving forward, I feel we have the right balance of products for their current and future demands.” ETG is the premier machine tool turnkey solution provider in the UK and Ireland. To find out more on how it can improve your production cycle-times and profitability, contact ETG on 01926 818 418 or visit its website

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development of Thermodynamic cycles (CPC) to generate electricity from low grade waste heat streams for industry. He recently presented the project alongside an esteemed panel of experts at the IIR Rankine 2020 conference. The CPC energy efficient technology is due to be installed and operational in a UK hospital in late 2020. Sean’s tale is one of many success stories inspired by Spirax Sarco. “Our excellent apprenticeship programs lead people into skilled jobs within our factory and support other areas of the business such as product development and sales,” Greg asserts. “Apprenticeships are also used to develop our existing staff in a range of areas such as energy management and Lean skills. Our leading international graduate scheme allows university leavers to experience all areas of our business including markets outside the UK. This is combined with our Year in Industry initiative which helps us bring in diverse talent across the group.”

Agent of positive change

Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Spirax Sarco Ltd was proud to receive a RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) Gold Award for the third year running in 2020. One of the most prestigious and widely recognized health and safety award schemes in the world, RoSPA awards recognize businesses that are as risk free and safe as possible.

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Spirax Sarco “The health and safety of our people is a priority and one of our core values,” Greg comments. “The RoSPA award process involves our business submitting details of what and how we continue to improve in our health and safety journey. Each year we demonstrate our relentless drive towards zero accidents, whilst improving on previous performances and sharing best practices. The award means a lot to the business as it demonstrates to our customers and employees our commitment to health and safety, whilst being a morale boost in recognition for everyone’s hard work. “We also hold numerous accreditations which we see as really important to both our business and our customers. These accreditations are audited independently and help us to demonstrate that our processes and systems of work are robust, repeatable and compliant to the highest of standards. In addition to pressure equipment directives and compliance to stringent industry standards - our notable accreditations are: • ISO 14001 Certificate – Environmental Management • ISO 18001 Certificate – Health and Safety • ISO 50001 Certificate – Energy Management Systems • ISO 9001 Certificate – Quality Management.” Though the company’s overarching strategy is primarily one of organic growth, Spirax Sarco supplements this growth through the acquisition of businesses that meet stringent strategic and financial criteria. As the firm expands, it is also dedicated to the reduction of CO2 emissions and its wider impact on the environment. As Group Chief Executive Nicholas Anderson suggests, Spirax Sarco, and its parent company Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc, are moving full steam ahead towards a cleaner, brighter future. “I’m very excited by actions we have taken to accelerate the Group sustainability agenda and performance - these include the appointment of a Group Head of Sustainability and making a number of environmental commitments such as achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 or earlier,” Nicholas declares. “As a large and successful engineering company with a legacy of industry leadership and technical innovation, SpiraxSarco Engineering and its subsidiaries are well positioned to take a leading role in the transition towards a more environmentally and socially sustainable economy. I firmly believe that it is our responsibility to be an agent of positive change as we manage and improve our own sustainability and help our customers and suppliers to do the same.”

Spirax Sarco Products and Services: Manufacturer and supplier of steam products and services l 123

For the love

of bags Trusted by world class brands, Aargus Plastics has made its name being the best onestop-shop for custom bags, but in 2020 it has found a new purpose in supplying medical gowns for hospitals 124 l


t was in the early 1970s that Chicago native Jerome Starr first became familiar with what was at the time a small plastic bag making company by the name of Aargus Poly Bag, but would go on to become Aargus Plastics (Aargus). Then representing a firm of Certified Public Accountants (CPA) – of which Aargus Poly Bag was a client – Jerome was not initially the auditor in charge

of this particular account. Nevertheless, it was an unlikely set of circumstances and a love for man’s best friend that set the wheels in motion for a series of events that would see him become the company’s Chief Executive Officer. “My involvement with the company really came about due to the fact that I am a big dog lover,” Jerome explains. “The owner of Aargus at the time used to bring his Great Dane down to

Aargus Plastics


Demand for ever-more sustainable products that make use of specialist additives is something that slowed down somewhat with the arrival of Covid-19, but we are now starting to see requests for these picking up again. The strategy for Aargus going forward definitely comes back around to this issue of sustainability, and because of the specialist additives that we have access too, we feel that we are in the best possible position to increase our sales, and in turn further our own growth as a business

Illinois helped set it on a path towards greater things. There, Aargus grew for the next 27 years, before it eventually moved into its existing 125,000-square foot home in Wheeling, Illinois in 2003.

Diversified offering

his plant, and it just so happened that his CPA representative then was deathly afraid of dogs. The head of the CPA firm back then knew of my affection for dogs and subsequently handed me the Aargus account, which is how I got to know what was a small manufacturing plant containing only three bag converting machines, and no printing or extruding capabilities.” Pulling together the money necessary to

acquire the business in 1971, Jerome and a team of associates subsequently set about expanding Aargus’ bag-making capabilities, doubling its converting capacity and adding additional extrusion lines almost immediately. Little more than a year later, an arson-set fire destroyed the company’s premises, yet Jerome was undeterred and a move into a new, larger 20,000-square foot building in Des Plaines,

Today, Aargus considers itself to be a ‘38-extrusion line, flexographic printing force’, and is one of the most multi-dimensional low and high density polyethylene extruders, printers, converters and recyclers in the United States. The company’s recyclable products – a number of which are made from recycled resins themselves – are made to custom specifications and are designed to match the constantlychanging world that Aargus’ customers operate within. “We are a highly-diversified company, with the capabilities necessary to manufacture custom bags for retail businesses – from food companies to department stores – and industrial applications, ranging in size from 2x3 inches up to 90x120 inches,” Jerome states. “This breadth of offering allows Aargus to navigate any downturns in one particular market segment without a detrimental effect to l 125

the business, and – most importantly – act as a one-stop-shop for customers’ needs.” The company’s retail offering – typically carry out bags given to people when leaving stores – previously accounted for around 50 per cent of Aargus’ turnover. It was the arrival

of Chinese competitors to the market, backed by government subsidizing, however that saw it turn its attention to alternative revenue streams. This is when it moved into manufacturing industrial bags such as trash liners, box liners, staple packs, bags on rolls, pallet covers, and

laundry/dry cleaning bags. Its customers in this area tend to be those relying on just-in-time deliveries within a matter of weeks. “Prior to 2020, it was our industrial products – particularly our trash liners that we supply to schools, municipalities, restaurants and packaging applications – that remained the main source of Aargus’ business,” Jerome says. “However, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the closures of many of these customers resulted in a drop off in activity of approximately 50 per cent in a short space of time. As any responsible business would, we reacted to this by immediately looking at other potential income streams.”

Gown production

Jerome is one of those unfortunate enough to find himself afflicted by the virus this year, but prior to this, he had already been approached by the company’s Vice President of Sales (Jay Tapp) with a design idea for producing gowns for hospital use. “While we weren’t able to manufacture the complete product, we were able to produce the film, and had the contacts needed to outsource the die-cutting and heat treatment elements needed to produce the gowns,” Jerome details. Jerome’s own experiences when being treated in hospital for Covid-19 gave him firsthand evidence of the tremendous demand for the aforementioned gowns. “As I was in hospital, I was counting each time someone would come into my room – whether it be to run blood tests, checks or bring meals – and how when leaving each person would have to discard the gown that they were wearing. Sure enough, since we began producing our gowns, they have gone on to become one of the most popular products that we make.” Aargus’ gowns are also highly unique in that they incorporate a number of technological advances devised by an affiliated startup business by the name of Smart Plastic Technologies (SPT). “SPT is responsible for developing a bio-assimilation additive called Eclipse, which causes plastic to bio-assimilate naturally via total biodegradation after use,” Jerome reveals. “It has also created a unique, anti-microbial additive that is called Gard, as well as an anti-fungal additive, Servo. The former controls pathogens including MRSA, E. coli, Salmonella and other dangerous organisms, while the latter controls bacteria and fungi, and has been shown to be highly successful when used in food packaging, agriculture and medical packaging. We are now putting the likes of Eclipse into our gowns, which is also helping to contribute towards achieving greater

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Aargus Plastics

sustainability within this field of the plastics industry.” With demand for its gowns showing no signs of abating, Aargus is actively looking to invest further capital into facilitating continued growth. “For one thing, we are currently looking at purchasing the equipment we need to allow us to carry out the die-cutting and heat treatment tasks that we presently sub-contract out. This will allow us to produce all of our gowns, and control the entire manufacturing process, in-house. We are also hopeful of acquiring an

additional piece of property in which we can expand our fleet of machinery so as to make high volumes of gowns,” Jerome confirms. “While we currently lack the equipment to move into the manufacture of other pieces of medical clothing such as gloves, I am confident that going forward there will be other application demands that our customers come to us for solutions, and I see no reason why we wouldn’t be able to adjust either our equipment or processes to meet some of these.” With cleaning and safety measures

implemented across its premises, Aargus has welcomed back its employees in increasing numbers in the last few months, and Jerome is now also seeing demand for product lines outside of the company’s gowns slowly starting to return. “Demand for ever-more sustainable products that make use of specialist additives is something that slowed down somewhat with the arrival of Covid-19, but we are now starting to see requests for these picking up again. “The strategy for Aargus going forward definitely comes back around to this issue of sustainability, and because of the specialist additives that we have access too, we feel that we are in the best possible position to increase our sales, and in turn further our own growth as a business.”

Aargus Plastics Services: Polyethylene manufacturing l 127

The science behind success Utilizing advanced, patented materials science, SiO2 develops and manufactures medical grade containers with a glass-like barrier, which meet the most demanding of needs of next generation biological drugs and molecular diagnostics

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SiO2 Materials Science

Lawrence Ganti


If the last six-months or so have taught us anything, it has been of the importance of being nimble as a business. We have had to pivot SiO2 significantly in this time to ensure that our processes and products are perfectly positioned to support the development of the latest biotech drugs and the new generation of vaccines that will be heading our way in the years to come. This ability is likely to become all the more important in the future l 129


iO2 Materials Science (SiO2), is an advanced materials sciences company which has been spun out of a 110-year-old family business focused on flexible, advanced, manufacturing. SiO2 has spent 10 years and $500 million in research & development to invent a breakthrough technology platform, which has a number of industrial applications. Through this platform, the company has invented a new hybrid material that fuses the benefits of glass and plastic without the drawbacks of either. Currently, the company is focused on two segments: Pharmaceuticals and Molecular Diagnostics. The SiO2 technology platform coupled with a 50-year track record of flexible manufacturing, strategically positions the company to capture a majority share of the primary packaging for the growing biological drug and genomic testing markets. The platform uses a modified plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PEVCD) process to apply multiple layers of a barrier coating to any polymer / plastic substrate. The layers combined to be less than 20 nanometers - or 50 times thinner than a human hair

- and provide a highly effective barrier to environmental gases and leachates. Working with a host of large academic research centers, including those located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, Harvard University, the UC Santa Barbara, and Auburn University – close to which sits SiO2’s manufacturing facilities – the company now boasts over 350 patents and more than 8000 patent use claims. “Over the last ten years or so, we have invested upwards of half-a-billion dollars developing the science needed to fuse glass and plastic,” states Lawrence Ganti, SiO2’s President of Customer Operations and Chief Business Officer. “What our efforts have yielded is a technology platform which facilitated the creation of a new material, one which takes an exterior medical grade polymer or plastic shell, and applies a nanolayer of pure silicon dioxide on the inside using PECVD. While this is not a new technology as such, having been used in the microchip industry for a number of years previously, this does mark the first time it has ever been modified for medical purposes. We materialized that

technology into two categories, one being pharmaceuticals and biotech, and the other molecular diagnostics, and SiO2’s technology is now used by host of customers in each of the above segments.”

Innovative products

The secret behind SiO2’s success as a business is clearly rooted in the science behind its technological platform, but also its historical track record of flexible manufacturing. The two have been used to answer specific modern challenges presented by the use today of standard glass or plastic. “For more than a century, people have been using glass as a means of packaging sensitive materials, whether it be drugs, human blood or other specimens. However, in all that time, there has been very little in the way of innovation,” Lawrence explains. “In recent years, however, there have been several big factors that have facilitated the need for new ideas. One has been the advances made in automation, specifically the use of automated manufacturing lines. While this has sped up the process of filling glass containers, it also presents a breakage issue, where having broken vials or jars can result in the shutdown of entire lines. Such instances have driven a need for change, particularly when it comes to the durability of vials etc. “The other significant development has been the fact that the properties of the drugs being packaged and the sensitivity levels associated with diagnostics have advanced tremendously. On the drugs side, we have seen a big increase in the use of complex biological medicines, which tend to be super sensitive to non-inert contaminants, which can come in the form of things like glass particles or oil within in a glass chamber. Diagnostics wise, the use of super sensitive imaging technology to scan bloods for DNA means there is a need to avoid any and all impurities that may appear within a particular container. “These factors have resulted in a pressing demand for a material that is not only strong enough to offset the risk of breakage, but is also 100 per cent inert. At first, few thought this to be possible, but with our technology we have been able to create a product that possesses the best qualities of both glass and plastic, without the negatives of either, and this truly sets SiO2 apart from anyone else operating within our field.”

Major funding boost

Today, SiO2 finds itself tasked with undoubtedly its most important mission to

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SiO2 Materials Science centered solely on its 165,000-square foot manufacturing facility in Auburn. In addition to using some of the capital to restructure half of that building to install new clean rooms, the company has also purchased several new units in the surrounding area. These include two 65,000-square foot buildings that will be refitted with medical grade cleans rooms and additional equipment to support an increase in manufacturing capacity, another 40,000-square foot unit that is currently being green fielded, and a fifth facility that is in the process of being constructed.

Sense of purpose

date, having been selected to form part of the U.S. Government’s Operation Warp Speed program to support the development and supply of Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics. For its part, the company has received a $143 million contract to accelerate capacity scale-up of its advanced primary packaging

platform for storing said future medications. “This investment will be used to scale-up our manufacturing capacity multiple times over, taking it from around ten million vials per year to approximately 140 million, and all in the space of just a few months,” Lawrence confirms. Prior to said investment, SiO2’s activities

Having been granted a Defense Priorities & Allocations System (DPAS) rating by the U.S. Government, SiO2 has been given priority status for construction resources, which has allowed it to overcome the challenge of bringing contractors onboard at relatively short notice to carry out its expansion. The company will also be looking to eventually add as many as 300 new employees to support its growth, and the positive publicity that it has received from being selected to be part l 131

of Operation Warp Speed has helped in attracting strong talent into the business. One of Lawrence’s most important tasks in recent months has been to assist both this new talent and the company’s existing staff in embracing a change in culture as it has transitioned from being a strictly R&D focused business into one that now also possesses an important commercial element. “Anytime you want to implement change, the best time to do so is when there is a common cause or message that everyone associated with the business can understand

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and get onboard with,” he says. “At SiO2, that message is clear, and that is that with every new vial we ultimately help to produce, that vial is contributing to saving someone’s life. Collectively, we realize that Covid-19 is a disease that affects everyone on our planet, and the response from our people to the need to up-scale rapidly has been nothing short of incredible. The sense of purpose that exists within the business today is phenomenal, and there is a real sense that nothing is impossible when it comes to what we can do to assist in the fight against Covid-19.”

Nimble business

Prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, SiO2 had no less than 16 projects ongoing with different companies to develop containers for their respective biological drugs, and this work has continued relatively uninterrupted, which is again testament to its people. Meanwhile, SiO2’s involvement in Operation Warp Speed – and the subsequent investment that this has brought – has not only aided in the scale-up of the business, but also allowed it to bring in additional resources and improved processes, effectively accelerating its businesses

SiO2 Materials Science plans by some three-to-five years. “If the last six-months or so have taught us anything, it has been of the importance of being nimble as a business,” Lawrence goes on to detail. “We have had to pivot SiO2 significantly in this time to ensure that our processes and products are perfectly positioned to support the development of the latest biotech drugs and the new generation of vaccines that will be heading our way in the years to come. This ability is likely to become all the more important in the future. For example, today our customers are predominantly working with vials for drugs, however it is likely that in the next 12 months there will be a shift towards syringes, and we need to be ready for that if we are to remain relevant to their needs. Building continued flexibility into our processes and manufacturing activities will continue to be key to our success, and will help us to redefine what it means to be nimble. “As for what the future holds, I definitely see SiO2 continuing to grow at a consistent rate and supporting our customers by providing the flexible manufacturing services that they need.

That service – combined with our willingness to take the time to listen to said customers in order to fully understand their needs – is what we really excel at, and is what we believe will go a long way to contributing to both our customers and SiO2 achieving their respective long-term goals.”

Fischer Söhne AG Important supplier to SiO2 Medical Products Efficient, on time and in guaranteed quality – this is how Fischer Söhne AG supplies SiO2 Medical Products. With innovative solutions, the Swiss specialist in plastic applications has been supporting SiO2 Medical Products in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic for several months. The focus is on the US authorities’ ‘capacity scale-up of advanced primary packaging’ program. “We are very proud of this partnership. The two companies are a perfect match,” says CEO Iwan Tresch. “SiO2 relies on our technological expertise and also appreciates that our sophisticated products are available so quickly.” More about the program: https://www.

SiO2 Materials Science

Products: Advanced Primary Packaging Platform l 133

A paper revolution Following a significant turnaround, in which the company implemented multiple new business processes, Accrol Papers is leaner, more automated, and leading the UK tissue conversion market 134 l


stablishing a tissue paper converting company made perfect business sense to the founders of Accrol. Toilet paper is a commodity used by people every day; it has no expiry date; can only be used once; and isn’t cost effective to import.

On paper, manufacturing tissue products is an ideal business. Consequently, the private family business opened its doors in Lancashire in 1993 and Accrol was born. Success followed, and the firm was floated on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market in 2016.

‘‘ Graham Cox

Accrol Papers Ltd

We’ve talked about the product, our relationships, and social responsibility, but the beating heart of this business is its people. The team here in Blackburn and Leyland is extremely committed and despite all that has gone on within the business they are passionate about doing the best for the company and its customers and they will always be the cornerstone of Accrol’s success complex I have ever witnessed,” Accrol’s Commercial Director, Graham Cox declares. “The team didn’t leave any aspect of the business untouched. Our priority was safety, and then we focused on simplification and cost reduction, combining these with quality service, innovation and putting the customer first. The Group’s new ‘Brand Killer’ strategy was then added to the mix. Our aim was to offer the best possible value to consumers for the price paid. “It sounds easy but actioning such significant changes across a business simultaneously is hugely challenging. “Following the turnaround, the business is now much leaner. We have overseen a significant reduction in headcount and a substantial increase in operational performance. The business is producing 30 per cent more today, with drastically fewer manufacturing assets than it had previously. A key part of the transformation was the introduction of four new IT systems: a new HR system, a warehouse management system, an ERP, and a manufacturing and planning system. The last of these was successfully installed on July 3rd. We are now up and running with a fully integrated system.”

Strong partnerships

Just over a year after flotation, the company appointed a new CEO, Gareth Jenkins. Gareth conducted an early review of the business, and, just weeks after his appointment, Accrol announced that it was facing a number of challenges which were placing significant

financial pressure on the business. Trading in the company’s shares was suspended, while funds were raised to enable the business to survive. Gareth commenced a major overhaul of the entire business. “The turnaround was one of the most

Some of the most extensive changes at Accrol were implemented in the manufacturing process. Over the last 12 months, large investments have been made in improving existing equipment, and more notably into the introduction of robotic technology and full automation of the company’s operations. “Our approach has always been one of simplification and to try and make sure we are one of the most efficient, lowest cost producers,” Graham states. “Clearly this will reduce the number of people needed within the business, as we plan to automate and robotize every aspect that we possibly can within the tissue production process. Over the last two and a half years, headcount has been reduced from a high of 690 to circa 300 people today, at the same time as we increased Group revenues. “Our focus for the business is best l 135

summarized as Simplify, Strengthen and Grow.” One of the UK’s leading private label tissue producers, Accrol prides itself on maintaining strong partnerships with retailers that have

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enabled the firm to achieve double-digit growth in 2020. In terms of the company’s core customers, Accrol supplies its wide range of kitchen towel, toilet tissue, and face tissue to a

variety of retailers, cash and carries, wholesalers, and discounters across the UK and Ireland. These products are divided among three tiers of product – ‘good, better, and best’. Graham explains more: “The first tier - ‘good’ - refers to entry-level or economy products, ‘better’ is our core product in the centerground, and ‘best’ is our quilted, luxury, top-end of the market offering. We can go to our customers and offer toilet, kitchen, and facial tissue products right across this tiering. “The other thing in our favour,” Graham adds, “is our ability to source the best tissue from around the world. This means that when a new machine or technology is laid out, wherever it is globally, we can go out and source the very best materials and bring them together in a combination that will deliver the highest quality products and best value for our customer and the consumer.” Innovation is key at Accrol, and the company’s latest development is a ‘super-soft’ tissue that fits into the

Accrol Papers Ltd firm’s mid-tier ‘better’ category. Launched just before Christmas, the product was produced in partnership with two major retailers, as well as a tissue manufacturer that has worked with the company for the last 12 years. Only available in the UK, the tissue is very close in softness to branded products and has been immensely successful since its release. It marks yet another victory for Accrol’s product innovation department. “Our product development process involves a lot of trial and testing with materials and embossing. How you emboss the tissue has a direct impact on the feel and softness of the product, so it’s all about balance and combination. We work with a company in Germany to get that perfect final product,” Graham reveals. “Recently, we purchased a £50,000 softness tester. A very delicate piece of kit, it allows us to measure our product against our competitors and then actually go to the customer with quantified data, as well as physical samples and say this is product A, this is product B. What is it you are looking for? “True innovation involves education, and so we regularly hold focus groups that help shape our innovation strategy going forward. Do consumers buy toilet roll based on grams, or softness and strength? Our research clearly shows that the answer is softness and strength. They want a good quality, value product, but softness, feel, and consistency are vital too. We have an in-house laboratory to make sure that, when we go to the customer, we’ve got the right product for the right market.”

sustainability, the business plans to source 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in the short term. It has also partnered with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the release of ‘Oceans’, a new direct to consumer, plastic-free toilet tissue. “Oceans is a plastic-free toilet tissue for which we will be donating part of our profits to the MCS,” Graham comments. “You can buy the product online, so it’s direct to consumer. It goes straight from manufacture at Accrol to a local distributor, and from there it goes straight into people’s homes reducing road miles by avoiding retailers RDC’s. It is 100 per cent recyclable and there is zero plastic in the product. “We are very conscious about the use of plastics, and we are working towards ensuring all our packaging contains a minimum of 30 per cent recyclables. We are also introducing paper wrapping across some of our range, so removing plastics all together.” Building on a strong and sustainable platform, Accrol aims to take market share from established brands by providing consumers with best value products and customers with exceptional customer service,

whilst remaining one of the sector’s lowest cost operators. Product diversification will also play a role in the company’s mission for growth, but whether that will entail a move into feminine care or other tissue component products has yet to be revealed. As 2020 has made clear, we live in an unpredictable age, but Graham is certain that the company has the ideal workforce to overcome what may. “We’ve talked about the product, our relationships, and social responsibility, but the beating heart of this business is its people,” Graham proclaims. “The team here in Blackburn and Leyland is extremely committed and despite all that has gone on within the business they are passionate about doing the best for the company and its customers and they will always be the cornerstone of Accrol’s success.”

Accrol Papers Ltd Services:

Tissue paper convertor

Dedicated to sustainability

Earlier in 2020, as the outbreak of Covid-19 led to widespread panic-buying of essential goods across the UK, Accrol experienced a rapid spike in demand for its products. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the company maintained supply to all of its key customers without incident. “It was a pretty crazy time!” Graham recalls. “The warehouses certainly became a lot emptier than they normally are, but we didn’t stop supplying. We had some very positive feedback from key customers, plus we received a personal letter to Accrol from the CEO of one of the big five retailers for how we supported them through the period. To get that sort of recognition is very difficult, and speaks volumes to the dedication of the Accrol team so we were tremendously pleased with it.” As Accrol strives towards ‘operational excellence’, environmentally friendly working practices are becoming an increasingly central part of the operation. Dedicated to l 137

Bright sparks Stephen Cotton - Managing Director

By combining creativity, imagination and technological expertise, Brightwake is able to deliver original medical solutions – from concept to distribution – which provide long-lasting benefits 138 l


stablished in 1979, family-owned business Brightwake Limited began life manufacturing technical textiles in Nottingham’s old Lace Market. Moving to its present-day home in Kirkby-inAshfield, Nottinghamshire in the early 1980s, the company would go on to develop its expertise in textiles and textile construction to a world class level. “It was around 20 years ago, that we decided to move into the manufacture

of, what were initially, low-grade medical products and class one medical devices such as bandages, tapes, and tracheal and ostomy products,” explains Brightwake’s Managing Director, Stephen Cotton. “As time went on, we began producing products of a higher classification – up to class three, which are essentially medical devices with auxiliary effects – and today our range includes high-end wound care and

Brightwake businesses across Europe, where we also have our own offices and sales divisions in Germany and the Netherlands. We also sell into countries including Australia, New Zealand, Korea, UAE and the United States through our network of over 100 international distributors,” Stephen adds.

Increased demand

airway management products, as well as blood processing equipment,” Stephen continues. “We produce these products for a host of OEM’s, including many large blue-chip organisations, and have earnt a well-deserved reputation for devising inventive solutions for manufacturing and production related problems for companies serving the medical, aerospace, industrial, cosmetic and retail industries.” Brightwake has also utilized its expertise to

become a respected developer and producer of healthcare products under its own brands; Advancis Medical and Advancis Surgical. The former makes a range of specialized wound dressings, while the latter was created to launch the company’s Hemosep plasma separation device, which is now available for sale in the UK & CE Mark designated territories. “We sell our Advancis Medical products worldwide, supplying goods used by the NHS in the UK, and to

What has set Brightwake apart from other players in its field – according to Stephen – is the fact that it has always been considered to be a highly entrepreneurial business. “We take great pride in being able to read the markets around us, in being ahead of the curve, and having products ready for customers when they are needed,” he affirms. “We have always operated under the philosophy that development needs to remain constant, and that once you stop developing you no longer have a relevant business. “Our reaction time has always been very quick, and our nimbleness, flexibility and commitment towards innovation means that we are often able to turn around a product brief in a matter of months, where others might need several years to deliver it from concept to finished article. We also benefit massively from being an incredibly intellectual property (IP) rich company. We learnt early on the importance of protecting our IP, and this has resulted in a large patent portfolio that we are able to control from a manufacturing, cost and licensing point of view.” As a key supplier to the medical industry, it is understandable that Brightwake has undergone a significant ramp up in production since the emergence of Covid-19 and the ensuing pandemic that has spread across the globe. The capacity that the company has built up over the years while being a major OEM manufacturer has meant that it has been easily able to absorb the increase in demand that has come from the likes of the NHS. “We possess the required scope, breadth and depth when it comes to our manufacturing capabilities, equipment and people to take on large orders as they come in,” Stephen states. “This means that, when the NHS comes to us for two million endo-tracheal holders, we have the confidence to know that this can be delivered and in a timely fashion. “From a product development perspective, Brightwake has also been working on machinery for companies such as Surfaceskins Limited. They have devised an antibacterial system that can be fixed to doors by the way of push pads, and these pads release antibacterial gel when pressed. We have been tasked with designing and building the automated machinery to mass produce this technology, and we are currently in the process of commissioning and installing that at present.” Since March 2020, the company has responded l 139

to the increase in demand for its services by bringing in 60 additional temporary staff. “Being based in what is quite an industrialized area, we were actually able to identify and take on talent from the local area relatively quickly,” Stephen says. These new employees have – in turn – learnt just how important Brightwake values its people.

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“We are a family business in every sense of the word with my wife and two sons all working here. As such, we take a great deal of time to ensure that we engage on a daily basis with our staff, listening to and providing them with all that they need to do their jobs safely, productively and happily.” An example of the company’s efforts to keep its people well looked after came in the midst

of the Covid-19 lockdown, when supermarkets across the country experienced spates of panic buying which resulted in a struggle to obtain a number of household essentials. One such product in short supply was washing powder. With Brightwake having to close its staff changing and wash facilities in order to adhere with social distancing guidelines, its staff were faced with

Brightwake working hard to lay solid foundations around the business, making it debt free, profitable and blessing it with a product range and manufacturing capabilities that have contributed greatly to its sales growth. “As a company, we have the brands, technology and IP in place that we believe we need to grow, now it is about getting out there and selling what we have to those that need it most,” he proclaims. “All of the foundations that we feel are needed for things to really take off are now in place, and we are supported by an energetic, enthusiastic workforce who are in it for the long haul. Therefore, with the right distribution network and the right international partners in place, there is no reason why rapid growth cannot be achieved by Brightwake in the years to come.” the challenge of how to wash their workwear at home. The company’s solution was to contact food wholesalers Booker Group, who were good enough to supply it with almost two pallets full of washing powder, which was distributed to its employees. As Stephen correctly points out; “sometimes it is these smaller, less well publicized gestures that can make all the difference”.

Brightwake Products: Medical devices

Convertex “Here at Convertex, we pride ourselves in the quality of the finished product, which, in tandem with our solution based manufacturing prowess, provides both adhesive tape die cuts and slit rolls, which always best suits our customer’s demands and needs”. With over 20 years’ experience in adhesive tape converting, we are constantly investing in the latest machine and product technologies, to expand the already extensive range of capabilities that we can offer to our clients. We are proud to have played a part in Brightwake’s impressive continued success and growth over the last six years, maintaining our strong two-way relationship. Convertex are always committed to trying to maintain our highest standards of customer service, and very much look forward to continuing our association with them over the coming years.

Global growth

With the UK now entering the final third of 2020, the country is getting increasingly closer to leaving the European Union in its entirety at the end of the year. While a number of companies are continuing to make preparations for how this will impact upon their operations, Stephen reveals that Brightwake is definitely not one of them. “Our Brexit plans were put into place some months ago now. Virtually all of our products today are distributed from our manufacturing facility and offset warehousing facility in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, but we have also established a warehousing system in the Netherlands. Here we can hold up to three months’ worth of stock at any one time, which is then distributed to our customers across Europe. The Netherlands is also where we have moved our regulatory governing body, which will assist us greatly as well once the UK leaves the EU.” Going forward, the company will in fact be investing even more heavily in the international sales side of its activities. “What we have done is bring in a dedicated business development manager to handle the global growth of our product offering,” Stephen adds. “It is they who will be actively seeking new distribution pipelines to push Brightwake products into as we look to ride the economic curve that is emerging in the wake of Covid-19 lockdowns being lifted.” For the last five years or more, Stephen and the rest of the Brightwake team have been l 141

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The Marena Group

The mask crusaders Harnessing its years of experience in the manufacture of medical-grade compression garments, The Marena Group has turned its expertise to the creation of masks and gowns, to assist in the fight against Covid-19 Linda Burhance

Dale Clendon l 143


aving commenced operations over a quarter of a century ago and starting from a humble garage,The Marena Group (Marena) now employs over 200 members of staff and serves customers in over 58 countries around the world. Created by the company’s founders Bill and Vera Watkins, the breakthrough product for Marena was a patented fabric, from which they designed and made medical-grade compression garments for use after surgery. Working closely with both leading US textile mills and surgeons, Marena continued to test its new inventions and improve patient comfort and care through innovation, winning a variety of awards along the way, and introducing products such as shapewear and activewear to its product line. In 2015, the company received private equity investment to enable its next level of evolution, and by 2016 it was partnering with NASA to develop compression garments for astronauts, and embarking on new medical and retail partnerships. Already a US Class 1 medical device manufacturer, and no stranger to innovation, Marena was ideally placed to get involved in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, its first foray into mask manufacture had a somewhat unconventional start at the kitchen table of Linda Burhance, VP of Product Development, as Dale Clendon, President and CEO of the business explained: “Linda’s career has spanned clothing and fabrics as well as medical devices, and she is a rock star in that world,” he began. “Back in March, just as

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this was starting to happen, and the wearing of masks came to the fore, Linda realized that the characteristics of our fabric in terms of it being cool, comfortable, wearable and easy to put on made it ideal for masks. So, she developed and designed a mask in her kitchen at home and came to me and said ‘I think we can do this.’ “I believed we needed to sell $100,000 worth of masks to make it at least worthwhile to the business – and no sooner had I said that, people started coming out of the woodwork asking for masks and when we started reaching out to businesses we discovered that the demand was actually huge!”

New opportunities

In fact, requests for its masks escalated to such levels that Marena had to create a new manufacturing facility from an existing warehouse, and form a relationship with a contract manufacturer in Mexico, too. “We thought we were trying to maintain our business and help some people, but it just went kind of crazy!” exclaimed Dale. “We had the credentials with our medical background, which gave us a lot of credibility, and we did spend a lot of time educating the buyers, which really helped us as well. We were supplying to a lot of businesses that were trying to get their people to continue to work during the pandemic, or get them comfortable so they felt able to get back to work, and some of the larger organizations literally had unions saying they weren’t going to work if they didn’t get protection. So, we

have made masks for really large global business companies like General Mills and UPS, some of which we branded for them - we were in the right place at the right time I think!” In just a few short months the company has sold millions of masks and this has now also lead the business into the area of gowns too. “We could transfer our garment manufacture expertise into this segment and because we are already a Class 1 medical device manufacturer we meet all the requirements and the diligence that is required so it has spawned another whole new business for us,” added Dale. Going quickly from zero to over a million in terms of production numbers is not an easy process at the best of times, but add in a global pandemic and traditional processes like materials sourcing bring in a new batch of challenges to overcome. “For the masks, we are using our own unique, patented material, which includes a lot of Lycra and is warp knitted, which meant that we had to locate other warp knitters to create enough raw material, and we had to find other components as well, and this was extremely difficult,” agreed Dale. “As we have gone into the gowns side, we have found the same thing, where we have had to do global searches for materials, both on the reusable and disposable side.” This pursuit for materials revealed some unorthodox suppliers, particularly from the automotive sector. “We have found that a lot of the manufacturers who make fabrics for cars actually create very unique textiles that can meet the requirements for reusable and

The Marena Group disposable gowns, which is highly regulated,” Dale revealed. “Another challenge was that many American companies and hospitals wanted to source their raw materials from America rather than the Far East, so we needed to find these materials close to home as well.” The team at Marena took these challenges in their stride, because as Dale explained, not only were they getting to help people in a dire time, but they were also contributing to the continuing success of the business in what were very difficult circumstances. “I would say that my team here at Marena has been incredibly motivated and excited, and we created a lot of camaraderie and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm as we really felt like we were doing good things for a lot of people,” he stated. “Also, our suppliers were not only looking to help from an altruistic perspective, but they have a lot of employees as well and they need to make a living.” From speaking to Dale and hearing of Marena’s continually expanding plans, the company’s suppliers will be very busy going forward. Mask production continues at pace with new products for children gaining in popularity by the day – for example, the State of Indiana

recently purchased a million masks from Marena for all its children from first grade through to high school. “Our children’s masks come in three different sizes and ours are anti-flammable and they have to be comfortable for kids, too. We believe that is an underserved area and we are looking at doing education programs for that as well, to explain to children why they need to wear a mask – we are looking at developing a mascot and materials for teachers and schools in order to alleviate some of the confusion around mask wearing,” Dale highlighted. “We are also in the midst of launching a material that is treated with an anti-viral and anti-bacterial coating, which kills any viral or bacterial material that comes into contact with it. It was created during the Ebola outbreak and given its ability to kill 99.999 per cent of bacteria and viruses we think in a consumer environment it would make people feel a bit more comfortable, particularly for children. You can rewash it up to 50 times and it still has the potency on the mask. “Another area where we are in discussions with a large university and a defence contractor is on a project where we are using some science to l 145

try and make an N95 mask out of a new material that we believe that could make it into a reusable product.That has never been done for an N95 before, and that has got us heavily involved with a whole lot of new people and areas and is creating a lot of new opportunities for us.”

Environmental impacts

Not content with introducing new innovations into the mask segment, Marena is keeping its focus on the compression garment side too, where it is investigating incorporating therapeutics into recovery products so they would deliver a form of pain medication while being worn. “This wouldn’t be a narcotic, but medication to reduce pain when you come out of procedures,” Dale noted. “That is new horizon and we have got a technology that would allow us to do that, so we will be looking at that in the future and expanding into other areas, as well,” he added. As mask wearing becomes more commonplace and countries such as the UK enforce more rules about wearing these products in shops and public places, the

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The Marena Group

environmental impact of disposable masks is becoming an issue that will have to be addressed. To this end, another of Marena’s activities is continuing to highlight the benefits of reusable masks and gowns – the company historically has always manufactured reusables, and while it is venturing into disposables with its gown manufacture, Dale and his team believe that reusable is the way forward. “Globally the gown business before the pandemic was about seven billion dollars a year, and they say it may be as much as ten times that now, so you can only imagine how much landfill that creates,” he said. “With reusables you can use them multiple times at pennies per use, so you reduce your cost and your waste and they are also biodegradable at the end of their life. We just think that is the right way to go and we have never made disposables up until now, so we believe that reusable is the future in the way the world is today.” Having been extremely busy over the past four months, not just meeting many new manufacturing challenges but also checking in with staff working at home, participating in companywide Zoom meetings and making sure employees are rewarded for their hard work under such difficult circumstances, Dale now has his eye on the future, where he sees infection control products as a permanent addition to the Marena portfolio. “We have created an opportunity and I believe a quarter to a third

of our business will be in PPE/infection control kinds of product, which I see as normal business going forward,” he confirmed. “We hope to make some acquisitions both in the US and globally to add technologies to our set-up, so that we can leverage our existing access to 58 global markets, and introduce our products to more people. For a small company our global reach is fairly rare and by continuing to look at acquisitions that can make us a bigger player we can look at our manufacturing and our cost situation and get to customers in markets that we are not in today.” As Dale looked forward to the coming years, Marena’s mask production numbers look set to climb to new heights, especially in the short-term, as with no national policy, it is up to individual US States to decide their approach to masks, and the number of States with a mask mandate is rising quickly. “It is great to be busy, but the circumstances are tragic and while it is good business, it’s not what we want in our hearts,” Dale confided. “We will help while we can and it is good for business, but at some time we hope that we can maintain this business in a normal world. We do think that people’s behaviour will probably change and in the West the propensity to wear masks will become much higher. We believe there is probably a retainable piece of the business, but probably nowhere near what it is now and that is fine with us!”

The Marena Group Products: Medical grade compression garments, masks and gowns l 147

Making plastic fantastic Operating from a state-of-theart material recovery facility in West Yorkshire, Bright Green Plastics is a plastic reprocessing firm that recycles over 40,000 tons of household and commercial waste each year 148 l


ormerly a subsidiary of the LINPAC Group, Bright Green Plastics is a company making a difference to the way plastic is recycled. Benefitting from a team with over 100 years’ combined experience in the recycling industry, Bright Green Plastics turns post-consumer materials into recycled pellets and compounds. These

can be used for a wide range of practical applications, thus helping to reduce the degradation of our planet. “We are a major contributor to the UK’s circular economy as we take waste and scrap plastics and recycle them back into compounds that are then used to manufacture new items,” explains Stephen Spencer, the company’s

Bright Green Plastics


We have many employees that have worked here for more than 20 years. I have always been open and honest with the team here and I have had the same in return. It has meant we have been able to respond to challenges quickly, especially since AIAC acquired the business last year as they have fully supported the plan we presented to them from the outset

Managing Director. “The types of plastic we recycle include household items such as yoghurt pots, margarine tubs, shampoo bottles, and bleach bottles, as well as industrial scrap such as food trays, plastic drums, flower pots and storage boxes. We then supply recycled pellets to various industries such as the automotive, horticultural and construction sectors.”

Through use of a compatibilization technology called BrightFusion™, Bright Green Plastics is able to improve the performance of the mixed plastics it recycles. BrightFusion™ guarantees superior mechanical and impact properties for even the most heavily sorted, single-source polymers and allows for the recycling of stubborn materials that would

otherwise not be compatible for processing. “PP and PE are immiscible and incompatible in the melt phase,” Stephen says. “If compounded, the product would have few end uses as the material is inherently weak. The two polymers are often difficult to separate due to their similar densities, presenting a challenge for the recycling industries. That’s where BrightFusion™ comes in. It allows us to recover a higher proportion of plastic waste compared to standard recycling. By working with the latest technologies, we can improve the properties of recycled consumer plastic.” In 2018, BrightFusion™ was employed to produce the world’s first 100 per cent postconsumer resin paint pot. Molded by Emballator in Bradford, the pots were used by Crown for their 2.5L and 5L plastic packs, as well as all 10L packs. The development marked a significant step in the evolution of recycled resin, as typically only around 25 per cent recycled resin is been added to virgin material for paint pots. In an effort to further the firm’s progressive agenda, Bright Green Plastics recently invested £750,000 in a brand-new Material Recovery Facility. The plant, installed at the company’s Castleford site, will enable the firm to take bales l 149

of mixed plastics and 3D materials collected from the curbside and sort them by polymer type, color, and even sift out metals, paper and other residual waste for additional recycling. “Alongside the new Material Recovery Facility, we have two wash lines on site,” Stephen adds. “These lines wash and granulate the sorted wastes ready for them to be melted at the next stage of the process. We also possess seven extrusion lines that melt the waste, mix different wastes together, and occasionally incorporate additives if needed to create a compound ready to be used to manufacture new plastic products.” Earlier this year, in May 2020, Bright Green

Plastics secured £6 million in funding from Bibby Financial Services (BFS). Bolstered by the cash injection, the company is now looking to expand its presence into continental Europe. “Our growth plans are primarily based on us being self-sufficient in relation to investment in new equipment and new technologies, but the funding facility is there if we need it and gives us comfort,” Stephen declares. “We were impressed by the level of flexibility that BFS were able to offer, particularly in the current climate. We’re very happy to partner with the team as we take the business into a new phase of growth. Our next move is to open a small granulating facility in Poland with a view to

installing an extruder or two in the near future. We want to be able to offer our products to the European market, however, with the uncertainty following Brexit and increasing transport costs, we know we need to have a plant centrally located to be able to do this.”

Social responsibility

As an industry leader in plastic recycling, Bright Green Plastics is not only green by name. Due to the nature of its materials processing activities, the company has an inherently positive impact on the environment. Still, that doesn’t mean that Stephen and his team are not working hard to make the firm an even stronger force for good in the industry and the world at large. “As you can imagine, wash lines use a huge amount of water and so we continue to improve our internal water recycling system,” Stephen reports. “We have a whole host of similar social responsibility initiatives, including an electricity usage improvement project and a commitment to reusing consumable parts such as shredder blades by resharpening them internally.” One particularly pressing topic for Bright Green Plastics in 2020 is the need for reform of the plastic recovery notes (PRNs) system. Sold by accredited plastic reprocessing companies, such as Bright Green Plastics itself, PRNs are purchased by packaging producers and act as regulatory evidence notes showing that a business has financed the

MV Recycling UK Ltd Working closely with Bright Green Plastics has enabled us to enhance our UK presence significantly and fulfil our philosophy of not being just an export company with our three overseas reprocessing facilities, but also helping the UK processing where and when we can. Our geographic alliance allows us to optimise resources and share expertise in the circular economy all whilst keeping our presence in the UK active too for domestic trade. We are looking forward to see our relationship strengthen over time, once Bright Green’s investment for their MRF is at full capacity.

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Bright Green Plastics

recovery and recycling of packaging materials in proportion to the amount they have placed on the market. However, Stephen and his team are afraid that the system in its current form could ‘jeopardize the future of the recycling industry’, and as a result, in June this year, Bright Green Plastics joined forces with a number of reprocessing firms to urge reform. Alongside various issues the company has with the system, a recent drop in oil prices has caused manufacturers to purchase virgin plastic over more expensive recycled plastics. Stephen addressed the flaws of the PRN system in a recent statement. “Due to the pandemic, UK reprocessors have been operating at a reduced capacity in recent months, and with suppliers and customers on lockdown, levels of material for export and reprocessing have been massively reduced. Yet the data says that PRNs have been produced at a higher rate than this time last year. How is this possible?” he argued.

Industry expertise

Recycling companies have recently asked MPs to discuss the PRN dispute in parliament. To further support the drive, Bright Green Plastics has generated a petition calling on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to urgently review the system. One positive development on the horizon for the firm is the impending introduction of the UK Plastic Packaging Tax that will see any packaging produced in, or imported into,

the UK liable for tax if it does not contain a minimum of 30 per cent recycled material. Due to Bright Green Plastic’s ability to produce products using BrightFusion™ technology to co-join different polymers, Stephen believes the new tax will give the business a competitive edge over its competitors. “We have a robust expansion plan including significant investment in new equipment so we can stay ahead of the demand for our products,” he asserts. “The demand will be driven by the introduction of the plastics tax and we should be encouraging it to be implemented sooner in the UK as manufacturers are currently buying virgin polymers over recycled materials due to the low oil prices caused by Covid-19. Unfortunately, this is jeopardizing the shortterm viability of recyclers in the UK, so we would certainly welcome more government support in this area.” Though there will always be external factors beyond any company’s control, Bright Green Plastics can move forward, safe in the

knowledge that it can rely upon a highly skilled and experienced workforce to lead the firm into the future; a future in which the company hopes to inspire lasting, positive change. “People are extremely important here,” Stephen proclaims. “Their knowledge and experience in this industry is invaluable. We have many employees that have worked here for more than 20 years. I have always been open and honest with the team here and I have had the same in return. It has meant we have been able to respond to challenges quickly, especially since AIAC acquired the business last year as they have fully supported the plan we presented to them from the outset.”

Bright Green Plastics Services: Plastics reprocessing business l 151

A driving force in mechatronics

From its state-of-the-art, 40,000-square foot manufacturing facility, Dorset-based Electro Mechanical Systems (EMS) is perfectly placed to manufacture both standard and bespoke drive, gear and actuation systems for a range of industries


elebrating its 35th birthday in 2020, it did not take long at all for electrical/electronic manufacturers Electro Mechanical Systems (EMS) to establish itself as a leading supplier of high quality precision DC motors and linear actuators. Initially beginning life as a distribution company working alongside a handful of key business partners, the company is today sole UK distributors of precision micro-drives and

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associated components for the FAULHABER Group, MPS and Piezomotor. It also supplies complementary products including iron-core DC motors from KAG, stepper motors and brushed DC motors from Nidec Servo, brushed and brushless gear motors from Nidec Motors & Actuators, as well as linear actuators and telescopic columns from Ewellix and Mingardi. Five years after it was formed, EMS took the important decision to purchase its own

manufacturing facility a company active and manufacturing in Poole, Dorset since 1953. “This move came about when EMS decided to acquire a small business already active in the manufacturing of equipment for the remote handling industry,” explains Managing Director, Stewart Goulding. “We took the decision to acquire a manufacturing hub so as to be able to develop truly bespoke drive systems for our customers.”

Electro Mechanical Systems

EMS offers design engineers a complete service, with its scope of supply stretching from the supply of proprietary motors, gearheads, encoders and actuation systems, through to added value in the way of pinions and wiring looms, to complete drive systems to meet exact application needs. “What we have come to specialize in is solving our customers’ unique problems through our expert design and manufacturing capabilities,” Stewart

continues. “This is something that very few other businesses in our sector can offer, and it helps to differentiate EMS and provides our customers with high quality, unique and long term solutions to challenging and complex drive requirements.”

Diverse offering

One of EMS’ principal objectives is to work with its customers on a long-term collaborative

basis, with many relationships already exceeding 30 years, and counting. The types of customer and markets that the company serves today are diverse to say the least. “Among the many solutions we have developed are components and drive systems for companies making prosthetic hands, customizable systems for syringe drivers, and disability aids for health and home care applications granting greater independence for the user at home,” Stewart l 153

states. “Other examples of our work also include smoke exhaust systems, and devices for opening large windows and venting systems in public buildings. However, the scope of our offering is only limited by the imagination of our customers and our own design engineers.”

New factory

2020 has been a particularly important year to date for the business, as it was in April of this year that EMS announced the opening of a new factory in Dorset. Occupying a private two-acre site, the 40,000-sqaure-foot building provides a modern, open plan manufacturing space in which the company can further expand its services, while also fulfilling its commitments to environmental and social sustainability. EMS were determined to stay local to its roots in Dorset and retain the wealth of established skills as well as supporting the environment with solar panels and electric vehicle charging. The new facility represents a welcome improvement from EMS’ previous facility which – owing to the evolution and success of the business over the years – had ended up being stretched across no fewer than ten separate units.

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“As you can probably imagine, manufacturing across ten units presented some operational and logistical challenges as well as duplication or splitting of key resources,” Stewart details. “Now, we have a facility that allows us to have all of our activities and processes under one roof. We approached its layout with an entirely blank piece of paper, and we have carefully considered where to place our equipment in order to optimize our production processes and assembly cells, while new data connections allow for the seamless transfer of information from servers to machine tools. The facility also boasts improved research and development, and in-house testing capabilities, in addition to extended conference facilities. “The design of the facility has also helped us to gain even greater thermal stability within our manufacturing areas, allowing us to maintain precise tolerances needed when producing intricate parts for our drive systems. When you are machining parts within micron tolerances, what you need is consistent thermal stability within that space, which our new facility gives us.” At the time of our conversation with Stewart – mid-August – EMS was experiencing

Electro Mechanical Systems Electro Mechanical Systems Products: High-quality mechatronics

MRT Castings Ltd

a bounce back in business, so to speak, with its customers beginning to step up their respective activities having come out of the Covid-19 imposed lockdown in the UK. “I think we are definitely seeing more and more of our regular customers returning their operations to more of a normality,” he says. “From a bespoke project perspective, we are experiencing a sharp increase in project activity, and we look forward to managing this demand and are very optimistic for the future.” This upturn in work comes at a time during which EMS is bedding into its new surroundings in Holton Heath. “We will have completed the move of all of our equipment, machinery and resources into the new building by the end of August,” Stewart proclaims. “Following that, we will require a period of ‘living in’ the facility, during which we will be able to quickly adapt to the new layout and make any necessary adjustments to improve efficiency and productivity. “Moving forward, we will be looking to develop as much new business as we possibly can, whilst also looking at how we incorporate additional manufacturing techniques and technologies into our skill set. We are in the process of purchasing new machinery that will increase our capacity to deliver highend, technical turning solutions. We have no intention whatsoever of leaving behind some of our more traditional work, conventional gear boxes or drive systems, but we do want to give ourselves the capability – and thus the opportunity – to develop and manufacture smaller, more precision-based technical products, and our latest investments will ensure this is possible.” As the business sets its sights on the future, EMS’ primary goal is to secure its position as the premium supplier of miniature drive

systems in the UK. As Stewart goes on to conclude, however, there is scope for expanding and extending its customer base and reach beyond its home shores, and to offer bespoke drive systems to Europe and the rest of the world. This would be just one of a number of means of growing EMS in the years to come.

MRT Castings Ltd are proud to supply high quality aluminium diecastings to EMS, and we congratulate the team on the opening of their impressive new production facility. MRT also operate from a brand-new plant, located in Andover, Hampshire, and provide single source solutions for the manufacture, machining and assembly of diecast components for a wide range of industries, including medical, aerospace, defence, lighting, electronics, and of course, electric motors. l 155

Electric dreams

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Volt Matching high-end looks with the most advanced electric technology, Milton Keynes-based manufacturer Volt is responsible for an awardwinning range of some of the best electric bikes that money can buy


n 2010, the electric bicycle (e-bike) – while growing increasingly popular in Europe and other major international markets – was a much rarer sight on the streets of the UK than it is today. While there were examples being manufactured in small quantities at the time, these tended to be viewed as bulky, expensive modes of transport that were often hindered by poor battery life and mileage. Recognising these issues were Buckinghamshirebased brothers James and Lyle Metcalfe, who set about the task of pairing elegant cycle design with boundary-pushing technology to create affordable electric bikes that could boast first-class performance. “Having seen first-hand some of the advances being made internationally with e-bikes, my brother and I believed that there was a massive opportunity for the technology to take off in the UK,” Volt Co-Founder James begins. “As fate would have it, we happened l 157


Other innovations that we are always looking at are things like reducing the size of our motors or batteries, while maintaining the power levels and mileage that our customers are used to. We are also taking a closer look at battery integration, and examining the possibility of pushing our batteries further into the frame structure of our bikes

to land at just the right time, when lead acid batteries were being phased out in favor of the better performing lithium-ion variety. Backed by battery technology that could support e-bikes in covering greater distances – some of ours today can take you over 100 miles on a single

charge – we made a commitment to creating an attractive, stylish e-bike that would appeal to as wide an audience as possible.” In the decade since, the Metcalfe brothers have overseen a company that has continuously worked to improve its range of e-bikes, and subsequently has helped to set the pace for what is possible in their design. This has gone so far as to see Volt launch its own sophisticated and reliable e-bike driver system, dubbed SpinTech, in 2017. “As an early stage adopter of modern e-bike technology in the UK, Volt possesses a heritage that evidences how we have used our industry-leading technical knowledge and expertise to develop an intuitive product range that best integrates with the abilities and cycling styles of all kinds of riders,” James continues. “Our passion for this industry is second to none. It shines through in all that we do, and has played a crucial role in making Volt the e-bike manufacturer of choice for our customers.” Since its early days, Volt’s manufacturing activities occurred in Poland, where it shared a facility with a leading Swedish manufacturer.

While this partnership between the two was very fruitful, it had been one of James and Lyle’s long-term aspirations to centralise the company’s manufacturing process entirely within the UK. This goal became a reality in June 2020, when the company opened the doors to a new, purpose-built factory in Milton Keynes. Spanning some 20,000-square feet, it has the capacity to build up to 25,000 e-bikes per year and create at least 30 new jobs in the local area. With the UK’s complete withdrawal from the European Union looming, this move represents a massive investment for the company and positions it for accelerated growth, while reinforcing its commitment to British manufacturing. “In addition to an increased production capacity, this investment provides us with localized control of our entire manufacturing process,” James enthuses. “This, in turn, gives us the ability to greatly improve production efficiencies, to quickly drill down into – and iron out – any issues that arise, and to make refinements quickly. Having such a level of hands-on control was a massive incentive behind the move in the first place.” As positive as the factory move has turned out to be, at the time it was conceived James and Lyle could hardly have predicted that it would ultimately take place in the midst of a global pandemic! “As you can imagine, this posed a major challenge, however we were fortunate in the fact that we had already assembled a solid team whose task was to manage the move in the months prior to the UK going into lockdown,” James reveals. “Despite the fact that – as a cycling business – we were exempt from most of the lockdown restrictions, and that the sheer size of our site allowed for us to easily adopt social distancing practices, we still had to adapt massively to what was an ever-changing environment. This

Sterling Debt Recovery Congratulations to Volt Bikes on their 10th anniversary from Sterling Debt Recovery. Sterling has assisted Volt Bikes since their formation, providing advice and support, managing Volt’s order to cash process, chasing payments under the Volt brand, minimising risk, and collecting ageing debts through debt recovery. Our service has grown along with Volt, both in size and scope, taking on much of the finance function and allowing James and Lyle to focus on growing the business. Sterling provide outsourced credit control and debt collection services to all sizes of company to optimise cash flow whilst protecting customer relationships.

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Volt meant doing things like making greater use of telephone and video call technology to liaise with various technicians and experts, yet we still managed to bring to life what is a sizable facility during the midst of a national health emergency, which is quite the achievement.” Away from its factory development, Volt also took the decision in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak to make a pool of its bikes available to key workers within the NHS free of charge, so as to assist them in getting to and from work without necessarily having to use, what was at the time heavily reduced, public transport networks. It also introduced large purchasing discounts to these same workers to allow them to buy a Volt e-bike should they choose to. With the company now established in its new Milton Keynes home, its efforts to further improve upon its already industry-leading technology have continued at pace. “One of things we are constantly looking to do is make our system ever-more intuitive, but we are also always looking at introducing new touches to our e-bikes to improve the entire rider experience,” James says. “For instance, in 2019, we added an immobilizer to all of our e-bikes. This feature helps to combat instances of theft by rendering the e-bike static once engaged, and is something that very few other manufacturers have incorporated to date. We have also had very positive responses to the addition of a thumb throttle to many of our bikes, which can be used to boost a rider’s speed in the event that they need to power out of any issues. “Other innovations that we are always looking at are things like reducing the size of our motors or batteries, while maintaining the power levels and mileage that our customers are used to. We are also taking a closer look at battery integration, and examining the possibility of pushing our batteries further into the frame structure of our bikes. There are several in-frame battery designs that we are currently evaluating and that look pretty cool, so we will see how these can possibly be integrated in the future.” As 2020 marks the tenth anniversary of Volt’s founding, James and Lyle are able to look back on the company’s rapid rise with pride, whilst also fixing their respective gazes on the next ten years ahead. “Our employees have been fundamental in delivering the success that we have had as a business over the course of the last decade,” James states. “We are blessed in the fact that the vast majority of the people that work for us are just as enthusiastic about cycling as my brother and I, and their passion for the product and understanding of its appeal is invaluable to our success.

“Equally, choosing the right strategic partners and creating strong alliances has been a core focus for our growth strategy. We want to work with and learn from industry leaders aligned in our field and by forming relationships with the likes of Bafang and Shimano we can deliver e-bike technology beyond that of our competitors. As a privately funded business, we also realised early on how critical cash flow is, and we made the decision to outsource our credit control, debt collection and finance functions to a specialist called Sterling – this works very well for us, and allows us to put all our energy into what we know best ‘building and designing great e-bikes’. “Looking ahead, I believe that we have a very strong, natural growth cycle ahead of us, having put in place what we feel are all the elements needed to expand in size and scale in the next

five years. Of course, in order to achieve this, we will need to further increase production volumes, but the way that we have designed our manufacturing model means that we can easily duplicate our work stations and processes within our Milton Keynes facility. As we do this, we will look to create employment opportunities for people to join our team. This is the way we believe that Volt will grow going forward and we look forward to seeing it happen.”

Volt Products: Electric bikes l 159

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Clade Engineering Solutions - A1 Engineering Solutions Ltd

Cool thinking In the last decade, A1 Engineering Solutions has successfully added another string to its bow, becoming a trusted manufacturer of refrigeration plant, specializing in the use of natural refrigerants


or 35 years and counting, A1 Engineering Solutions (A1) has consistently delivered quality refrigeration and building products and services. A true specialist in all areas of refrigeration, cooling, air conditioning, and building services, A1 offers a broad range of solutions to meet its customers’ needs, whether it be for a commercial, retail or industrial application. With a particularly strong reputation within the convenience and supermarket sectors, A1 has come to be recognized as a partner that is synonymous with quality and value. As MT Magazine discovers when speaking with A1’s Managing Director Dean Frost, it has been in more recent times that the company has embarked on a new journey of engineering and manufacturing. “In the past, A1 has arguably been very typical of what one would define as

a regional refrigeration company, carrying out installation and maintenance tasks for customers,” he begins. “Around seven years ago, the business underwent a step change when myself and a group of colleagues were brought in to grow A1 into a national entity. We set out to achieve this by establishing A1 as an expert manufacturer of refrigeration equipment.”


Rapid growth

Having already solidified a reputation for being a key supplier to the industries that it serves – especially the food retail sector, where its customers include UK majors such as Waitrose, Morrisons, Co-op and more latterly Aldi – A1 set about on the road to becoming a manufacturer of choice by focusing in on

As far as future growth is concerned, we can clearly see that it will be based around facilitating our customers’ carbon reduction efforts at the best possible cost. That is why it has to remain our mission to find the most cost effective ways of producing refrigeration plant that makes use of natural refrigerates, but also is able to harness things like recovered heat l 161

Clade Engineering Solutions - A1 Engineering Solutions Ltd natural refrigeration solutions. “At present, industries use a lot of chemical refrigerants in their cooling systems, but there is legislation in place for these to be phased out entirely by 2030,” Dean says. “For that reason, retailers are now on a shared journey towards replacing their existing systems with more environmentally friendly choices. “For our part, we began by producing a piece of kit that uses hydrocarbons as the refrigerant, which was very successful amongst our food retail customers, particularly Waitrose. Those efforts enabled us to move onto developing refrigeration plant which has become the lynchpin of our natural refrigerant future, and that uses CO2 as the refrigerant. Now, in 2020, the strength of our solutions – coupled with the breadth of customers we are proud to serve – has resulted in A1 becoming one of the largest suppliers of natural refrigeration products in the UK.” Dean is keen to stress at this point that A1 has by no means lost sight of its roots, remaining committed to its pre-existing disciplines of installation and maintenance, however the addition of manufacturing capabilities has made for a more well-rounded, vertically-integrated company. As A1 has found in the last few years, manufacturing refrigeration plant is a very labor intensive process. “The cycle really begins with the initial designs for our equipment, and once these have been signed off we can begin the process of manufacturing plant,” Dean details. “We purchase all of the componentry we use – apart from the interconnecting pipework and cables – from suppliers in

Danfoss Danfoss is your partner. All the way. The food retail industry is more challenging than ever. New consumer demands, technologies, tough competition, low profit margins and regulatory uncertainties, are just some of the key issues, food retailers are facing. In strong partnerships with key refrigeration solution providers, such as A1 Engineering and CLADE Engineering Systems, we help customers turn challenges into opportunities. With more than 50,000 food retail installations worldwide, Danfoss is your dedicated end-to-end partner and application expert for store optimization. We help facilitate the whole process of optimizing stores to provide business more efficient and profitable by reducing complexity and increasing predictability. We call our solution Danfoss Smart Store and collaborate with our partners to ensure that every goal is met before, during, and long after implementation. We ensure that you get the most value from your CO2 system, because… We love CO2, too.

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the UK and Europe, and then commence with the assembly phase using specially designed lines with various designated work stations. What we end up with is a finished product, which then proceeds to a test chamber where it is pressure tested and subject to all the other necessary checks prior to shipping.” While the company currently boasts a 11,000-square foot manufacturing facility in which to produce plant, Dean understands that A1’s rapid growth requires it to turn its attention to acquiring a larger building. “This is something that we are actively looking at, with the intention of having a facility in which we can increase the size of our production lines that we can look to move into during 2021,” he confirms.

Increase in enquiries

In late February 2020, A1 made an important appearance at EuroShop 2020 – the world’s largest retail trade fair – in Dusseldorf, Germany. It was here where the company displayed examples of its solutions, and in process garnered significant interest from attendees for its products, particularly from those based in Europe. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of weeks upon arriving back in the UK that Covid-19 became a serious issue for the country, leading to the lockdown and government-imposed restrictions that followed. Understandably, the pandemic had an immediate impact on A1’s activities, but as Dean goes on to explain, the company has adapted well to the challenges that have arisen. “Immediately, we put things into play so that all non-essential staff were able to work from home, and we placed approximately 15 per cent of our workforce onto the government’s furlough scheme,” he says. “In the meantime, our manufacturing trade was able to continue in order to meet pre-existing orders. We made it our top priority to obtain all of the required PPE and hand sanitizing products to keep our people safe, and the reduction in personnel on site allowed for a greater ability to meet social distancing guidelines. Our actions have not only allowed us to continue operating through the pandemic, but also avoid recording a single case within our factory, which is something we are extremely proud of.” Since the UK’s lockdown restrictions were eased in the early summer, A1 has witnessed a noticeable pick up in the pace of enquiries from its customers – those in the food retail sector in particular – giving it a healthy order book that will take it through the end of 2020 and into 2021. “Despite the fact that Covid-19 has prevented us from increasing our sales to prospective customers in Europe in 2020, we are very confident that those opportunities will be reignited as we head into 2021,” Dean enthuses. “Coupled with our strong domestic sales, we foresee our success in manufacturing continuing to grow significantly in the next decade. “As far as future growth is concerned, we can

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Clade Engineering Solutions - A1 Engineering Solutions Ltd

Clade Engineering Solutions - A1 Engineering Solutions Ltd Products: Refrigeration and building services clearly see that it will be based around facilitating our customers’ carbon reduction efforts at the best possible cost. That is why it has to remain our mission to find the most cost effective ways of producing refrigeration plant that makes use of natural refrigerates, but also is able to harness things like recovered heat. During the compression process of any refrigerant, one generates a lot of heat which is typically expelled to atmosphere. What A1 has been doing is capturing said heat, and reintroducing it into stores for use in different heating systems. We are also now making exciting headway in combining refrigeration plant and heat pump technology, which will enable our products to heat stores even more efficiently, whilst still maintaining the refrigeration temperatures that our customers demand to keep their goods safe. We hope to be trialing a number of these new systems in stores and in partnership with some of our food retail customers in the coming months.� As Dean alluded to previously, A1 has absolutely no intention of abandoning any of the other services that it provides, and that have been instrumental in its success through the years. While there is an understandable push towards the manufacturing of more products and solutions going forward, this is very much a case of adding additional value for those customers that call A1 a trusted supplier. It is this spirit that will no doubt power the company through the next ten years and beyond. l 165

Brightening up the skies Operating from eleven sites across the world, International Aerospace Coatings continues to invest in technology and equipment that helps to solidify its place as a globally recognized industry leader


specialist in aircraft painting, interiors, and graphics, International Aerospace Coatings (IAC) is the largest aerospace coating company in the world. From its state-of-the-art facilities across Europe and the USA, IAC has capacity for 36 lines of aircraft, and processes more than 1000 paint events each year. Working across all segments of the aviation industry, including OEM, commercial, military, and general aviation, the company is renowned for its utilization of the very latest in modern aircraft painting techniques and equipment. “IAC is one of the leading companies in the world specialized in aircraft painting,” the company’s Group Business Development Manager Angelo Lacorte explains. “We benefit

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from a widespread market penetration system which, through a considerable number of facilities, allows the company to satisfy customer requests in terms of slot availability, competitive prices, and high-quality service. Furthermore, our sister company, Eirtech Aviation Services, completes our portfolio by offering a series of ancillary services ranging from livery design to engineering support, ensuring that the final customer can find in IAC a partner, rather than a simple supplier.” As well as US Headquarters in Irvine, California, and European Headquarters in Shannon, Ireland, IAC’s global footprint now boasts eight wide-body hangars that offer a diverse range of capabilities depending upon the job required or vehicle in question. Most

recently, IAC completed the construction of a new hangar at Shannon Airport, which boasts the most modern technological solutions on a technical, structural, and environmental level. The hangar, among the largest in the world, is targeted at aircraft such as the Airbus A380. From single aircraft from small regional airlines to fleet rebrands for major carriers and VIP finishes for business jets, IAC is well-equipped to provide the best solution for the client. “Through collaboration with leading manufacturers of painting products and industryspecific equipment, IAC is regularly updated with the newest technologies and constantly expands its equipment stock to guarantee the use of latest generation products,” Angelo reveals. “Investments are oriented towards

International Aerospace Coatings


Over the next few years, the expansion of our network of sites and the acquisition of cutting-edge technological solutions, together with services of higher quality and lower environmental impact, will consolidate our position as a world leader in the aeronautical painting field

new operating technologies and are always analyzed and evaluated in conjunction with the producers of paint, sealant, and stripper materials in order to guarantee a quality product aimed at customer satisfaction. Furthermore, the company invests in certifications and adaptation to the most stringent quality system standards so that even the internal control system can guarantee continuous improvement.” As well as employing technology for the benefit of its customers, IAC frequently looks for technological innovations that help to protect the health of its workers. The focus on employee safeguarding is nothing new to IAC, a firm that has always considered its workforce to be a fundamental resource in the implementation of the company’s services.

“At all levels, IAC staff are part of a larger family without territorial distances,” Angelo says. “Regular meetings, calls, and training sessions allow the dissemination of knowledge across all sites and the exchange of information guarantees customers the same treatment on each site. Our workforce is highly motivated, as is management, and we believe that the achievement of objectives is only possible when an organization operates as a chain in which each link has an important function.”

Highest standards

Due to the nature of the company’s work – applying aircraft coatings and graphics is a highly skilled and manual activity – IAC’s workforce is led through a comprehensive training program

that complies with the latest regulations for the aeronautical field. Not solely limited to the application of products, the training regime extends to a series of behavioral elements and human factors, as well as more technical, aircraft-specific topics. “Obviously, as an integral part of the aeronautical maintenance process, the kind of work IAC performs requires the highest training standards to be respected at all times,” Angelo asserts. “Continuous training is one of the elements that characterizes an activity in which the operator’s manual skills are fundamental. IAC guarantees these standards through our aforementioned commitment to personal development initiatives for our workforce, which act as another element promoting great l 167

professionalism towards the final customer.” Total dedication to clients and their respective requirements is an area in which IAC thrives, and as a result, the firm works in close partnership with all its customers, listening closely to requests, and valuing excellent collaboration. Recently, IAC’s abilities in this department were put to the test when it was contracted to paint the first B787 in Europe at its facility in Fiumicino, Italy. A very particular aircraft built by Boeing entirely of composite materials, IAC worked on the vehicle in close proximity with its owner throughout the landmark painting project. Historically, this partnership approach has not only helped IAC to minimize the possibility of errors and misunderstandings, but also assisted in building strong connections from which future business can flourish. Angelo suggests that IAC has endeavored to uphold these practices throughout 2020’s Coronavirus pandemic,

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whilst simultaneously protecting its workforce. “We’ve tried to keep the commitments we’ve always held with our customers, even during the pandemic phase of Covid-19,” he reports. “Still, everything we’ve done has been with the safeguarding of our employees in mind. They are our primary asset and we have tried to continue operating with our staff working in conditions of absolute safety. Where and when possible, the staff have operated as part of a smart working model - a system that had already been applied throughout the company, pre-pandemic, for the departments that could use it - and we have guaranteed continuous monitoring and control systems for all team members. Considering we are a company operating in various different sites and nations, we have always conscientiously implemented local regulations and persuaded other facilities to do the same. Relevant standards are always strictly applied to ensure maximum efficiency

and the same steadfast approach is adopted when tackling any company issues.”

Environmental strategy

Trusted by some of the Aerospace industry’s biggest brands, IAC continues to work with major names like Alaska Airlines, Lufthansa and United Airlines to name a few. Most recently, the firm performed a modernization of United Airlines’ iconic livery, adding a fresh, revitalized look, whilst maintaining the airline’s blue and navy heritage. As part of the project, IAC expertly applied Akzo Nobel’s Aerodur 3001 Basecoat/ Clearcoat coating systems to bring a more ‘modern energy’ to United’s visual identity. As IAC’s Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Dave Patterson, alluded to at the time, the enduring relationship between United Airlines and IAC is an accurate representation of how the coatings firm has achieved such lasting success. “We’ve been partners with United since we were contracted in 2010 to repaint 631 aircraft in the livery we are now changing,” Dave remarked. “We look forward to our continued partnership with United and we are lucky to be a part of the upcoming transformation of more than 1300 aircraft. We are proud to call United not only our partners but our friends.” In the coming years, as well as building upon its existing network of partners, IAC will also be turning its attention to the environment. As it collaborates with global producers of painting products, the company strives to stay abreast of the latest eco-compatible technology. Furthermore, all IAC hangars are equipped with the most efficient air and water purification systems, while an organized maintenance scheme guarantees unfaltering functionality at the plants. Additional double-mandated control systems are also utilized in conjunction with external

International Aerospace Coatings

monitoring and control bodies to improve the company’s performance. Both now and in the future, IAC is not willing to leave anything to chance in its mission to remain the industry’s leading aerospace coating specialist for decades to come. “I have been working with IAC for about five years and I consider the company like a second family,” Angelo states. “Having worked in the industry most of my life, I have accumulated more than 30 years of experience in the aeronautical painting sector and have deep

knowledge of the main companies in the segment. Based on this experience, it is my opinion that IAC is operating at a very high level in terms of proximity to customer needs and the lengths it is willing to travel to secure the satisfaction of its collaborators. Over the next few years, the expansion of our network of sites and the acquisition of cutting-edge technological solutions, together with services of higher quality and lower environmental impact, will consolidate our position as a world leader in the aeronautical painting field.”

International Aerospace Coatings Services: Aerospace coating company l 169

Positively different A trusted advisor and partner to its many customers, Smith & McLaurin is best known for the supply of digital-ready label stock, environmentally friendly materials, and its growing influence in the wine and spirits market for pressure-sensitive label (PSL) materials

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Smith & McLaurin


mith & McLaurin (SMCL) is not a new name to the world of manufacturing. Indeed, the company can trace its history back more than 170 years, to 1849. Today, it is a leading player in the selfadhesive labels, tickets and tags industry, with an enviable reputation for innovation and customer service. SMCL’s sector-leading expertise, knowledge and resources combine to ensure

that its reputation is based on its core values of service, trust and innovation. Operating from its offices and manufacturing facility at Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire – from which is serves customers across the UK, Europe and further afield – SMCL has enjoyed 16 years of continuous profitable growth under its current ownership. This has positioned it at the head of its field in terms of product innovation, design l 171

and development, especially in the thermal, digital, drinks and – latterly – the sustainability sectors. “SMCL design, develop and manufacture paper and filmic materials for a range of customers (convertors, printers and packers) that go on to comprise the packaging for some of the world’s best known brands across a multitude of sectors. We work with our suppliers, customers and our customers’ customer to deliver innovative solutions that ensure best-in-class performance and functionality,” explains Sales Director, John Radford. “Our coating capabilities, combined with the flexibility in our range of face materials, adhesives and liners, allows us to source and develop new products that will help our customers to increase their sales revenue with value added solutions. Our wide range of water based acrylic and hotmelt adhesives allows us to specify the correct solution, whilst our thermal coating technology is unique in the industry and allows us to maintain our leading position in offering thermally coated solutions.” One particular area of success for the company has been its supply of digital ready

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label stock, which utilizes environmentally friendly materials. “Initially we developed, in conjunction with HP, a range of materials for their Web stream digital presses,” John continues. “These presses use a toner based system with electrostatic inks which needed a primer to ensure their inks adhered to the face material. Through development with HP we were able to apply a coating to ensure any


The solutions needed within the packaging and label industry to remove single-use plastic, I am convinced, will lead to new volumes for the industry, which I am confident SMCL will be well positioned to take advantage of

PSL construction would be able to run through these presses. Latterly we have developed a range of inkjet grades for use in any water based inkjet press by again working closely with the various hardware manufacturers and material suppliers. This latest development has given us the market leading position for this type of digital media. We also have the option to combine these constructions with both FSC certified materials.”

Problem solvers

Sustainability, therefore, is clearly an important issue that SMCL takes seriously. “At SMCL, we are driven by all aspects of product sustainability – reuse, recycle and reduction – aiming to offer innovative solutions in partnership with our customers,” John states. “An example of this is the development of our Purity Wash range, which offers a choice of cold and hot water wash off adhesives. With regards to hot water adhesive technology, we are proud to have the first adhesive approved for this process that allows the clean recycling of PET in the bottle return process. We also have approved two cold water adhesives for both paper and film that allow for the clean removal of label stock from any plastic container. This technology can be combined with both FSC certified recycled and PostConsumer Waste face materials. “Alongside our Purity Wash adhesive collection we are also developing a range of paper based materials that will not only replace single use plastics, but will also take plastic coatings out of paper. Packaging is an area we are keenly exploring with our customers and with our developing Eco Pack range we are looking to provide paper based solutions with heatseal and moisture barrier coatings. We are also focused on sustainably sourced materials and recycled content. SMCL can now offer 100 per cent post-consumer waste face stock with wet strength properties for the drinks industry, in combination with any adhesive technology and paper or filmic liner.” As one would expect from a company that can boast of such a long history, SMCL’s production process has been tried and tested over a number of years, with many completely new product development projects becoming the commercial norm. From its laboratory at Kilbarchan, the company’s in-house technical team have, over many years, developed products from new thermal technology and market leading products for toner and inkjet digital markets, to the current unique Purity Wash range of adhesives aimed at improving sustainability. SMCL’s technical team has over 80

Smith & McLaurin years of combined experience within its field, which it is understandably always keen to offer its customers. Meanwhile, it has an extensive schedule of ‘Discovery’ meetings with suppliers to ensure that its product range remains at the leading edge of innovation, while all new products that it sources and develops are made available to key customers to give them a competitive advantage. “Our focus as a business is very much on finding solutions to our customer’s problems,” John opines. “We believe this can be achieved by developing strong partnerships throughout the innovation process working with suppliers, machine manufacturers, brand owners and customers in collaboration. This enables us to fully understand the challenges faced, and develop long-term relationships across our customer base and – as importantly – within our supply chain.”

Innovation partner

The core values of the business – these being service, trust and innovation – remain as true today as ever, enabling it to meet the ever-increasing challenges that today’s market presents. Ensuring that these values shine through in all the work that SMCL undertakes are its employees. “The biggest asset of any business are the people and we are no exception,” John confirms. “We are very fortunate to have a loyal, highly skilled team at Kilbarchan, who combined have a tremendous amount of knowledge of the industry and of our coating processes, which we delight in sharing with our customers. Our culture is one of involvement in all areas of the business, and for all of our teams to encourage engagement with customers and suppliers alike. The fact we have various members of staff who have been with the company in excess of 30-to-40 years is testament to this philosophy.” No greater challenge to face the company – arguably in its entire history – has been the onset and continuation of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, SMCL made sure from the get-go to introduce measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its team, while also being able to maintain the full manufacturing, technical and commercial support that its customers require. It was also fortunate in that it did not experience any significant delays within its supply chain, and remained able to offer continuity of supply, and therefore its ability to meet all order requirements in their entirety. Needless to say, the effects of Covid-19 continue to be felt across all industries, and SMCL’s is no different, with further challenges yet to be faced as consumer purchasing habits

continue to evolve. However, as John says, these unprecedented times also present an opportunity to highlight key themes, such as the need to improve the sustainability of packaging as a whole. “The solutions needed within the packaging and label industry to remove single-use plastic, I am convinced, will lead to new volumes for the industry, which I am confident SMCL will be well positioned to take advantage of. “Looking ahead, I see SMCL’s core business remaining within the PSL arena, while we also look at how we can further diversify our offering in the packaging sector. In line with current initiatives, we aim to be a key innovation partner in the development of sustainable label and packaging solutions, whilst reinforcing a strong reputation for specialty products, enabling the business to continue its record of continuous growth,” John concludes.

Smith & McLaurin Products: Self-adhesive label, ticket and tag materials l 173

Charting a course for corrugation Despite the challenges presented by 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic, Atlas Packaging, one of the UK’s largest independent packaging firms, continues to thrive against the odds 174 l


ust like the Titan from Greek mythology with whom the company shares a name, Atlas Packaging has become famous for its formidable strength and endurance. Established as a small box manufacturer in 1983 by current Chairman Adrian Gamble, the firm has fought its way to the top of a crowded industry and is regarded

today as one of the UK’s largest and most comprehensive packaging businesses. Already benefitting from a state-of-the-art production facility and award-winning, in-house structural graphic design teams, Atlas continues to invest in new equipment, machinery, and site extensions. Among the company’s key investments in recent years has been the

Atlas Packaging Ltd


Ultimately, our people have bought in to everything we’ve asked, and as things are beginning to settle down, we are really able to appreciate that. Our workforce had a big part to play and continue to have a big part to play now. We are an independent business and we compete in a marketplace heavily dominated by big multinational, sizable outfits. We can’t always compete commercially, but we differentiate ourselves through clever designs and the good set of people around us, whether it be designers that become personable to our customer base and understand their needs, or the welltrained, close-knit team on our shop floor

purchase of a new warehouse capable of holding up to 4000 pallets dependent on configuration, complete with clean, dry areas to store Atlas’ finished goods. “One of the areas we are focusing on at the moment is technology,” explains the company’s Sales Director Mark Leverton. “Technology is moving all the time, certainly from a print

perspective, and the demands for improvement are ever-changing. Not a week goes by when we’re not working closely with our suppliers on plates, inks, or machinery, to try and get ourselves an extra couple of percentage points. Whether it be new blades to go on the die cutting tool, slight improvements to printing plates, or different elements to our inks, all

these things can improve your offering, so we must keep learning and adapting. “In the last few months, we’ve introduced our own buying site,” Mark adds. “We created some delivery trays, so now people can buy trays from stock and have them delivered next day, whether it be business to business, or business to consumer. We are now looking for more l 175

and more creativity in terms of packaging for horticulture and breweries. Ecommerce is another market where people are looking for clever designs, both from a branding perspective and as part of the assembly and time element that goes into that.”

Modern manufacturer

Offering one of the industry’s broadest product ranges, Atlas’ scalable operation serves small startups, all the way through to major household brands. Consequently, the company’s North Devon headquarters boasts a large design studio staffed by experienced structural and graphical design teams. This advanced design setup is supported by machinery with the flexibility to produce a variety of box sizes, from very small boxes to large format boxes several meters long. “If you are a star tup business, you can come to Atlas with an idea or concept and we can take it from a scribble on a piece of paper - because typically businesses don’t have the resources to involve a design agency or marketing team - and bring the idea or concept to life,” Mark says. “Our history has shown we have supplied and continue to supply large wraps for flat pack furniture along with industrial packaging, using machinery typically of a larger size and format. In recent years, we turned our attention to products such as food and drink. Food and drink lends itself to much smaller format boxes, hence why we’ve got the ability to do small to large. We’re into pharmaceutical products too and all in all, there aren’t really too many markets that we don’t have some sor t of involvement in. “As I mentioned, retail is a big part of our customer base and along with food and

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drink, we cover horticulture and a variety of ecommerce areas such as packaging for the delivery of flowers from supermarkets. Ecommerce has been coming through stronger and stronger over recent years and virtual stores that can deliver to someone’s home are growing in demand. We’ve adapted our range accordingly and can offer functional plain brown boxes, as well as more decorative packaging for strong brands who want something to reflect their products.” As a modern corrugated manufacturer, Atlas offers reusable packaging to support worldwide sustainability efforts. The firm has also recently implemented environmental standard ISO14001 within the organization and is conscious of the highly impactful role it can play in supporting the wider green agenda across the coming decade. “It is not only about following best practices, but also about changing culturally, from the top to the bottom, in terms of encouraging people to be more aware of what we use and the wastage that goes with it,” Mark states. “Anything that comes as a waste element within our business is monitored, managed, and if it is not deemed sustainable, we will look to eradicate it. For example, we use water-based flexographic ink, the corrugated board we use is 100 per cent recyclable, and around 80 to 85 per cent of what we produce comes from recycled papers, so it can all be reused. Even our supply chain is becoming more efficient in terms of corrugated board and its manufacture, and any byproducts used throughout the whole process are reused. There are still one or two areas that we are working on, but we are very, very close to having a totally closed loop system.” In a year when companies across the

world have been forced to furlough staff or make employees redundant, Atlas has bucked the dominant trend and increased the size of its workforce. A surge in demand in the ecommerce retail sector during the pandemic outweighed the negative impacts of the virus felt by Atlas and, as a result, the firm continued with recruitment. “We had to respond to the needs of our clients and we worked extremely closely with them to maximize and maintain that demand, including the addition of new members of staff to support that need,” Mark reports. “Rather than just bring people in on short-term contracts or via an agency, we tried to recruit staff we can invest in and develop through the long-term. That is our recruitment strategy; we’d rather bring good people in and develop their knowledge and retain that knowledge.”

Resilient workforce

Though strong communication and strict adherence to government guidance have helped Atlas make it through the majority of 2020 without incident, Mark is keen to highlight the resilience and professionalism of the company’s workforce. “Ultimately, our people have bought in to everything we’ve asked, and as things are beginning to settle down, we are really able to appreciate that,” Mark asserts. “Our workforce had a big part to play and continue to have a big part to play now. We are an independent business and we compete in a marketplace heavily dominated by big multinational, sizable

Atlas Packaging Ltd

outfits. We can’t always compete commercially, but we differentiate ourselves through clever designs and the good set of people around us, whether it be designers that become personable to our customer base and understand their needs, or the well-trained, close-knit team on our shop floor.

marketplace, having a strong brand is more critical than ever and so we’ll be working on creating greater print for brands, whether it be one color or six colors. Also, on the ecommerce side of things, we’ll be looking at new ways to improve our offering because that demand is only going to grow.”

Atlas Packaging Ltd Products: Corrugated cardboard packaging

Positive impact

“Our appreciation of, and reliance on, good people extends beyond our own workforce and out to our fantastic group of customers and suppliers. They’ve all been really supportive, willing to embrace our ideas, and change with us. Unless you’ve got a front to back scenario, these are unpredictable times, but we are really fortunate to have people and businesses who appreciate what we do and we will hopefully continue to reward them and reap the mutual benefits.” As summer draws to a close, Mark and his team are feeling positive about the future. With Quarter Four traditionally a busy period in the packaging industry, all signs suggest that Atlas is in a strong position to finish 2020 with a flourish. “We’ve installed a couple of new machines during the pandemic and if we can continue to see a positive impact from our customer base, and in the wider economy, we are confident that Atlas can get back to expanding,” Mark declares. “Of course, the growth will need to be organic and we look forward to working with our existing customers, as well as securing work with new businesses. In this current l 177

Calm under pressure With a century of experience behind it, it is no exaggeration to say that Oilgear makes historically good pumps, valves and engineering systems, and that it has become a one-stop problem-solver


or the best part of 100 years, Oilgear’s high-performance fluid power solutions have proven themselves invaluable to the world’s most demanding hydraulic control applications. Founded in 1921, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the company continues to set the standard in industries requiring precise, high-performance hydraulic systems, with its products finding their way from depths of Earth’s oceans to the surface of our planet’s Moon. “One of the things that Oilgear is recognized for today is its extensive – yet niche – product

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range, which is geared towards the sorts of high pressures that go beyond those that standard manufacturers within the hydraulic industry are used to working with,” states Chris Howie, Oilgear’s Vice President of UK and International Operations. Although it is best known for its robust line of pumps, Oilgear also supplies cartridge valves, subsea pressure control solutions and electrical embedded controllers, and is a global provider of complex fluid power control systems. It also has a strong presence in forging and extrusion

press control systems. “Where we really thrive is in the area of 450-to-1000 bar pressures,” Chris continues. “Unlike other suppliers who have a portfolio of ‘off-the-shelf ’ products to choose from, we build our systems from the ground up. This gives us an unmatched level of understanding and know-how when it comes to the solutions we supply, and that gives our customers a huge amount of confidence that in Oilgear they have a partner that will be able to answer their specific needs.” As a truly international entity, in 2020 Oilgear


has global facilities in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, South Korea, China, Brazil and Mexico, which provide fully integrated manufacturing, service and training. It also has the ability to provide engineering support to customers in more than 50 countries. Oilgear’s UK office can be found in the city of Leeds, where its European Specialist Pump and Valve Centre boasts modern manufacturing and test capabilities for multi-fluid/high pressure component development. It is in Leeds where Chris began his Oilgear career in 1988, before

moving to South Korea in 1995, from where he became involved in the company’s Asia-Pacific dealings. Fast forward to 2018, and Chris was asked to again get involved with the Leeds operation as it made a transition away from being, what until then was, more akin to a cost center focusing on inter-company trading. “In the last couple of years, our Leeds site has taken great strides to move towards being more of a profit center for the wider business,” Chris explains. “This has been achieved by ramping up the development of its product lines, examining

new vertical markets, and driving innovation at ground-level, rather than waiting for this to filter down through our other global offices. “Today, our Leeds center possesses full engineering capabilities – encompassing, mechanical, hydraulic, electrical and software engineering – operated by highly skilled individuals whose actions help to create the potential for our sales teams to go out and win business for Oilgear. Within the facility, we also have extensive, automated testing capabilities, including test stands delivering up l 179

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health check. These checks will then be able to be carried out either remotely or in person.”

Remote working

The drive towards condition monitoring and remote maintenance – which Oilgear began developing in 2019 – has been given

a significant boost in importance this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “An understandable consequence of the emergence of Covid-19 is that a lot of businesses are limiting face-to-face contact, which would usually present a major challenge should one of our customers – for example – face a problem

to 500KW of power, and multi-fluid testing tools that allow us to carry out work on a full gambit of exotic oils for the chemical industry, power plants, and offshore and subsea mining customers. “One of the exciting things we are looking to do in Leeds going forward is to utilize Cloud-based technology to give our customers a ‘factory-live’ view of the facility so that they can get a birds-eye perspective of their respective product or system being assembled or tested. This will allow our customers to have unrivalled access to the development of their solutions, keeping them fully up-to-date with their progress up to the point of leaving the building.”

Industry 4.0

As Chris goes on to detail, these aren’t the only developments currently taking place within Oilgear’s Leeds site. “Recently, we have been looking closely at the integration of existing products with condition monitoring, so as to enable our existing product line to be industry 4.0 capable. This requires the incorporation of a lot of smart technology into our products, for instance, vibration monitors and casing drain temperature and flow meters. We are also working to introduce electronic traffic light warning systems to our products, which will be used to send messages to a users’ mobile device in real-time to alert them as to when a product is not being used optimally or may require a l 181


with their equipment,” Chris adds. “We are meeting this issue by wrapping a lot of our work around remote maintenance. “Examples of this work include when we were contracted earlier in 2020 to carry out upgrades and maintenance lifts of Brayden Bridge in Great Yarmouth, which carries the A47 across the River Yare. We were able to maintain a limited presence on site, and through the smart, remote commissioning tools at our disposal, we were able to dial into them to get a live view of the bridge as we lifted and lowered it from 200 miles away in Leeds.” Equally as impressive, was an instance that Chris recounted whereby a customer in India was experiencing problems with some of the pumps on their particular machine. While the customer was able to order and receive replacement parts from Oilgear, the company was unable to send over a representative to do the repair work itself. Oilgear’s answer to this was to set up a live video call to its customer so that they could watch a Leeds-based engineer with an equivalent pump in hand walk through the disassembly, repair and reassembly process. New product development within Oilgear

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can also be found taking place across the Atlantic in the United States. There, at its Nebraska facility – where it specializes in the manufacture of smaller, more standardized products – the company has a new product range on the market called the XD5 series of pumps. This range offers lightning-fast control response on both low-viscosity fluids and standard hydraulic oil, and is designed to handle the most challenging environments. Meanwhile, in Michigan – where subsea and offshore products are created – the company has developed its BARS (Boosting and Regulating System) product. With its unique ability to maximize pressure capacity in accumulators without increased weight or pressure on the existing piping and hydraulic system, BARS is designed to increase the fluid pressure from the surface with its proprietary intensifier pumps to a maximum of 7500psi. Storing additional volume, it then regulates the downstream pressure back to 5000psi. With the company marking its 100th anniversary in 2021, its future strategy involves achieving both organic and external growth. “In terms of organic growth,” Chris continues,

“our sales team, led by UK and International Sales Manager, Stephen Raper, will continue to explore vertical market expansion, while also identifying sectors that we can gain greater traction in, whether that be the defence arena, in civil engineering, marine and offshore building, mining or the energy/renewables field. Meanwhile, in terms of our approach to acquisitions, an example of this saw the company re-acquire Andrew Fraser Pumps in July 2020, as part of our strategy to target emerging industries such as power generation and advanced renewable technologies, and we look forward to integrating that range into our wider portfolio. In this vein, we will continue to seek out potential acquisitions that will create synergies throughout the business.”

Oilgear Products: High-performance fluid power solutions

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