Profiles

Working together

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

The 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. StopTheSpread.org 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 Ventec GM1safety 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 StopTheSpread.org, 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. 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 we work together to address urgent and life-saving 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 Vemntec GM2the 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 CDC-recommended 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 GMwere 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.

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-Ventec1changing product VOCSN

Following 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, patie 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.

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.”Ventec2

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 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 Ventec3enabling 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. 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.”

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 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 VentecLife.com 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
www.VentecLife.com

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

Characterized 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 Domsjo1find 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 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 Domsjo2burned, and provides energy in the form of steam, which we feed-back 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 closed-loop bleach plant. Finally, the bleached cellulose is dried, sheeted and packed into bales, with 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 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
www.domsjo.adityabirla.com

Sweeping the globe

Scarab Sweepers is a leading manufacturer of truck-mounted road sweepers with a long history of environmentally-friendly product innovation

Established in 1979, Scarab Sweepers began life as an innovative family business. In the 1980s Scarab pioneered the development of a single-engine Truck Mounted road sweeper with the release of the Major 3000 arriving in 1988. And this Scarab 179 binnovation set the foundations for a company that, today, is the leading proponent of Ltdsingle-engine, eco-conscious products.

“Even back in the 1980s when it wasn’t topical or fashionable, Scarabs main ethos revolved around environmentally-friendly, single emission sweepers, and it remains as important to us now as it was back then,” Scarab’s Business Development Manager, Andy Farley says.

In 2011 Scarab became a member of the Fayat Group, and together with French company Mathieu, and Dutch company RAVO form the Fayat Environmental Solutions division. With over 150 years of combined experience, the division is committed to a clean future through the deployment of its broad range of sustainable sweepers for the compact, mid-size, truck-mounted, and specialist truck-mounted sectors.

“Emissions control is becoming more and more important for operators and contractors, especially for those operating in areas like London, Birmingham and Edinburgh where Low Emission Zones are being introduced,” notes Scarab’s Manager of Marketing and Product Development, Gary Kelleher. “We have remained strong with our message and as a result we are seeing an increase in enquiries for our single-engine solutions. We are also working in parallel with ongoing developments in alternative fuels such as CNG, electrification, and hydrogen. We’ve always been at the forefront of technological advancements and we’ve had a lot of success with our CNG solutions across various areas of the UK and Europe where the infrastructure exists. Our strategy is to support customers in transitioning from a twin engine, to a single engine platform, and then pave the way for the wide-scale introduction of alternative fuel solutions.”

Following on from the revolutionary early product developments, Scarab has continued to break new ground. In 2003, the Company became the first road sweeper manufacturer to supply all its sweepers with a CANbus control and diagnostics system. Intuitive and easy to use, CANbus has changed the way Scarab’s machines are operated and maintained, providing users with comprehensive feedback including warnings and service reminders, as well as real-time monitoring and datalogging capabilities. Gary explains, the company is always on the lookout for similar product development opportunities that ‘innovate’ rather than ‘copy’.

New product development
“For us, a large portion of product development is always going to be driven by customer feedback. Being close to our customers is vital for us to understand how to improve quality, ease of maintenance, reduce cost of ownership, as well as constantly refining the industry leading operating experience for which we are renowned. We are also constantly looking beyond what is happening in the sweeper sector to see if we can find innovative environmental solutions elsewhere that we can adopt in our own industry.

“We are preparing a number of interesting new products for release in the next six to 12 months. They all revolve around introducing positive, value-added solutions for customers, whilst also keeping an eye on the long-term goal. We are on a mission to have the most environmentally friendly range of sweepers in the industry; that is something we strive to achieve and is at the core of all new product development projects.”

As a truly global business, Scarab exports a large portion of its products to continental Europe and far beyond. Though the company focuses on single-engine solutions, it still offers their twin-engine counterparts, which have proven to be the product of choice from Chile to Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia to North America. Despite this, Gary claims that Scarab’s Vision is still to introduce its single-engine solutions to more international customers in the future.

“We understand that there is a place in the market for twin-engine sweepers and for that reason we still have twin engine solutions in our range, with both Stage V and IIIA engines options available,” he states. “The M6 and M65T export sweeper kits we offer, for example, have been designed specifically for easy and economical shipping worldwide. Due to their flexible design, they are also easily mounted on a huge range of chassis from any region. This allows customers access to Scarab’s trusted quality anywhere in the world with minimal fuss.”

Facility acquisition
What unites all aspects of Scarab’s product offering is a central focus on high quality, high performance sweepers, recognized as some of the industry’s best options in terms of economy and system control. Manufacturing its products from sheet metal upwards, Scarab’s skilled local engineers have recently benefited from major investment in the firm’s production facilities.

“We’ve been in Marden, Kent, for over 40 years,” Richard Cardwell, Head of Manufacturing explains. “Over the years the site has developed through a process of evolution as we’ve taken on new processes and added new functions. These adjustments were made to the existing layout without ever really stepping back and optimizing the whole site, that is until very recently. The parts warehouse, service workshops and the new product development bay, were all intermixed around production operations in the same buildings. Furthermore, the assembly functions were disconnected in different buildings across the site so there was a clear opportunity to dramatically improve the visual management and lean performance of the whole process.”

After considering several options, Scarab opted to take over a new 34,000 square foot warehouse and workshop facility located on the same industrial estate. The acquisition allowed for a 30 per cent increase in the overall footprint of the operations. “It was a strategic decision for us,” Andy comments. “The building was completely refurbished with new facilities and a new office area to accommodate our aftersales team. The entire aftersales organization, including spare parts, service, and the demonstration fleet all moved into that building around October last year and having the whole team working together has brought considerable synergies.”Scarab 179 c

Workplace transformation
Richard comments: “In November last year we traded our main office block in for a two-storey office providing 5000 square feet of modern office accommodation - again on the existing site.” Now approaching the final stages of site development, Scarab expects the project to be completed by the end of September 2020 and Richard is confident that it will prove hugely beneficial in supporting Scarab’s plans to develop new products and markets and growing production volumes.

“In terms of production, it’s given us space in the factories to reorganize things in a more logical way and improve the flow of our processes,” he reports. “We’ve rolled out extensive 5S implementation across the whole site and transformed every square meter in terms of cleaning, painting and creating organized workspaces and visual management making it very lean. We’re very excited with the progress and keen, post-Covid, to start inviting customers and suppliers to come and take the Scarab Tour.

“Combined with this we have made significant investments in plant and equipment including cranes, material handling and access platforms which all help transform our processes and improve productivity and safety. We’ve always been vertically integrated as a manufacturer. We are not just an assembly plant - we cut a huge amount of metal using laser cutting, CNC folding, and extensive fabricating and welding on site for all the major components. Our painting process has undergone some significant development of both the paint system and the processes, and we are setting new standards in the industry in terms of paint finish. From sheet metal coming in at one end to a whole vehicle going out the door at the other, by carefully controlling these processes in-house we can optimize flexibility, maximise speed and dependability, keep our costs under control, and make sure that the quality we put out is of the highest possible order.”

Though the new facility is set to play an instrumental role in Scarab’s future, the company, at its core, is a friendly and personable business that values, above all, the contribution of its workforce. Communicating a shared vision across the business has been vital to Scarab’s growth, suggests Andy.

During the Covid-19 pandemic Richard confirms this was especially true. “Success has been about keeping our staff on board. We took the difficult decision towards the end of March to close the factory – a decision which we reviewed daily as a Senior Leadership Team over the course of five weeks. We maintained a skeleton team running the aftersales department for spare parts and service to ensure we continued to meet the expectations of customers who were still operating our equipment. We were fortunate that we had a healthy order book when the crisis started and a factory, product, and premises that allowed us to reorganize ourselves to socially distance when we brought people back to work. As our staff and visitors returned, we wanted them to have a safe space to work so we’ve introduced new cleaning regimes, new sanitizing and PPE stations in every work area, erected polycarbonate screens, created signage and floor markings throughout including one way systems and thermal cameras for checking temperatures when people come into the buildings. The workforce has been very supportive of all the steps we have taken going above and beyond to keep everyone safe.”

Business Vision
Having weathered the Coronavirus storm, Scarab now has its sights set firmly on the company’s long-term future. In October 2019, the Company appointed a new Managing Director in the shape of Gary Watson, who has already set about shaping the company’s future. For Scarab, it is clear that the next five or ten years will be about growth.

“When Roger Hoadley founded Scarab in 1979, he envisioned a technology that would revolutionize the world of sweeping,” Gary Watson says. “Single engine sweepers were little known at that time yet he had a desire to change the status quo. And in so doing, Scarab’s environmental credentials were born and its journey towards enhancing society’s wellbeing had begun. It’s my privilege to take the helm of a company built from such a clear purpose. And today, backed by the Fayat Group, Scarab has a healthy balance sheet, a skilled and dedicated workforce, and a desire to provide the most environmentally friendly range of truck mounted sweepers in the market. These fundamentals will breathe life into our Business Vision, which includes substantial investment in NPD and marketing, expansion of our business globally, and further expansion of our facilities. My role is to help position this incredible company for the next part of its journey, and I’m truly thrilled by that prospect.”

Scarab Sweepers Ltd
Products: Road sweeper manufacturer
www.scarab-sweepers.com

A winning mix

Founded in 1939, specialist manufacturer of workwear Wearwell has traded through wars and now a pandemic – and one area that has helped support its success, is the company’s dedication to manufacturing in Great Britain

Founded over eight decades ago, the Wearwell we see today has evolved through management buy-outs, new owners, updated factories, and changing market trends. The company as it stands in 2020, is now owned by Richard Wright and Rockpool Investments, and mainly manufactures heavy workwear for the ‘lease and laundry’ sector. Ross Gard, Marketing and Product Development Director, explained that a majority of Wearwell garments are sold to companies who rent Wearwell 179 bor lease garments into a company, along with a wash contract. “Our garments are used in a wide range of industries such as molten metal, engineering, the utilities sector, as well as food manufacturing,” he added. “Working with the majority of laundries, who supply workwear via the lease and lauder model, means we have supplied workwear to a number of high-profile blue-chip companies as well as direct to clients such as RWE, who own NPower.”

Given the credentials of its customer order book, Wearwell’s service offering has to meet exacting standards of not just quality, but also flexibility and choice, and as Ross highlighted this is achieved through its somewhat unique approach. “We very much still manufacture here in the UK from our site in Tamworth, this allows us to provide a very fast response time to clients who need orders quickly! We also manufacture in North Africa, which is our middle option – it’s cheaper than the UK, but it’s not as fast. Finally, we also offer a Far Eastern option where we offer clients who are price sensitive, but time rich, the same high-quality experience as if dealing with the UK.”

Ross credits the company’s British manufacturing capability and resulting speed of delivery as a cornerstone of its success: “None of our competitors have UK manufacturing on Wearwellthe scale that we do,” he asserted. “In the late 1980s/early 1990s a lot of companies took their business offshore to Eastern Europe and the Far East, at the time Wearwell was committed to UK manufacturing employing some 115 seamstresses. We felt there was an opportunity to continue to support the lease and laundry sector by supply good quality garments quickly, and that is how we have grown the business over the years.”

He continued: “We are, to this day, still committed to UK manufacturing, we design, manufacture and distribute our garments from our Tamworth factory and it is a real selling point for us. Clients regularly visit the factory to see what we can do, to see our equipment and facilities, and to see the garments being made by our seamstresses. It fills them with a sense of confidence and trust when they can see what we do and how we do it.”

With its UK manufacturing base and also a history of manufacturing medical garments prior to the trend of offshoring, Wearwell was ideally positioned when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK and the NHS needed thousands of additional scrubs. Ross noted that “traditionally there has been a lot of red tape involved with supplying the NHS. Wearwell used to be a direct supplier to the NHS but we found the price of our UK made garments couldn’t compete with cheaper offshore alternatives, however, during these difficult circumstances the UK government relaxed the rules to allow additional suppliers, such as Wearwell, to supply much need PPE.” As a result, the business was approached by several NHS trusts. “We ended up manufacturing around 30,000 scrub sets a week pretty quickly for different trusts. At the time we were lucky we had fabric in stock, and our close relationship with our UK supply network meant we were able to procure fabric quickly. But it wasn’t just the NHS we needed to support, we also manufactured a lot of food trade workwear and those industries were designated critical workers early on in the pandemic, so we flew into action manufacturing workwear for those companies who continued to work throughout the lockdown,” he explained.

Amazing team spirit
The decision to stay open during the pandemic wasn’t taken lightly by Wearwell – the company knew that it would be called upon at some point during the pandemic, but orders were slow to materialize and the management team were keenly aware of the safety requirements of its own staff. “ After many round table discussions, the management team went to the shop floor and we asked the staff what they wanted to do,” said Ross. “We explained the situation to them and told them that we believed in the coming weeks we would be needed by the NHS. We asked them what they wanted to do, stay open and answer the call when it came, or shelter with families until it was safe to return. The response was overwhelmingly supportive – they wanted to stay open.

“As a management team it was then down to us to best manage the safety aspects around the business. We made it clear that no one would be forced to come to work if they didn’t feel safe, and that we would do everything we could to ensure their safety. We met with the shop floor twice weekly to update them on any government guidance we had received and to listen to any concerns they had. It was a surreal and heart-warming experience to know that the factory floor wanted to stay open and help support the NHS, we just need the orders!

“When the NHS orders did then start to come in, the next issue we faced was fabric supplies. While we had some fabric on the shop floor, we needed a lot more to fulfill all the orders! Working closely with our brilliant UK fabric suppliers up in Manchester we were able to secure enough fabric for the first wave of orders. Unfortunately, they had a terrible turn of fate as one of their fabric stores caught fire wiping out a large amount of stock. As a result, we set about supporting them in any way we could which included renegotiating with the NHS on specific garment colours and fabrics– given these were quite desperate times, we were able to work out a solution that meant they were happy with the newly proposed fabrics.

“It certainly was a challenging time, not only did we have the safety of our staff in the forefront of our minds and the potential supply issues but we were working double shifts of over 12-hour days, 7 days a week to get these scrubs to the front line. I remember there was an overwhelming feeling that we didn’t want to let anyone down.”

Working in an atmosphere that Ross describes as ‘as close to what I imagine a war time spirit to be’, the staff at Wearwell rose to the challenge that was presented to them, not only through amazing levels of production but also on a personal level. “There was an amazing amount of kinsmanship throughout the pandemic – whether on the shop floor or simply in providing extra mental support to one another. The company was able to help as well by placing orders on behalf of the staff for essentials like nappies, milk and loo roll, it became a real family spirit with an added can-do attitude.

“Working in marketing often means I don’t get to spend much time the shop floor talking to the staff, but during the pandemic I really got to know them. What was nice to hear was that they felt they had gained an immense sense of purpose which I can honestly say energized the whole management team.”

Thanks to Wearwell’s efforts in manufacturing the scrubs, further opportunities to supply the NHS began to materialize: “We were approached by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) one of the largest teaching hospital trusts in England, to produce and supply surgical gowns,” said Ross. The gowns will be delivered to The Birmingham Hospitals Alliance (BHA), which looks after UHB, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Hospital.Wearwell 179 c

The contract win came about after BHA’s central procurement team realized it was unable to continue relying on international suppliers and the central supply chain. It took matters into its own hands to form a working group and selected Wearwell, amongst other local manufacturers, to produce and supply up to 20,000 high quality surgical gowns per week for NHS Trust use. The gowns will be used as both PPE and for use in operating theatres.

Special relationships
As a result of the contract, Wearwell invested circa £60,000 – £80,000 in state-of-the-art sonic welding machines, as the gowns are created from a fabric that the company wouldn’t conventionally use. While looking like a traditional sewing machine, they use certain frequencies to fuse non-woven fabrics together, rather than traditional stitches. “If we had used traditional sewing methods on these gowns it would mean punching holes in the fabric, and the gowns need to be waterproof to minimize exposure to liquid,” said Ross. “We could have sewn the gowns, then sealed them using a taped seam, similar to a waterproof jacket, but there aren’t many of those machines in the UK. We opted for sonic welding as this provided the best solution, especially since other manufacturers in the UK already use this technology, meaning the NHS was able to approach other manufacturers who wouldn’t necessarily make workwear, but who have the right machines that can be repurposed. Since the first order landed, we’ve ordered an additional three sonic welders and two additional stampers specifically to help the NHS on this. They are due to be installed in the coming weeks as we ramp up our production.”

The contract requires two different types of gown – non-sterile and sterile, both using the same non-woven fabric. “Our focus is on getting the non-sterile 20,000 disposable patient gowns right, and then moving on to the sterile gowns in Phase 2. The sterile gown has a bonded fabric on the front of the garment, offering additional protection to the wearer. After we have made them, we send them for sterilization. Finally, they are sealed in a clean environment before they are sent into the NHS,” added Ross.

Ross praised his suppliers for how supportive they have been throughout the pandemic period. “As a business, we have been working with a lot of our suppliers since our inception, so we know them on almost a personal level. Having a special relationship like this has meant we were able to secure supplies of fabric and other items quickly with an understating of urgency.

“We had daily calls to suppliers where we would update them on what we were working on and they in turn let us know stock availability, work in progress and any foreseeable hurdles in supply. As you can probably imagine, there aren’t that many suppliers who can supply hundreds of thousands of meters of medical fabrics, especially when demand shoots through the roof as a number of fashion textile manufacturers also turned to manufacturing scrubs. Lucky for us, our relationships put us in a great position as we were able to able to move quickly, out pacing other manufacturers.”

As the lockdown rules are gradually relaxed, production at Wearwell carries on at pace, and Ross believes that the epidemic has highlighted some weaknesses in offshore supply chains that the business is ideally placed to support. “In my opinion, the UK manufacturing sector has shown that should another pandemic arise, then having a strong British manufacturing sector is essential to not only the supply of PPE but in the supply of essentials such as food. The Government’s recent announcement that around 20 per cent of all PPE will be manufactured in the UK by the end of the year is fantastic news for our industry and very encouraging.

“I’d like to see British manufacturing not only survives this pandemic but thrives as a result of it and I hope more businesses come along and start manufacturing back in the UK as well. There is something intensely satisfying about taking a concept and making it into something real and tangible. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is bit of magic about seeing creativity coming alive.”

Going forward, Ross also sees a greater value being placed on products to be ‘Made in Britain’. “I am already seeing and hearing of people saying they want British made products, and whilst I’m not sure if this will last the distance, as price is usually one of the biggest factors in the decision-making process, it’s great that it’s becoming a consideration. Let’s say 20-30 per cent of people decide they want to buy British-made products, that’s still a big deal. That number alone can have a huge impact on job creation here the UK especially when it seems like jobs are vanishing on a daily basis. It also has the knock-on effect of lowering our carbon footprint – for me I see that as being part of a winning mix for the future.”

Wearwell
Products: Specialist workwear
www.wearwell.co.uk

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Brewing up the future

Less than 12 months away from the completion of a major new factory in China, Strix is building on its position as the world’s number one manufacturer of kettle controls

Headquartered on the Isle of Man, Strix is a global leader in the design, manufacture, and supply of kettle safety controls, as well as other components and devices involving water heating and temperature control, steam management, and water filtration. Established in the 1980s with the goal to dominate the kettle sector, today Strix is responsible for more than 50 per cent of the value share of the global market. Approximately 90 per cent of the company’s revenue is drawnStrix 179 b from kettle control sales. The remaining ten per cent is formed through sales from the water category - which includes filtration brands like Aqua Optima and HaloSource - and the appliance category – which is split between hot water on-demand applications and baby care products.

Alongside the company’s core services, a key part of Strix’s business model is its role as a ‘solution provider’ for 200 OEMs and 450 brands and retailers around the world. Often referred to as the ‘consultants of the kettle industry’, Strix is a true innovator within the ‘other services’ segment argues the company’s CEO Mark Bartlett.

“I think Strix is quite different to a normal component supplier,” Mark declares. “Whilst we make most of our money from selling our components to China-based OEMs, there are quite a lot of value-added services that go on in the background. For our OEM customers for example, we produce industrial designs of kettles or heating elements, perform compatibility testing, and offer a comprehensive MOT for any new products utilizing a Strix control. We also work very closely with the OEMs to sell their products. A lot of the them don’t have a remote sales channel, whereas we have dedicated salespeople out in the field that will take their products to over 450 brands and retailers around the world. It enables us to sell more controls and offers valuable support for a lot of our China-based OEMs.

“On the other side of the channel, we are constantly looking at the product ranges of brands and retailers and making recommendations about additional products we could provide. We will always try and pair them with OEMs so that they get the best service and we will also support the OEM in building the products. If there are ever any issues, we are usually one of the first people to get called because our customers know that Strix solves problems. There aren’t many brands and retailers that have the resources to deep dive into a China-based OEM to solve a problem like we can. It’s not a model I’ve seen in other industries and it’s a huge selling point for us, along with our significant market share. If an OEM is making a product and wants to sell as many as possible, it makes sense to work with Strix because we have a much wider reach than anyone else - we are almost four times bigger than our nearest competitor.”

Product development
A renowned industry pioneer, Strix has worked on countless successful projects over the years including development of the Tommee Tippee baby prep appliance and the Turbo Toaster. Committed to making the lives of consumers easier, Strix places great emphasis on its relationships with brands and OEMs as part of its product development process. In some cases, the firm is able to take control of the process, fully developing a concept before selling the idea to a brand and then taking it to an OEM for manufacture.

“It’s quite a unique process,” Mark says, “but we are very heavily involved in that project management role. We can provide the core technology and help both parties to get a product to market as quickly as possible. We have been investing heavily in product development since the company was listed in 2017 and we have R&D centers on the Isle of Man, China and in Seattle. Our strong partnerships with brands, retailers, and OEMs provide us with a wide variety of insights and the opportunity to leverage on their experience and data to ensure we are developing the right products with the right features and benefits for consumers.”

Accelerating an expansion to its product offering, Strix plans to launch 14 new products this year, across the three categories – a record high for the business. This will include adding to the company’s range of kettle controls in an attempt to make it more competitive across some of its less regulated territories, new baby products that provide consumers with improved efficiency and performance, and new water appliances that afford significant energy saving opportunities.

“One of these appliances - ‘Duality’ - helps to eliminate the overfilling of a kettle and with our HaloSource product, we have added sterilization to the water category, recently launching a new system to provide farms with safe drinking water for their animals using HaloPure technology,” Mark reveals. “Later this year, we will be releasing a product called Aurora, which is effectively a stand-alone water station that does everything from boiled water to chilled water. It’s a highly efficient way of boiling water and a system that provides significant energy saving.”

Expansion plans
A proactive response to the Covid-19 pandemic means that Strix has been able to limit the impact of the virus on its full-year forecasts and its development plans remain on schedule. Innovations such as the erection of a disinfection tent Strix 179 cthat employed the company’s own HaloPure technology helped Strix’s China factory to reopen before many of its competitors. Strix also helped to produce PPE and components in breathing apparatus for the Isle of Man government. The company’s positive contribution during a global crisis has not gone unnoticed.

“We received a lot of positive press over Covid and it’s had a very encouraging impact on our share price,” Mark comments. “I’m pleased to report that Strix has continued to make a solid start to 2020. Given the global macroeconomic disruption, we remain confident in the future prospects of the company and believe we will emerge as a stronger business, well-positioned for a market recovery.

“I’ve been looking very carefully at efficiency measures to make sure we can manage our bottom line and we’ve definitely put a stronger focus on the engineering side of the business. We’ve also put emphasis on enhancing some of the roles within the senior management team so we have the right skillsets to drive us forward and we’ve certainly ramped up the number of new products we are bringing to market.”

To support the company’s program of new product development, Strix has embarked on the construction of a new factory in China. The facility will double the firm’s capacity and will have the same operating costs as Strix’s three existing Chinese sites. ‘On budget and on schedule’, Mark is confident that the new facility will be operational by August 2021.

“We recently had what they call the ‘Ceiling Ceremony’ in China, effectively capping the roof, so all external construction of the five-floor factory and warehouse is now complete,” Mark reports. “The next step is to deal with the internal works like electricity, air conditioning, and design layouts.

“As far as the manufacturing capabilities are concerned, automation is a key part of our strategy and we have made significant investments in automation over the past three to five years. On the Isle of Man, we produce more than 500 million components per year with just 38 people, and in China we are now manufacturing around 80 million controls a year with the automated lines producing a control every 1.8 seconds. It marks a significant improvement in efficiency over the last few years.”

As we enter the second half of 2020, Strix is already enjoying a positive recovery in China, as well as a rebound in other markets as lockdown restrictions are eased around the world. Currently, there is only 35 per cent global household penetration for kettles, a statistic that Mark argues should offer Strix continued opportunity for growth.

“We are operating from a very solid base and we have ambitious expansion plans for the future,” he states. “We are constantly developing new ways to grow organically and, as a highly profitable market leader, we are always on the lookout for potential opportunities for acquisition in either the small domestic appliance or water filtration markets. We are about to complete the new factory, which will give us double our current production capacity, and we expect to fill this with the various opportunities we have identified over the coming years. It’s an exciting time for Strix as we change from what was perceived as just a yield company to a yield and growth business.”

Strix
Products: Manufacturer specializing in kettle controls
www.strix.com

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Judged on its merits

With innovative thinking and industry-leading technology at the core of its strengths, Merit continues to defy the odds by growing not only in size, but also in the strength of its capabilities

At its heart, Merit is and always has been seen as a dedicated engineering and construction company. Yet, as it is proud to confess, the skills of its people and its unrelenting drive to excel has allowed it to become a provider of an ever-Merit 179 bincreasing range of services to its clientele. These range from design and to to prefabrication and modularization, and from installation and validation of process systems to mechanical and electrical services.

An award-winning business with offices located throughout the UK, Merit’s Managing Director Tony Wells has been in the role since 2002. “Back then, I was actively looking for an existing business that had the potential to be turned into a tier one, clean room design and build entity, capable of taking on more complex, technical turnkey projects, and Merit more than fit the bill,” Tony begins.

Together with an entirely new management team that he brought into the company, Tony and the team welcomed a dramatic growth period with turnover increasing ten-fold to approximately £20 million in the space of six Merityears, taking in work both at home and abroad in Europe, Asia and Australia. Following the financial crisis of 2008, Merit consolidated much of its activity back into the UK, focusing its clean room services on industries such as the healthcare sector, which proved profitable.

“In 2015, we undertook what I would call a complete rethink of our existing business plan in order to determine how we could best position Merit for significant future growth,” Tony explains. “It was at that time that we made a commitment to only be a tier one contractor, working exclusively with project owners. This would give us the added security of payment and the ability to really affect the design of said owner’s projects in a truly positive way.

“We also elected to eliminate two suppliers from our business model, meaning that today we only work directly with imbedded tier three suppliers or handle the supply element ourselves. Our capabilities include self-delivery of complex packages of work such as clean and dry room installation as well as M&E services installation. This has resulted in a significant ramping up of our BIM and offsite manufacturing capabilities. More recently, Merit has begun moving into the realm of CFD analysis, which will mean that we can effectively design buildings digitally, thus making us a fully vertically integrated company, which is something very few other players in our space can claim to be.”

Among its growing list of contracts, Merit can today be found providing new build and refit projects for high-end manufacturing and clean services in the health, pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical sectors. “Here, we are delivering design and layout solutions for clean room and dry room facilities, in a pre-designed and pre-manufactured format, three-quarters of which is created within a factory environment,” Tony details. “This process is somewhat revolutionary within this area of the construction industry, and has allowed us the opportunity to greatly increase Merit’s productivity.”

To support this, the company has made sure to invest capital back into its own infrastructure. “One of the things we have done is increase the capacity of our factory by 40 per cent, and we would like to double our existing capacity again in the short-term,” Tony adds. “As we are now also doing things like fabricating and manufacturing proprietary dryer delivery systems for HVAC duct work, we have also purchased a number of new pieces of equipment, such as a brand-new CNC bender to improve the efficiency of our fabrications. Meanwhile, to support the increase in BIM activities we have purchased a new factory building opposite to our existing facilities, which our team moved into recently and will be used primarily for tending and design operations.”

Merit’s efforts over the years have been recognized by a number of industry bodies in the form of several prestigious awards. Among these have been the North-East Business Awards’ Northumberland, Tyne & Wear Company of the Year, in both 2008 and 2018, and the 2014 CIBSE Building Performance Awards’ Refurbished Project of the Year (value over £5 million) for its work on the HVAC roof infrastructure of Harrod’s flagship Knightsbridge store in London. “Obviously, receiving any award is a fantastic achievement, provides a wonderful morale boost for our people, and helps us to raise the profile of Merit to a broader audience of potential clients, and also allows us to attract new talent into the business,” Tony enthuses, before revealing that the business had also just been shortlisted for the Offsite Awards in the category ‘Best Use of MEP and POD Technology’ – up against some very large contractors.

New business venture
Tony then returned to the topic of his staff and finding the best people. “When it comes to recruiting new members to our team, we are completely open as to whether they are male or female, young or old. Our focus is not so much on what kind of experience they have – although this can of course be taken into consideration – but rather whether they have a can-do attitude, are pro-active when it comes to their work, possess strong intelligence, and show a real passion for innovation. It is those individuals who meet that criteria that have shown themselves to be so integral to our increased productivity and growth. In short, if someone considers themselves to be hardworking, pro-active and keen for a Merit 179 cchallenge, then Merit is definitely the place for them!”

Turning our discussion to some of the more recent projects that Merit has been involved in, there are two that definitely stand out in Tony’s mind. “In a speech made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson back at the start of 2020, when he was talking up the country’s drive to be at the forefront of new technology and innovation, he made specific mention of gene therapy and the electric vehicle battery market. As fate would dictate, Merit was already responsible for building the UK’s flagship facilities for both of these sectors.

“In the case of the former, Merit was chosen to the deliver the second and third phase expansion of the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (CGTC) manufacturing centre in Stevenage, England. This has proven to be a tremendous opportunity for the company to demonstrate our offsite construction expertise in a bio-pharmaceutical environment, alongside a tremendous client to work for.”

Merit also now finds itself in the midst of providing the fit out for the clean rooms and dry rooms within the UK Battery Industrialization Centre (UKBIC) near Coventry. This flagship facility for bringing battery manufacturing to the UK forms part of the UK Government’s Faraday Battery Challenge, which is designed to ensure that the country leads the world in the global transition to a low carbon economy. “We have been tasked with building all of the technical spaces around the battery manufacturing process, and we currently find ourselves in the midst of the commissioning phase,” Tony says. “As with our work on the CGT Catapult, this is being executed via higher levels of offsite manufacturing and construction, utilizing pre-designed elements that allow us to deliver facilities that would traditionally take one or two years to go from inception to completion, in a matter of months.”

As mentioned in passing above, the focus of the business in the coming three-to-five years is to significantly increase its manufacturing volumes and thus also the number of projects it takes on. One of the ways it hopes to achieve this is through the forthcoming launch of a new business venture, Merit Health. “This will be a business that will be solely focused on our clients within the healthcare space and on providing whole hospital delivery,” Tony proclaims. “We have high expectations for it, and hope that within five years’ time it is turning over around £250 million, which would be a very sustainable, profitable level. Its success will also make a step change improvement in infection control in the hospital arena, delivered through 75 per cent offsite manufacturing. Together with our work in the gene therapy and battery manufacturing spaces, Merit Health will play a critical role in the expansion of the wider Merit operation, and we look forward to meeting our many aims.”

Merit
Services: Offsite construction specialists
www.merit.co.uk

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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

Smith & 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 self-adhesive 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.SM 179 b

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 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 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 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 Post-Consumer 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 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 Sm 179 cmanufacturers, 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
www.smcl.co.uk

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Finelight Media

Testimonials

"The article Manufacturing Today wrote about us was spot-on. It was a pleasure working with them from interview to published article and everything was as promised.” – Jennifer Brozek, inside sales, Koyo Machinery USA Inc.

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