Profiles

Sofa so good

Having made it through a challenging start to 2020, UK furniture manufacturer Buoyant Upholstery is now experiencing historic levels of demand for its products

After more than a century in business, there isn’t much the world can throw at Buoyant Upholstery that the company hasn’t seen before, but 2020 has been a year like nothing the firm has ever experienced.

Established in 1909, the company built its reputation as a leading supplier of upholstered furniture for cinemas, theatres, and luxury cruise liners. The firm has since been privately owned by Charles Wade of the Wade Furniture Group, and most recently, in 2013, was subject to a management buyout by private equity group NVM. Now predominantly focused on the production of living room furniture, life at Buoyant has never been quiet, but nothing in the company’s BU ahistory truly compares to the events of 2020.

“It’s been a crazy year,” declares Managing Director Mike Aramayo, a 20-year Buoyant veteran who knows the company better than most. “We started fantastically well with a strong order book following Christmas, winter sales, and an exhibition at the NEC. We started working on those orders and in the early part of the year, we were flying. It was then, in March, that retailers had to close down and we couldn’t manufacture for them because we had nowhere to deliver the product. We had a struggle throughout April and May obtaining money we were owed, but luckily for us, we dealt with the right retailers and managed to arrange a payment timescale so that we could pay our people what they were owed before fully opening up in June.

“When we started back up in June, nobody really knew what to expect,” Mike recalls. “What transpired was something I’ve never experienced in my 30 years in the furniture industry and I deal with a lot of other MDs who said the same thing. Furniture became the new toilet roll. It was ridiculous. British manufacturing of sofas has never been so busy. Our normal order intake would be somewhere between 1500 and 3000 at its peak, but we were getting weeks of 5500, 5000, 4000, and 4700, continuously. Very quickly, we all realized that there had been a demand built up during lockdown as people began working on home renovations and the minute they could get out and buy a sofa, the market went berserk. For us, it’s been phenomenal. It’s history in the making.”

Having started out in Nottinghamshire, Buoyant is now based in Nelson, Lancashire, where it operates out of three sites, divided into four separate factories. Each factory makes different products, combining to produce the company’s full product range of living room mainstays, sofa beds, recliners, foot stools, accent chairs, and similar complimentary pieces. The subdivision of the firm’s manufacturing process allows Buoyant to seamlessly increase and decrease production in specific areas in line with demand, an ability that has been particularly useful in supporting the fluctuating requirements of 2020.

In terms of the company’s production methods, Mike describes how buoyant blends traditional manual processes with a modern focus on environmentally friendly materials and practices. “Though we do use various technologies and machines for tasks like cutting, we are heavily reliant on manual labor,” he says. “Among the benefits of manual fabrication are that it is easy to control and you can increase and decrease production levels very quickly. Of course, it creates the possibility for human error, but you reduce the chances of that happening when you combine manual work with automation, skilled people - our Production Director George Smith has been running an upholstery factory for 40 years - and the best materials.

“Over the last ten years, the environmentally friendly situation has become a big part of our factory operation and now we only deal with traceable FSC accredited timber from replenished forests. Compliance has been a big area of development for us too,” Mike adds. “We have two or three people working in our Compliance Department, making sure we’re up to the latest British manufacturing standards and compliance efforts. As a result of these endeavors, we are preparing to launch a new model next year, which will benefit from environmentally friendly, reusable fabric. If all goes well, it will be released at the NEC exhibition in January 2021.”

Before a product reaches the factory floor, it must be designed. Innovative in its approach, in the early 2000s, Buoyant became one of the first companies in the sector to use external designers as part of its development process. Today, the firm puts a team of six designers – two internal, four external – to work on every one of its projects. For Mike, it’s all about gaining different perspectives and a fresh pair of eyes.

“If you’re just working with one designer in your factory, you’re only getting that person’s vision, whereas if you’re working with four, five, or six people, you’re getting different visions and a broad range of designs put in front of you,” Mike remarks. “We pride ourselves on leading in design because design is so important. You can have the nicest team in the world that produces the best furniture, but if your designs are not acceptable to the customer then you are struggling.

“I think there has been a massive change in people’s expectations on design over the last ten years. You used to be able to associate different age groups with different designs, but I think that, now, people have a different mindset. Customers will buy a broad range of products from a variety of categories regardless of their age or background. You’ve got 25-year olds buying products a 50-year-old would buy and vice versa, so it’s more important than ever to understand a retailer’s customer and manufacture accordingly, producing something you think would fit on their floor.BU b

“At Buoyant, we target the middle to slightly upper-end of the market. There is a lot of competition, so we try and design a lot of extras into our product that you wouldn’t normally find in our entry-level price point. We always try and give our customers more.”

The notion of ‘doing more’ is not reserved for Buoyant’s design process and is evident across all facets of the business. Over the last ten years, the firm has adopted an investment strategy that continuously provides the business with more equipment, more vehicles, more staff, and more training. Buoyant is also committed to doing more for its local community, a sentiment the business put into action in early 2020, when it turned its hand to manufacturing PPE for the NHS.

“At the height of the crisis, we reopened the factory and made gowns for the NHS,” Mike reports. “We did it at absolutely no profit to ourselves. I think we actually lost a bit of money, but it didn’t matter, we just wanted to do our bit.”

Buoyant continued to produce safety equipment up until the resurgence in demand for its own products in late summer. Since then, the company has been inundated with orders and has already been forced to stop taking Christmas delivery requests due to the exceptional levels of activity.

“We are normally well into November before we have to cut our order book off for Christmas deliveries, but this year we did it in early September,” Mike reveals. “In terms of production, foam is our most pressing issue right now. Foam is one of the major components for sofas, in particular, for seat cushions. Prices for the material have recently soared due to a shortage of a chemical called TDI used in the foam-making procedure. British furniture manufacturers are now panicking that there isn’t enough TDI for the foam companies to supply us with our cushions. It means that we have massive order books but are tackling a week-to-week situation with the procurement of the foam products we need.”

This latest challenge rounds off a testing year for the furniture industry, but it is unlikely to derail a company as resilient as Buoyant during what could be a lucrative winter. Though the firm’s short-term goal may simply be to fulfill its bulging order book by the end of 2020, Mike is confident that the backing of NVM, and the strength of Buoyant’s well-gelled management team, will help lead the business to more success in the future.

“NVM are going to be with us for the long-term, so for now, I think it’s a case of stabilizing the business again, getting it back on track, removing the massive peaks and troughs that we’ve seen this year, and then just seeing where the future takes us,” Mike suggests. “I’ve been here for 20 years now and three of our directors – George Smith, Hans Jansen and Glen Ainsworth – have been here just as long. If I’ve learnt anything over that time, it’s that we have possibly the best team in the industry and that will continue to be one of our major assets going forward. We know each other inside out because we’ve worked together for so long. Everyone gets on really well and everybody is very good at their individual jobs. It’s a group of top professionals that go above and beyond.”

Buoyant Upholstery Ltd
Products: Furniture manufacturer
www.buoyant-upholstery.co.uk

Conducting itself the right wayright way

With over 30 years of experience in fabricating world class, high end silicon devices under its belt, Newport Wafer Fab is a vital manufacturing service provider to a vast array of important industries and markets

Newport Wafer Fab (NWF) is the world’s first integrated silicon, and compound on silicon, wafer-fab, providing manufacturing services for the world’s first compound semiconductor cluster (CS Connected) and the wider global foundry Newport amarket. Launched in September 2017, following the successful acquisition of its present-day Newport site from Infineon Technologies, NWF is located in an impressive high technology campus in the West of Newport South Wales. The site itself has over 35 years of experience in the design, development and manufacture of semiconductor devices.

NWF is now an open-access foundry, providing volume manufacturing services for the silicon, CS and photonics markets. The largest wafer-fab in the United Kingdom, NWF can proudly call itself a start up with 36 years of RD&I, and high-volume manufacturing experience. “NWF offers foundry services to customers with compound, photonics and power semiconductor products,” confirms its Managing Director, Paul James. “We provide a foundry service to a diverse client group, ranging from large power semiconductor silicon-based customers, to bespoke photonics and compound fabless companies. The service that we provide is also varied and includes technology transfer and enhancements to process development.”

In just three years, NWF has secured contracts with ten customers and is currently ramping up silicon production processes to meet increasing demand, whilst developing technologies in power management, photonics and compound semiconductors. “What we do is offer a unique service as the world’s first foundry dedicated to compound semiconductor on silicon and silicon chip manufacturing,” Paul continues. “NWF is the device fab of the CS Connected, a collaborative and non-competitive organization located in South Wales. This compound eco-system brings together leading companies such as IQE, SPTS and Microchip, and HE institutions such as Cardiff and Swansea Universities, and the newly formed Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult.

“This whole eco-system is also able to offer bespoke solutions utilizing compound semiconductor materials, with NWF providing the device RD&I, and scale up volume manufacturing services for the cluster. The scale and diversity of this growing Compound Semiconductor eco-system is attracting many worldwide customers who need to exploit the advantages of these new technologies.”

When it comes to the working culture of the business, NWF has benefitted from its rich history of working with a number of global organizations, while its leadership model is focused around ‘Customer First’ principles. “The Semiconductor environment demands high levels of skill and knowledge,” Paul explains. “NWF has over 400 skilled staff and has supported many through further education. This has enabled many employees to transform their lives and careers through the provision of ‘on-the-job’ development. Indeed, many of NWF’s existing managers, engineers and technicians started their careers as frontline operators. For example, we have supported over 110 staff through NVQ levels, and over 250 through Six Sigma education with local colleges. We also have an active apprentice program with six staff starting their careers in equipment engineering in 2020, and have recruited ten graduate engineers, Newport bfour at Phd Level to support our expanding RD&I portfolio. However, we believe the critical factor is our shared alues, rooted in dynamic teamwork, passion, and a collective determination to succeed.”

NWF is a 200mm SMIF Wafer-fab, with a current capacity of 32,000 wafer starts per month of 0.18μm and above, with an expansion capability within the existing envelope to 44,000 wafers starts per month. Its Newport site has developed a wide range of semiconductor technologies ranging from MOSFETs/TIGBTs using wafer thinning methods to CMOS, analog and compound semiconductors. NWF transfers and enhances MOSFET/TIGBT processes, and develops photonic and compound processes and devices from the initial concept/design stage through production, using systems routed in automotive methodology.

Meanwhile, with the Front-end fab, NWF benefits from a large wafer thinning and wafer test cleanroom. These additional fabs provide an integrated end-to-end service, critical to things like advanced TIGBT production. NWF adopts a range of Lean operating principles, employing many of the methods developed by Toyota, such as advanced factory automation, visual controls, constraint management, and front-line empowerment through KAIZEN and GEMBA methods.

NWF has also made a number of important infrastructure investments in recent times, not least of all its installing and commissioning of a Tri-Gen Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Plant, at a cost of approximately £3 million. “We believe that this investment alone will save the business an estimated £1 million per annum,” Paul adds. “In addition to this, NWF has installed a next generation deep trench etch system from its cluster partner SPTS. This system has been used to develop complex photonics technologies. NWF has also used its advanced equipment sets to develop GAN LEDs and GAN HEMTs technology in its 200mm fab for, and with, our compound customers and partners.”

Among the contracts signed by NWF in the last two years are a ten-year agreement with Infineon, and a seven-year contract with a second major semiconductor company. Both contracts are focused on silicon power, with many products servicing the automotive market. NWF does, however, also have intentions on broadening its portfolio of clients in other industry sectors, such as data communications and healthcare.

“With our Fabless Photonics customer partner, NWF has embarked on a project to create a novel PIC platform,” Paul details. “This development program will deliver next generation photonic transmission devices into the personal healthcare market, enabling wearable, connected technologies which promise to transform healthcare systems over the next decade.Newport c

“With our cluster partner, Cardiff University, we are also developing next generation RF MMIC (Monolithic Microwave IC’s) with leading radar and communication UK based companies. Once developed, this communications and sensor project will be scaled up at NWF in bespoke cleanrooms, with further development of RF technologies being supported via the University’s new 1500-square meter RD&I wafer-fab in Central Cardiff.”

A further item of news that it would be remiss not to mention is that NWF recently won APCUK (Advanced Propulsion Centre UK) support funding to develop low carbon technologies. Through the Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF), NWF has secured two feasibility APCUK projects to explore how NWF and its cluster partners can be scaled up to meet the UK’s ‘Net Zero 2030’ challenge. NWF, the University of Swansea and the Compound Semiconductor Centre will study the installation of a SIC (Silicon Carbide) pilot line and a major scale up to accommodate 200mm SIC and GaN on silicon for the Power/Electric Vehicle (EV) market. If supported, this will create a sovereign front-end supply chain, which is a critical need for low carbon technologies. For 14 years, the NWF site – when owned by International Rectifier – was one of the world’s leading MOSFET R&D centers, and at the heart of EV engines is a MOSFET built in a SiC substrate.

Turning his attention to the coming years, Paul highlights where he sees NWF heading. “Our ambition is to expand photonics and other compound semiconductor technologies, whilst maintaining a strong power silicon business foundation. The NWF campus offers great expansion potential within our existing building, and by re-establishing cleanrooms in the original Richard Rogers building. In addition, the 200mm wafer-fab can be further expanded to the north on ground already piled for construction. The recently awarded ‘Strength in Places’ Innovate UK award of £43 million to support the CS Cluster will also help NWF to drive the RD&I programs needed to deliver devices technologies associated with its business plan.”

In conclusion, Paul states: “Many of the applications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require compound semiconductors.

NWF is the device fab of the worlds’ first compound semiconductor cluster, and we believe the UK has a unique generational opportunity to deliver and lead many of the innovations that will be needed in a net zero, connected world.”

Newport Wafer Fab
Products: Wafers for silicon products
www.nptwf.com

Putting passion into practice

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

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

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

“That’s really what sets us apart from our competitors – our people and our ability to create strong relationships. Relationship building is absolutely paramount in this line of work. Each job comes to us as its own little project and often requires collaboration between customer and supplier. It’s important to work together and devise a clear plan about the best and most efficient way to use the client’s money. Books can have different demands depending on whether they are event driven, led by author requirements, or a whole host of other things. It is still very much a personal business.”

Andy arrived at TJ Books in 2018, leading a management buyout with his business partner Andy Adams. They have since led the business through the uncertainties presented by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. The company’s stability throughout this period has been supported by an ambitious three-year business strategy they implemented not long after joining the firm.

“The first year of the strategy was about learning, the second year was about planning, and the third year was about doing,” Andy explains. “When we first arrived, we reviewed our efficiencies, and our position in the marketplace, and then decided that we needed to become more customer-driven in terms of listening to what our customers want. To back that up, we did a review of the processes and the team, making strategic improvements where required. 2020 is year three of the strategy.

“Obviously, we were hit by Covid-19 in March and that became a bit of an issue. Our capabilities were decreased to around 50 per cent for a period of time, but we were lucky in that we didn’t have to completely shut down.

“One benefit of the slowdown is that it gave us the opportunity to move the plant around and install new equipment. We really took advantage of that time to put us in the best possible position for when we come out of this troubled year. Most importantly, we haven’t altered our strategy at all; we’ve powered on through because not doing so would have been a long-term mistake.”

As part of the strategy, TJ Books recently enjoyed a major rebrand - the company was previously known as TJ International - as well as investing £1.5 million in new processes and modern equipment designed to improve efficiency and increase the firm’s offering. Already a largely technology-driven business, TJ Books manufactures its products using a portfolio of technologies that Andy describes as both ‘mature in the marketplace’ and ‘relatively new and cutting-edge’.

“From a printing point of view, we use lithographic, toner-based, and inkjet methods of printing for both mono and color books. Inkjet printing, in particular, is an area that is progressing very quickly at the moment,” he reports. “From a finishing perspective, again, we use a mixture of traditional methods and new innovations. Traditional equipment tends to be for larger volume, longer run products, and the newer machinery is a form of automated production.

“To tie all that together,” Andy adds, “we rely heavily upon management information systems (MIS), which can do a variety of things to help us run the business and relieve touchpoints.”

As part of the company’s latest investment, TJ Books will be introducing a brand-new management information system into its operation later this year. Over nine months in the making, the system has been designed by American firm EFI and is set to go live in December 2020.

“EFI understands our industry, from digital printing right through to the necessary management information systems. We started a project with them around a year ago now, looking to replace our existing system, which has been in use for eight or nine years,” Andy remarks. “The objective has always been to be best-in-class in terms of our customer facing capabilities, including customer service integration for raising orders, creating estimates, and increasing transparency.TK a

“The next stage is to ensure that the manufacturing plant is scheduled efficiently so that we can get the most product out of the business. The final area will be accurate reporting in terms of what we are producing and what each product is costing us to produce. They are the main drivers behind introducing a new MIS.”

The new management information system will not be the only new arrival to TJ Books in 2020, as earlier this year, the company added an automated finishing line for digitally produced books. Andy claims that automation in manufacturing is a key focus for the company moving forward and that customers can expect to see increased efficiency as a result.

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

“Combined with the new MIS, these technologies are likely to have a hugely positive impact on the business in terms of our service levels and cost of production, and then our ability to increase sales on the back of that. It was important for us to make the sales we’ve got more efficient and we now have a really solid platform to build on.”

An innately forward-facing business, TJ Books sees the future as an opportunity to grow and develop. As an ISO 14001 and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited organization, the company is committed to recycling 100 per cent of its production waste and is constantly looking for new ways to operate in a more environmentally-friendly manner. This culture of continuous improvement carries through to all areas of the business, including manufacturing, where Andy sees great potential for development.

“The focus, which has really been highlighted by the Covid-19 experience, is to dig deeper and see where we can automate even further,” he reveals. “The pandemic has accelerated some of our thinking about how we can introduce more automation into the business, to the point where it is one of our most discussed topics. Like the majority of businesses, we have taken a bit of a hit in our sales line this year, so over the next one or two years, we need to work hard to get it back up where it was and then we can think about pushing the business forward.

“Further down the line, it’s all going to be about offering a wider gambit of products to our customers and offering them in a quicker turnaround time,” Andy notes. “Publishers are concentrating on taking risk out of their businesses at the moment, especially in terms of stock, so they want to order less books, but they want to be able to have them quicker and more often. Everything we do will be targeted towards that because if we don’t stay in tune with what our customers want then there will be no TJ Books.”

TJ Books
Products: Book manufacturer
www.tjbooks.co.uk

Chemistry for tomorrow

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

Founded in 1845 – in Accrington, Lancashire – William Blythe Ltd is one of the oldest specialty chemical businesses in the UK. Initially formed to produce inorganic chemicals for the local textile industry, today the company delivers specialty chemical solutions to help its customers meet modern technological challenges in markets ranging from life sciences, performance coatings and polymers, to electronics, catalysts and renewable energy.

William Blythe Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Synthomer plc, and with this support utilizes industry-leading manufacturing technology, which it combines with world-class chemistry R&D and analytical capabilities to cultivate an evolving portfolio of inorganic derivatives of elements such as copper, tin, iodine, zinc and tungsten. The core capabilities that it uses to create its product range are controlled bi-tri metallic precipitation, redox reactions and hydrothermal synthesis. In more recent times, the company has also worked closely with a range of customers pursuing novel applications for functionalized graphene oxide and doped metal oxides.

“One of William Blythe’s major markets is polymer additives, specifically inorganic materials that go into flame retardants in PVC and polyamide, and from those that facilitate the thermal stabilization of polyamide,” explains William Blythe’s Business Director David Crossley.William Blythe a

Very much an international business, some 70 per cent of William Blythe’s sales are export driven. Sales and Marketing Director, Kevin Hudson, is able to divulge exactly why the company, and its products and solutions are so well travelled. “We manufacture high purity, rigorously defined, consistent products, coupled with the ability to customize our products where the need arises. We combine this with excellent customer service and on time deliveries, which is appreciated by our customers all over the world. Furthermore, we possess a high level of expertise in controlling both the physical and chemical properties of our products, and are constantly looking at where we can offer product enhancements, and this is what drives our business forward.”

A recent example of the company’s product development efforts has been its creation of its own high capacity, granulated, finished absorbent: DURAGUARDTM. Engineered to give industry leading performance, it is designed to remove sulphur from hydrocarbon streams, and boasts unrivalled absorption capacity and durability to natural gas processing operators. In fact, such has been the success of DURAGUARDTM, that in the 18 months since it was developed it has become one of the company’s biggest drivers of growth.

The manufacturing epicenter of the company is its 26-hectare site in Accrington. “Here we have three core manufacturing plants,” David states. “We have our high-volume copper plant, where we manufacture a range of copper derivative products used predominantly in the catalyst and gas purification industries. We then have the tin plant, where we manufacture our flame retardants and tin catalyst products, and thirdly our iodine plant. Here, we manufacture our iodine specialty chemicals that go into a wide range of applications including food additives, electronics, pharmaceutical and printing.

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

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

A second advanced material that William Blythe has spent considerable time developing is its LUXACALTM product range. LUXACALTM is a doped tungsten oxide nanomaterial used in ‘inkless’ digital printing and as an active material for the absorption of radiation in the near infrared (NIR) wavelength range. “We developed this specifically for a client that wanted to make use of a new printing technology which required a NIR absorber to absorb laser energy, transform it into heat, and cause an image to appear,” Kevin says.

While the company had no direct previous experience of manufacturing such a material, the R&D team looked at all possible routes and established that hydrothermal synthesis was the best option. Over the last five years, the company has developed a range of hydrothermal reactors that give it the capability to cover the entire scale up process for new materials, from a five-liter laboratory plant, to a pilot plant of 40 liters, through to a 1000-liter main plant, which it has installed William Blythe bon site. This new hydrothermal synthesis capability allows the production of novel nano sized doped metal oxide materials with different functionality, and what is unique to William Blythe is the ability to produce these materials at commercial scale.

“Another area of increased focus for William Blythe is energy storage,” David adds. “We have several projects ongoing with Innovate UK as part of its Faraday Battery Challenge initiative, where we are working with different companies on active anode and cathode materials for niche and next generation cells. We have also made a significant investment into our R&D laboratory to install application capability that will allow us to manufacture coin cells, quickly getting access to performance data on new active materials.”

If William Blythe delivers on the above pipeline of projects, then it will unquestionably be enjoying significant growth in the future. In the meantime, however, the company finds itself navigating the highly disruptive year that has been 2020. “The Covid-19 pandemic obviously resulted in working practices changing quite dramatically at the beginning of the year,” David confirms. “As we were classed as an essential business we were able to continue to operate, however we moved some of our people to work from home wherever feasible, whilst being able to safely implement social distancing and other procedures on site to ensure a Covid-19 secure workplace in line with government guidelines. The safety of our workforce was our number one priority throughout, and their collective ability to keep us operational and still meet all of our customers’ deliveries on time and to specification has been fantastic to witness.”

Due to the nature of its products and the wide breadth of markets that it serves, the company has thus far been able to ride out the challenges posed by 2020 and the global pandemic. Looking ahead, there are a number of aims that it has to ensure that it pushes forward with its growth strategy. “For us, the immediate future is about delivering on products such as DURAGUARDTM; – which continues to win market share – and LUXACALÔ, while also supporting our core business of polymer additives with more application data,” Kevin states. “We have a new product coming on stream in the polymer additives field that we are excited to soon be able to share with the industry, and we believe that will drive demand in the next few years. All things considered, therefore, there is a lot of positivity and optimism within William Blythe for what is ahead.”

William Blythe Ltd
Services: Bespoke inorganic chemical products<
www.williamblythe.com

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


Leading the way

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

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

“Let’s be honest,” begins Ian Crabbe, Royston’s Managing Director, “if you say lead to anybody, they will think almost instantly of lead pipes by the Romans. Following that, they usually believe that, because the material is so old, everything that lead could be used for has already been invented.

“At Royston Lead, we respond to these arguments through the way that we operate. Firstly, we have deliberately employed skillsets from outside of the lead industry to give us a fresh perspective on what we do. Our Sales Manager, for example, has a different background and has brought along a focus on customer care, our service offering, and many other things you would not traditionally associate with a manufacturing business. We are highly client-centric, and working with a close network of partners, we aim to find solutions for any customer request.

“Secondly, as we move into more automation and better controls in our manufacturing process, we have not only been able to improve quality, but also our in-house health and safety performance and our environmental performance too. Robotics and better tooling take people away from tasks where previously they were close to lead work or interacting with the material in a way that we would rather limit. You actually get to a point where you start to see lead in a slightly different light. It’s infinitely recyclable and low energy in terms of using old scrap lead to create new products, and as such, it is part of the modern world’s circular economy.”

Originating from a boilermaker called George Royston & Sons, Royston Lead began to focus on lead production in the mid-1900s, Leadand by the turn of the century, had become a global supplier of lead-related products, from anodes to window sash weights, sealing materials for the industrial sector to lead ballast for use in shipping. As the business progressed through good times and bad, its offering grew, allowing the firm to become a valued supplier to a variety of industries across the globe. Its success led to a buyout and by 2015, Royston Lead joined a group of top UK lead businesses, alongside the EnviroWales smelting facility in Ebbw Vale, and rolled lead sheet distribution businesses servicing the construction sector in the UK and Europe. It was at this time that Ian joined Royston, tasked with reviewing what the company did well and what could be improved to make the organization more profitable.

“When I joined the business, we were doing about £8 million in turnover and our focus was mainly on the domestic market,” Ian recalls. “The first thing we did was analyze each area of the business, sector by sector, focusing on how to rebuild the company’s skills, sales proficiency and production capabilities. One of the things I noticed was that the anode business that had been so strong in the latter part of the previous century wasn’t really all that active. I ended up heading out to South America, which had always been a great market for us, and tried to understand what we could do to improve sales of our anode products. We refocused our sales and support presence in the region to address the issue, began to rebuild that business, and then moved on to do a similar thing with lead shielding, looking more globally, getting the products back up on to their feet again in regions like Continental Europe and the Middle East.

“Over the last five years, we’ve increased our turnover to around £20 million, moving from an almost wholly domestic business to one that is now broadly 50/50 between domestic and export sales. It’s surprised some people, but our products travel extremely well and it allows us to approach those international markets efficiently and easily. It’s also helped by the fact that the price of lead is set by the London Metal Exchange, so everyone in the world is working at a Royston bvery similar lead price. By looking at innovation, process efficiency, and quality, we are now able to compete, not just on a national stage but on an international level too. Last year, we sold into southern Africa, South America, Europe, the Middle East and India.”

Year on year, Royston Lead strives to improve and update its products and processes, adding new technologies or services to its already comprehensive offering. Since Ian joined the firm, Royston has focused on anode products, shielding for the medical sector, and most recently, ballast and specialist ballast for the shipping industry. Driven by a culture of continuous improvement, Royston challenges its employees to always ask ‘why?’ when it comes to the company’s technologies and production methods. The approach continues to help the firm find better ways to operate, and despite the maturity of the lead industry, Royston has lodged two new patents in the last 12 months. As part of the company’s evolution, Ian explains that Royston is looking to introduce more automation and robotics in its manufacturing processes.

“We have decades of knowledge in this business and we always try to make the most of that, but we also understand that there is room to do things differently and space for new ideas,” he states. “We are never afraid to use modern production techniques, like automation, in what is a very historic business, and we have found that it not only helps productivity, but also quality control because you have a system that has better checks and gives you a better understanding of what your clients want.”

By combining the experience of its workforce with modern manufacturing processes, Royston has built what Ian calls a ‘client-led ecosystem’ supported by strong supplier relationships and the latest technology. The resultant increase in turnover has allowed Royston to feed more funds into Research and Development and new product creation.

“Looking forward, there are more process improvements and automations that we want to implement, primarily in the casting side of the business, but also in other areas,” Ian adds. “There are three automation projects which are currently nearing completion. We have the automated production of anodes, which uses a patented technique, including the robotic handling of the semi-finished product and the finishing of the product on an automated system. At the same time, one of our ballast customers procures a substantial amount of material from us, so we’ve introduced an ABB robot with a changeable head, which allows us to cut the material to shape and package it in an automated process line. The final project is stamped products, for which we have put an automatic stamper with a robotic offload facility to allow us to make products more quickly and efficiently.”

In a year dominated by Covid-19, Royston has maintained sales as a consequence of the global nature of its business, continuing to receive orders from overseas customers, even while the UK market slumped. Among other things, a rise in demand for lead shielding in the medical sector has kept the firm busy throughout 2020 and, as a company working with lead, Royston’s already stringent health and safety procedures made for an easy transition to a Covid-safe working environment. Though a degree of business uncertainty remains - fueled not only by Coronavirus, but also Brexit - Ian is confident that Royston’s focus on quality and customer service will spur the business on to further growth.

“In terms of quality, if you take anodes as a classic example, many of our customers say that we have some of the best anodes, if not the best anodes, in the world,” Ian reveals. “What’s clear is that we produce one of the best products in that particular market, so it’s important for us now to understand why it is best and what we can do to make the product or service even better.

“We do see the Covid-19 hangover being a little bit longer than any of us had hoped, and along with any other manufacturing company in the UK, we would most definitely welcome progress in our relationship with Europe at the end of this year, but we also believe that change brings new challenges and opportunities. As long as you are awake, listening to your customers, and preserving those key relationships, change allows you to find new ways of working and sometimes those new ways are better than the old ones.”

Royston Lead
Products: Specialist lead products
www.roystonlead.com

Happy returns

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

Born out of a belief that more could be achieved together, Schoeller Allibert was formed through the acquisition and consolidation of some of the industry’s most successful returnable transit packaging (RTP) manufacturers, including Schoeller, Wavin, Perstorp, Arca, Linpac, Allibert, and Paxton. The result is a business that is, today, one of the largest producers of RTP for material handling in the world. “Due to the fact that the company has been shaped by such a large SA agroup of quality RTP firms, Schoeller Allibert has a history and heritage unlike anyone else in the industry,” explains UK Operations Director Jackie Johnson. “The knowledge and experience in the company helps us to provide our customers with value in their supply chains through the products we produce. I believe that what truly sets this organization apart from its competitors though, is that we are very customer-centric in how we operate. We are a solution-based provider, as opposed to a company that makes boxes. For us, it is all about the solution, not the individual product that may eventually come to function in that role.”

Though Schoeller Allibert is headquartered in the Netherlands, the company’s UK branch - where Jackie is based - is located in Winsford, Cheshire. Acting as the centre for all UK production, the Winsford facility has recently benefitted from a significant program of investment directed towards both machinery and people. According to Jackie, the aim is to drive the site towards becoming a vital part of Schoeller Allibert’s efforts to deliver ‘the latest generation of returnable packaging solutions’.

“In terms of technology, we are an injection molding manufacturer, so any technology related to the manufacture of injection molded products is key for us,” Jackie remarks. “The investment we have received recently will go towards increasing the automation of our facility, but we will be doing so in conjunction with developing our people. We are working very closely with our operations teams to deliver an upskilling program for our staff that is designed to work hand in hand with any automation or new technology that we bring into the site. This enables employees to develop and enhance their skillset to move from manual roles to those where they can acquire greater technical knowledge. For example, operators can, and have, developed from assembly roles to engineering apprenticeships. Additionally, investing in our technology, automation and people helps us to continue our absolute focus on quality consistency, driving innovation, reducing lead times, and achieving excellence in health and safety.” Focusing on customers across seven key market segments - agriculture, automotive, food and beverage, food processing, retail, industrial manufacturing, and pooling - Schoeller Allibert offers a comprehensive range of standard and bespoke RTP solutions, from foldable large containers to pallets and dollies. No matter what is being manufactured, when it comes to RTP, Schoeller Allibert has become synonymous with high quality, durable, sustainable products that contribute to efficient supply chains through lower transport costs, reduced waste, and enhanced green branding.

“In a traditional manufacturing facility, you have a production plan and a work order and a product is developed around that,” Jackie states. “At Schoeller Allibert, we do things differently and try to bring the customer closer to the people who are preparing the machines or doing assembly work – the people actually manufacturing the product. Rather than being told about order number 22341, our staff know the name of the customer and often have an understanding of their business - this is their product, their colour and this is the specification. It means that the customer is always part of the process.”

The emphasis Schoeller Allibert places on its clients is supported by a central innovations team dedicated to improving customer supply chains – a department that Jackie claims is ‘the strongest in the business’. With the ability to design and develop new products from concept to production, the innovation team regularly works closely with customers, offering supply chain solutions that reduce cost, reduce environmental impact, and add value. Among solutions the innovations team has helped to implement in recent times are the introduction of Euroclick stackable containers, the Schoeller Allibert System Integrator (SASI) range of containers and the new eCommerce ready Maxinest® Etail product. Schoeller Allibert has also begun supplying Maxinest crates to Cleveron picking robots adopted by several major retailers. It is a step into the future for a pioneering product that, in many ways, laid a foundation upon which the RTP industry has grown.AS b

“Originally created and introduced to the retail market by Paxton’s, one of Schoeller Allibert’s consolidated companies, the Maxinest has been in the market for over 20 years,” Jackie reports. “It is a proven, sustainable product that has spawned a lot of me-too versions over the years.

“What strikes me about the Maxinest is that it facilitates an efficient supply chain that becomes invisible at the point of sale, ensuring that the product retailers are looking to promote is forefront and not the packaging in which it is kept. As an RTP solution, the Maxinest also contributes immensely to reducing carbon footprints because it is recyclable and it nests when it is empty, so you are optimizing your return logistics space. For me, that is what makes our product essential in the marketplace.”

Being so well established in the market has been greatly beneficial to Schoeller Allibert throughout a year that Jackie admits has been challenging from an operational perspective. Though the Covid-19 pandemic has led to many staff being forced to work from home, the Operations Director says she is proud of the way the company’s workforce has adapted and responded.

“I think it has been a real success in the way people have approached it,” Jackie declares. “The commitment and effort people have put in to ensure that we still deliver quality work and support the team onsite has been very encouraging. Under normal circumstances, you could go and have a chat with somebody if you wanted to look at optimizing the run of a production plan or something like that, but those tasks have had to be done remotely. Our teams have created new ways of doing things. They have looked at new templates and adapted how they work to support the operation when they are not there. People have engaged before being instructed. It’s been a story of ownership and responsibility.”

The post-Covid-19 outbreak environment Jackie describes is reflective of Schoeller Allibert’s larger culture of inclusion and teamwork. This ethos, and the workforce’s belief in it, was illustrated in 2019 when the company experienced labor availability issues during its peak season. After launching an initiative called Project Unity, the whole business came together to support operations and achieve a shared goal. Jackie has seen similar togetherness in 2020.

“We supply into some key areas, such as food, retail, and supply chains for the NHS, so it has been an extremely busy time for us, but our team has got right on board. In particular, some of our employees got together in their own time, took some redundant material, and manufactured their own tool to create visors for the NHS. The business supported the group as they produced and assembled the visors and we eventually supplied them free of charge to local hospitals and care settings around the area. That is the sort of culture we’ve got - a can-do culture focused on the customer and overall success of the business.”

Having cultivated such a dynamic, efficient, and united workforce, Schoeller Allibert now plans to focus on providing its teams with skills for the future. As employees embark on academic and vocational upskilling and multiskilling programs over the next 12 months, Jackie is confident that the company will remain at the head of the RTP industry for years to come.

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

Schoeller Allibert Limited
Services: Returnable transit packaging solutions
www.schoellerallibert.com/uk

A new way of thinking

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

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

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

“From that humble beginning, NeoInsulation has really gone on to revolutionize the insulation industry,” Justin adds. “It is an industry that has not seen much advancement or innovation over the last 30 or 40 years, but Neo has turned it upside-down with new pioneering, patented insulation applications that are removable, reusable, water resistant, fire retardant, and completely safe.”

Today, in 2020, NeoInsulation offers insulation products for two primary purposes: freeze protection and heat retention. The company has also recently introduced a variety of electrical services to its offering. These include electrical heat tracing, which involves providing a heating element to be used in conjunction with insulation.

“We continue to evolve and improve our product line,” Justin reports. “We are always trying out different raw materials, whether it is a different form of interior insulation, a different type of Velcro, or a different exterior fabric. It’s important for us to constantly look for ways to upgrade the product, but still, there is little doubt in my mind that we simply have the best offering available on the market today. The fact that our product is removable and reusable is critical because traditional forms of insulation are not and so anytime you have to remove them, you have to pay somebody to come back out and reinsulate your equipment. That is not necessary with NeoInsulation, so your maintenance costs are virtually zero.”

At present, NeoInsulation manufactures all its products in the United States. A 25,000 square-foot facility in Oklahoma City is home to the majority of the firm’s in-house operations, but in order to meet growing demand for its products, NeoInsulation has recently partnered with an Arkansas-based outsourcing firm. With over 600,000 square feet of production space, the manufacturer produces a variety of standard insulation products for NeoInsulation, preventing the company’s Oklahoma facility from ever becoming overwhelmed.

Rising demand for NeoInsulation products comes as a direct result of the company’s success in the oil and gas industry. Having developed what Justin describes as a ‘niche in the midstream sector’, the firm serves a group of customers who, by nature of their work, are constantly changing their valves, pipes, and equipment.

“The midstream sector presents us with a very fluid situation and the companies who operate in that market have developed a fondness for NeoInsulation because of the removability aspect of our product,” Justin reveals. “We have recently won some very large contracts with major midstream players in the US on natural gas processing facilities. It’s very exciting.

“We continue to get work in new geographical areas across the country too,” Justin adds. “For example, we are currently performing projects in South Texas. Now, if you are familiar with South Texas, you wouldn’t think we’d be doing much insulation down there because it’s pretty warm, but that is where our heat retention insulation has really come into play. A lot of refineries intentionally heat up their commodity in order to separate the oil and gas from the water and so it is our job to retain that heat through insulation.

“We are also performing HVAC work for large institutions like hospitals in Oklahoma and universities in Texas. The heating and air-cooling side of the business is a new venture for us because we started out solely focused on oil and gas, but we identified HVAC as a great opportunity and we are trying to expand our activity into that area.”Neoinsulation b

As part of NeoInsulation’s latest research and development efforts, the company is now looking towards the introduction of Smart Covers – insulation covers that provide their own heating element. In addition to eliminating the need for an external heat source, the firm is hopeful that Smart Covers will be able to report data such as temperature and pressure drops back to a centralized location. Intelligent technology and data collection will help to modernize what is already a groundbreaking product, but Justin argues that NeoInsulation’s success is not solely down to innovation.

“We are very innovative as an organization, but honestly, the biggest differentiator between Neo and other companies is the talent that I have been able to find and put together to form my team,” Justin proclaims. “I’m a big believer in culture and developing people and I’ve been very fortunate to amass a team of people that are not only creative, but also aggressive and very willing to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. It has allowed us to execute with excellence, which is one of our mantras. If you can execute with excellence, and you have the best product, you’ve got a really good chance of success.”

Having owned and operated multiple businesses throughout the course of his career, Justin believes that nothing is more critical to a company than its people. From his early days leading NeoInsulation, the CEO has made it his priority to instill a culture that worked best for the company, its employees, and its customers. Justin’s efforts are reflected today in NeoInsulation’s united focus on teamwork and a ‘servant attitude’ that aims to make life easier for every single one of the firm’s customers.

“Our approach to service is taken straight from Jeff Bezos at Amazon,” Justin declares. “We are absolutely obsessed with our customer. That filters down through our workforce. I spend a lot of time making sure we’ve got the right people on the bus in the right positions because it is vital that new hires share our values, understand our vision, and really buy into it. We want to be an organization where our employees are here for much more than just a paycheck.”

One way Justin aims to accomplish this is through NeoInsulation’s employee profit sharing plan. As part of the initiative, every quarter, the company disperses 20 per cent of its profits between all members of staff.

“People think I’m crazy for doing it,” Justin says of the plan, “but it allows all our employees - no matter how high up or low down they are on the chain - to feel like an owner and believe they can benefit from the growth of the company. In my experience, it means that they start making better decisions for the business as they know it is going to affect their bonus and their bottom line.”

The company’s performance in recent times certainly justifies Justin’s methods. In August 2020, NeoInsulation was named on the annual Inc. 5000 list, the most prestigious ranking of the USA’s fastest growing companies. The achievement comes on the back of growth of 212 per cent over the last three years, earning the company a place at number 2005 on the list and putting it in the top 50 per cent of America’s most dynamic independent businesses. The accomplishment has already got Justin itching for more.

“We are excited about our growth potential,” he remarks. “I just met with my executive team last week and discussed this in detail. We currently have field offices in Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, and North Dakota, but we expect within a year or so to have field offices in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, South Texas and Colorado. We go where the work is. It doesn’t require intense amounts of capital for us to set up a field office, so we have the flexibility to grow and expand very quickly. Eventually, we aim to take that expansion overseas.”

In what Justin terms a ‘highly fragmented’ industry with many small businesses jostling for position, the CEO believes that NeoInsulation can grow to dominate the sector in the next few years, becoming the standard name for insulation in the industry. “I joke with our employees and tell everybody that I want our company name to be used as a verb,” he laughs. “I want people to say, ‘Hey let’s Neo this facility’, or ‘Let’s Neo that!’ I think once you’re used as a verb you’ve made it.”

In order for NeoInsulation to take that final leap and solidify itself in the consciousness of its consumers, Justin, as always, is aiming to focus on his people. “My main objective over the next three to five years is to continue to develop our team, changing lives as we change the industry,” he asserts. “Profits will come, I have no doubt, but our number one objective is to develop people - professionally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually - growing together as a unique workforce and a better workforce.”

NeoInsulation
Services: Insulation solutions
www.neoinsulation.com

Seeing the future clearly

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

Founded in 1982, Optikos Corporation (Optikos) can rightfully – and proudly – refer to itself as ‘The Optical Engineering Experts’. The company’s engineering team is the largest independent optical engineering group in the world, enhanced Optikos aby opto-mechanical, electrical, software, and R&D engineers that form teams capable of solving and executing complex applications of optical technology to organizations globally. Optikos customers seeking engineering design and product development expertise benefit from the company’s deep experience working on literally thousands of projects ranging from inception and design feasibility of an optically based product, to manufacturing and volume production. Meanwhile, those who require optical testing capabilities can choose from the company’s standard and custom metrology products, or its in-house IQ Lab™ services, to help them to assess the performance of optical assemblies and camera systems.

Today, applications that utilize the kinds of products and systems created by Optikos range from medical devices and diagnostics to automotive cameras, missile seeking testing systems, geospatial mapping technology, and beyond. This was far from the case, however, as recently as two decades ago, and the company’s own growth has run parallel to the greater adoption of optical technologies, as President and Founder Steve Fantone goes on to detail.

“It is true to say that among the broad range of markets and technologies that we now cover, many did not exist 20 years ago,” Steve says. “For instance, back then, CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensors were only just beginning to be realized, but you could already see that they would eventually supplant CCDs (charge-coupled devices), and sure enough that began to occur, initially in high-end applications such as military solutions and costly medical devices. As CMOS sensors became more affordable, so too did they become ubiquitous, to the point where today they can be found throughout a wealth of industrial and consumer products.”

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

The efforts of Optikos to help facilitate this technological expansion have, in part, contributed to the company today occupying a unique market niche. Something that has also proven invaluable has been its ability to engage and interface with clients from all walks of life. “One of the things we recognize is that every client’s corporate culture will be unique, and rather than looking to modify that culture in any way, we have committed ourselves to having an adaptive system of doing business that allows Optikos to become a part of a strong, integrated partnership,” Steve explains. “We also have something internally that we call The Optikos Experience, and this reflects the way that we want to form long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with not only our clients, but also our suppliers, employees and the broader community. We want all parties involved to have a positive and memorable experience when working with us, and for our clients this includes being respectful of their intellectual property – so that they get control over what they pay for in terms of services rendered – and emphasizing that we are with them for the long haul.”Optikos b

Such has been the success of the Optikos approach to doing business that the company has registered growth of approximately 82 per cent over the last three years alone, a feat that has been recognized by its listing in the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of North America’s fastest-growing privately held organizations. In speaking with Steve, he pinpoints the life sciences and automotive sectors as being the primary sources for this growth. In the case of the former, the company has begun to move into a greatly expanded facility – adding a 25 per cent increase in overall floor space – including additional clean space dedicated to life sciences projects and precision optical assemblies.

“We made a strategic decision around six years ago to put extra emphasis on these particular fields,” Steve details. “Today, in Massachusetts, we are peer residents within one of the world’s leading life sciences hubs and have formed a good degree of knowledge in how best to work alongside a group of clients whose core competencies rest more in chemistry or biotechnology, rather than optics. This means opening up our entire breadth of services to them, from design and prototyping, through to manufacture and production, and giving clients access to the wealth of expertise at our disposal.

“In terms of our automotive industry presence, if someone had said 20 years ago that we would now have self-driving cars that have a dozen cameras and optical sensors inside them we would probably have considered them from another planet. This scenario, of course, is now a reality, and the widespread use and adoption of optical technology in vehicles has also driven the need for test instrumentation in order to assure appropriate imaging quality and sensing over demanding environments. We continue to work with companies supplying the industry to improve the performance and lower the cost of enabling technologies such as LIDAR which will only further increase the optical content of motor vehicles.”

Surrounding Steve is a passionate, dedicated team of individuals. Some of these men and women have been with the company for over two decades and offer unrivalled product development, technical expertise and experience on a daily basis. Alongside them is a younger contingent of employees, and Steve is particularly proud of the fact that Optikos provides them with career opportunities that would otherwise take decades to realize in larger organizations. “Our people are empowered at an early point in their careers here,” he says. “They are encouraged to work alongside some of the most experienced people within our industry as we cultivate their journey, giving them the chance to confront the types of challenges that we believe will make them successful.”

Designated as being an essential business by defence, life sciences, and security clients, Optikos remained operational through 2020 when other companies were forced to shut down as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Its employees responded quickly and efficiently to the challenge of keeping operations running, and with activity levels increasing as the weeks pass by, the company has every reason to be optimistic about what the future holds, especially in the markets that have been highlighted above.

“When I look at an industry such as life sciences, it is clear that spending on technology in this field will only increase in the years ahead, and the same goes for automotive imaging, sensing, LIDAR and cameras,” Steve enthuses. “One of the great things about the optical industry is that we are very much at the forefront of the implementation of many technologies, and a particular strength of Optikos is that we see product development from the point of product inception, all the way through to shipping it out of the door and servicing it in the field. That is a mind-set that is different from most product development firms.

“As a business, we are also of the view that we want to always be on hand to support our clients in achieving their respective goals. This means, while we do offer a full spectrum of services, if one should only want Optikos to carry out the design element of a project, then we are more than happy to do so. Clients are rational, and if they see that it makes business sense for us to take on additional tasks such as manufacturing or production then we will take that work on gladly as it serves all parties’ interests. Alternatively, if we identify that we are not in fact the right company for that client or its requirements, then we will do all that we can to help them to find one that is. We look to align our interests with our clients, because at the end of the day, we want them to be successful and it is truly their success that helps ensure our own.”

Optikos Corporation
Services: Thermal processing sevices
www.optikos.com

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