Profiles

Flying high

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

Both 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 Whitebird aSr 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 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 35x35-inch 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 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 b

“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, 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 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 Whitebird ccurrently 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
www.whitebird.ca

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

It 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 a

“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 1000-to-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 fully-automated cells in the range of 1600-to-1800 tonne locking force for the manufacture of 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 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 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 CastAlum bManager – reveals, this has the potential to give the company far-reaching 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.”

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 long-term 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.CastAlum c

“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
www.castalum.com

Canny business

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

Founded 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 Stolle afacilities 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 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 Systemglue 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 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 f

“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 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 adds. “There are now many different elements to our business, including the spares and aftermarket activities, which were worth $1 million in 2006, but Stolle bare 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 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 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 has 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.”

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 Stolle cinitiatives 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 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
www.stollemachinery.com/stolle-europe

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

For 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 Oilgear 1continues 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 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 Oilgearnew 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 Oilgear 2to go out and win business for Oilgear. Within the facility, we also have extensive, automated testing capabilities, including test stands delivering up 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 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 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 Oilgear 3presence 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 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
www.oilgear.com

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

Just like the Titan from Greek mythology with whom the company shares a name, Atlas Packaging has become famous for its formidable strength and endurance.

Atlas 1Established 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 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 Ltdperspective, 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 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 startup 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 sort of involvement in.

“As I mentioned, retail is a big part of our customer base and along with food and 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 Atlas 2packaging 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 Atlas 3now. 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 well-trained, close-knit team on our shop floor.

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 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
www.atlaspackaging.co.uk

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

Aspecialist 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 IAC 1of 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 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 industry-specific 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 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 IAC 2customers 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 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, 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’ IAC 3iconic 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 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
www.iac.aero

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

For 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 Clade 1recognized 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 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 inter-connecting pipework and cables – from suppliers in 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 Clade 2have 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 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.

Clade Engineering Solutions - A1 Engineering Solutions Ltd
Products: Refrigeration and building services
www.a1-es.co.uk

Electric dreams

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

In 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 Volt 1small 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 Buckinghamshire-based 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 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. comWhile 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 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.”Volt 2

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
www.voltbikes.co.uk

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