Profiles

Accelerated excellence

The world’s fastest digital manufacturing source for rapid prototypes and on-demand production parts, Protolabs enables its customers to accelerate speed to market and strategically manage demand volatility across an entire product life cycle

When successful entrepreneur Larry Lukis established Protolabs in 1999, he did so with the aim of radically reducing the time challenges associated with obtaining injection moulded plastic prototype parts. “Larry’s solution, which has since become a world leading digital model, was to digitalize the traditional design and manufacturing process Klaasstarting with prototyping,” explains Protolabs Vice President and Europe’s Managing Director, Bjoern Klaas. “This involved Protolabs 179 bprogramming over a million lines of code and developing complex software so the front end of the manufacturing process could be streamlined. When he launched, what was then, the Protomold Company out of a garage in the small town of Long Lake, Minnesota, it resulted in plastic parts that could be produced in a fraction of the time it had ever taken before.”

Since its inception, Protolabs has gone from strength-to-strength, becoming the world’s fastest digital manufacturing source for custom prototypes and low-volume production parts. Priding itself on continual research and development, on serving its markets through further digitalizing of its manufacturing processes, Protolabsand on ensuring its vision is adopted across the board, the company – which has facilities across the world – works with literally thousands of customers across a range of sectors including automotive, aerospace, medical, electronics and heavy industry.

“We use advanced 3D printing, CNC machining and injection moulding technologies to produce parts within days,” Bjoern continues “The result is an unprecedented speed-to-market value for product designers and engineers worldwide. As an e-commerce business, our simple-to-use automated quoting system receives 3D CAD uploads direct from the customer, before quickly reviewing and emailing an interactive quote with real time pricing and design analysis. Our proprietary software then translates the CAD models into instructions for our high-speed manufacturing equipment. The result is parts that are shipped in as little as one day.

“Our service is anchored by three flagship services: 3D printing (additive manufacturing), CNC machining and Injection Moulding. Additive manufacturing employs advanced 3D printing technologies that can create extremely accurate prototypes with complex geometries. Additive parts are built by stereolithography, selective laser sintering, Multi Jet Fusion, PolyJet and direct metal laser sintering processes, and in a range a plastics and metals. For CNC, we use 3-axis milling, 5-axis indexed milling, and turning to machine engineering-grade plastic and metal prototypes and functional end-use parts in quantities of less than 200. Our injection moulding is used for quick-turn prototyping, bridge tooling and low-volume production of up to 10,000+ parts. More than 100 thermoplastics, and thermoset polymers (including liquid silicone rubber) are offered.”

In Europe, the company currently has manufacturing facilities in Telford, in the UK, and in Eschenlohe and Feldkirchen in Germany, as well as sales and customer support offices in France, Italy and Sweden. “In the UK, we are building a bespoke £5 million, 50,000 square foot extension to our Telford facility, due for completion in late 2020,” Bjoern states. “It will house at least 50 additional CNC machines and a further 20 additional injection moulding presses. It will help us meet growing demand from clients for ‘speed to market’. We are ideally set-up to meet this requirement, with a combination of our design and analysis team, bespoke production software and – once the expansion is complete – around 300 CNC milling, CNC turning and plastic injection moulding sampling and production machines at our disposal.”

In Germany, the company has also begun work on a 15-million-euro investment that will increase its 3D printing capability by 50 per cent to meet the growing demand for this technology. The building will be a new 54,000square foot production facility in Putzbrunn, near Munich, that will give customers even greater access to Protolabs’ automated manufacturing processes and quality systems. Construction of the new building began in May, with the initial shell scheduled to be completed by the end of December this year and the fit-out and machinery due to be installed in several stages starting in May 2021. Up to 25 further machines and state-of-the-art equipment will be added to the existing technology, whilst a CNC machining center - with a 5-axis milling machine - will be installed to support the finishing of 3D printed parts for high-end applications. Automated finishing, colouring and painting systems will also be part of the expansion, along with additional 3D printing technologies in the future.

“With this investment, we will be able to move all departments from the current building in Feldkirchen, near Munich, to Putzbrunn, and combine our 3DP metal and plastics business in one location,” Bjoern adds. “Just as importantly, with a larger production area and 50 per cent more capacity, we’ll be able to deliver even more projects in as little as one day. With optimized work processes and additional employees, the new location will support our activities across Europe, especially our ability to produce certified medical devices under ISO 13485.”Protolabs 179 c

In recent months, Protolabs has found itself heavily involved in the fight against Covid-19. “Our 3D Printing, CNC machining and Injection Moulding services are well-suited to the needs of the medical supply chain, and the novel coronavirus created an urgency around the supply of medical equipment needed in response to the pandemic,” Bjoern explains. “We are known within the industry for our speed, so the medical supply chain has turned to us for support during this crisis. In fact, we were able to offer priority quick-turn, free-of-charge, in support of projects in the fight against the virus.”

Examples of the company’s efforts during the pandemic include the supply of 100 3D printed ‘Dave’ valves (which fit close to the oxygen supply) and 100 3D printed ‘Charlotte’ valves (a link-component that connects to a mask itself) for life-saving emergency ventilator masks to Italian engineers Isinnova. These valves effectively turn ‘Easybreath’ snorkeling equipment into ventilator masks for Covid-19 patients. Protolabs has also supported Michelin in the supply of 10,000 sterilizable and reusable face shields to two of France’s largest university hospitals. The shields, made entirely of polycarbonate, were initially manufactured in just a day using the Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing process. Manufacturing was then switched as quickly as possible to injection moulding in order to produce 20,000 polycarbonate parts in just a few days. Thanks to the complementary nature of 3D printing and injection moulding, digital project monitoring tools and Protolabs’ production capacity, all 20,000 parts required to assemble the visors were manufactured and shipped in 11 days.

Technological innovations
Another development saw the company create a dedicated 20-strong team to work with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains in the production of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) system that delivers oxygen into the lungs of Covid-19 patients without the need for an invasive ventilator. Two parts this team developed are for the bracket that holds the device next to the bed, and a third part is for the production of a cap that prevents any air escaping from the machine. Initial sample parts, made in nylon 30 per cent glass fiber and Acetal co-polymer respectively, were sent out for inspection, followed by run rates of 1100 parts per day until 10,000 of each component were manufactured. The final devices and equipment were sent to hospitals across the UK to help frontline staff provide the best possible care for Covid-19 patients.

Outside of the remarkable above-mentioned efforts, new product launches and technological innovations have continued to be a by-product of Protolabs’ activities, as Bjoern goes on to state. “Recent advances include material launches for 3D printing. These include True Silicone, a remarkable material made from 100 per cent pure silicone that is used for multiple applications in both industry and healthcare; Cobalt Chrome, a biocompatible superalloy that is known for its strength to weight ratio, hardness and smooth surface; TPU01, a highly processable thermoplastic polyurethane that further accelerates the already fast processing times of our MJF machines; and Polypropylene, one of the most versatile materials around, now available for additive manufacturing.

“With CNC machining, we recently launched our Big Block service, where we can mill from aluminum 6082 blocks of up to 559mm x 356mm x 95mm and still ship the parts in as little as one day. Meanwhile, with injection moulding, recent launches include: Family Tooling, where a family of parts – roughly the same size and made from the same material – can all be made from the same tool, and Supplied Inserts, which is a service that means customers do not have to commit their own resources to supply threaded brass inserts for each IM order because we stock them. We have also begun guaranteeing specific dimensional tolerances for each type of stocked plastic injection moulding resin – again, making life easier for our customers.”

Despite what Bjoern describes as an overall consolidation of industrial production across the globe, he is positive that optimism is beginning to shine through as European economies open up at different paces and the wheels of productivity start to turn. “We are well positioned to support our customers as they innovate and reactivate their own markets,” he proclaims. “We are also excited as we feel that the positives that we have experienced in recent years could potentially be eclipsed by those experienced in the years ahead.

“The rapid advancement of information technology has disrupted the business landscape, but we will see even more possibilities opening up. The three central themes of connectivity, intelligence and flexible automation will change the way all of us work and live. I’m confident of this prediction, because that change is already being seen.

“Here at Protolabs we have developed data-sharing processes and integrated additive and subtractive processes – traditionally at opposite ends of the manufacturing process – to transform the production model. Our use of advanced 3D printing, CNC machining and injection Moulding technologies to produce custom-designed parts and prototypes in days means we have been able to reduce costs and manufacturing lead times to levels which open up global markets to a huge range of new, pioneering innovators.

“Demand for this will only grow and, in the years to come, I can imagine a scenario where parts are made even faster than they are today, in materials we haven’t even tested yet. The desire for more rapid product development, lighter parts and more complex designs will have stretched the imagination of even our most creative designers and engineers, and Protolabs will be right there at the forefront.”

Protolabs
Products: Custom prototypes and on-demand production parts
www.protolabs.co.uk

Tags:

A technical tribe

Operating as a technical distribution specialist importing raw materials from exclusive suppliers around the world, Lake Chemicals & Minerals prides itself on offering best-in-class value in the supply of chemicals and ingredients

Today, Lake Chemicals & Minerals (Lake) is operated by a team of 50 professionals who are dedicated to discovering speciality products and processes that create technical and commercial value for customers and suppliers "We understand the needs of our customers and strive to uncover the solutions that provide ultimate customer value. Forging long lasting relationships with customers and suppliers is a top priority,” confirmed Company Founder and Managing Director Dr Steven Cartlidge. infrastructure that includes a warehouse, manufacturing facilities, laboratories and its ‘base camp’ or hub. Over the past 17 years Lake has achieved some impressive milestones, gathering an incredible depth of knowledge Lake 179 bin areas including antioxidants and plasticisers in polymer and coating chemistry, fire retardant chemistry, and anti-corrosion – overall, the company now operates across the life sciences, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, engineering and industrial markets. “We have also attained some significant achievements with our suppliers, attracting and bringing on board some of the best technical companies in the world, ranging from ICL Halox, Vanderbilt, Cortec and Hallstar to companies in life sciences such as Rousselot, DSM, Symrise and Lipoid. For us to be able to demonstrate to these global companies that we can bring value to them is a major accomplishment.”

Strategic triangle
Steven emphasised the paramount importance of supplier relationships to Lake and the high priority it places on representing its suppliers fairly in the marketplace. “It is absolutely critical for the credibility of our business that we treat our suppliers with the utmost respect and remain aligned to their needs,” he stated. “We will always provide them with the resources needed to promote their brand and their capability in the marketplace, as without our suppliers we would not exist.

“But of course, a supplier is of no use without a customer, and the strategic triangle of the supplier, the customer and Lake, is the business model for success,” he continued. “When you look at the ultimate customer value, it is made from the sum of the value that the supplier brings and the value that Lake brings. Very often our suppliers are excellent in four out of five areas that are incredibly important for the customer to be successful, and Lake will always look for those gaps in ultimate customer value that we can fulfil together with our supplier. It is that combination and our continual quest to meet customer needs that is very special in our company.”

Fundamentally, Lake gets paid for selling a product or raw material, but the company’s offering extends much wider than this, drawing on what Steven calls its ‘internal network of university of life experiences’. “Operating a distribution business, being able to fulfil delivery on time, in full, is critically important, but we do far more than that. We solve formulation problems for customers on a daily basis and provide a technical consultancy service as well as regulatory and manufacturing expertise,” he said. “We have equity investments in manufacturing facilities in both India and China for raw material manufacture, particularly in the area of CMO contract manufacturing in the advanced intermediates market. In 2013, we acquired the Ubichem Pharmaceutical business, and that brought about what I would call ‘confectioning of products’ for customers. Since that time, we have been building on that capability and we are actively investing in tailored manufacturing solutions for customers, particularly in the food and nutrition industry.

“We have also recently invested in GMP manufacturing facilities to enable finishing of raw materials and products for the pharmaceutical industry. We don’t profess at this stage of our life to be experts in manufacturing, however we do recognise that the UK will enjoy a manufacturing boom post-Brexit, and we definitely want to be part of that scene. We have the technical knowhow and capability to create manufacturing value for our customers and that is of significant importance for the company.”

Clearly offering outstanding science and technology services to its customer base, and exemplary relationships with its suppliers, another major differentiator for Lake is its approach to people. “We wanted an expansive people culture from the very conception of Lake, and we would never have been able to achieve the growth that we have without empowering every employee in the company, and I mean every employee, whatever their position,” asserts Steven. “People are our key asset, and our belief from the very beginning has been that we want a scalable culture, as we could not afford to completely reinvent the company every time we achieved a key financial milestone. People have to grow with us.”

The working environment is based on four pillars that have been developed over the years: Growth Mindset, Freedom within a Framework (Autonomy), Team Player and Driven to Succeed. “I just cannot emphasise enough how important this is, to have a very strong culture within the company where everybody is on that same train along the same track, working together in order to create a one plus one equals 11 synergy,” Steven added.Lake 179 c

“Every employee is encouraged to continue to train and learn, and obviously there have to be financial rewards that are aligned to the strategy and the financial goals of the company, but this is all part of making sure that every single person can contribute.”

Describing the company as a ‘meritocracy’ with a very flat organisational structure, Steven was keen to share the fact that everybody, whatever their background, knowhow and capability, can rise to the top within the company. “On day one, no matter where they start in the organisation, every employee is instructed in the concept of autonomy, and taught that by applying a growth mindset and learning the tribal knowledge about our company, they can exceed their own expectations. We go through a very structured training programme and have a great ethos in mentoring and coaching,” said Steven. Lake even employs a business life coach specifically to work independently with employees in order to get the best out of the organisation. “If I can use a rugby analogy, we employ people that act as a scrum captain of their teams, making sure everyone has the knowledge, information, competence and resource that they need in order to fulfil the projects that they are working on.”

Thanks to this extraordinary approach to encouraging employee development, Lake’s prospective staff must start with a love of the scientific and technical world, a growth mindset and a thirst for knowledge, and also understand that this organisation is unlike any other that they have worked for previously. “Some people don’t understand the unique nature of our company and are always looking for ‘the catch’ - why would we invest so much in them, when they have only just started here? Our investment in staff does begin on the first day they arrive, and that means we have to be confident that they will be able to perform within our culture before we will hire them, as otherwise it is a total waste of everybody’s time.”

Lake’s methodology may sound unusual, but as Steven pointed out, the business has created an environment where employees with high levels of technical ability are allowed to express themselves and this is overlaid with an overall drive to be best-in-class. “This gives Lake an ecosystem that is unlike any other company, certainly very different from any other distribution company,” he said. “We combine entrepreneurial capabilities with the ability to deliver tailored solutions to customers, whether that is in terms of research and development and the intellectual property that comes from that, or the fulfilment of a product. We are very knowledgeable in the entire new product development process from the initial stage gate of the idea all the way through to the fulfilment of the product, even including the marketing needed to launch the product. Providing that range of abilities means we end up satisfying the differing needs of our customers, and that is fundamentally unlike any business model that we know in the market today.”

Unique business model
Having referenced its NPD capabilities, Steven continued with some details about a new product that is due to be launched in August, called EnviroRinse™. Developed with a customer, and used in industrial washers for precision machined parts, EnviroRinse™ offers instantaneous corrosion protection, a massive improvement to operator experience, is environmentally friendly and is odour free. Aimed at the automotive industry and the OEM industries, with Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, Steven noted that this product will address a fundamental issue within industry – corrosion. “We are very excited about this product, it has gone through extensive testing within UK manufacturing and we are ready to launch this at the Made in the Midlands Virtual Exhibition that is taking place over ten days in August,” he said.

This new product illustrates Lake’s dedication to promoting innovative solutions, and this area is going to become even more important to Lake, as the company gears up to launch Lake Innovation Services, which will offer NPD services to customers and suppliers, utilising the thought leadership expertise that Lake has accrued. “We identify the future paths that technologies will take in the different industries that we are working in,” added Steven. “At the end of 2020 we will move into a new facility that will be our base camp - including a number of labs that will allow us to carry out that NPD.”

Having worked hard over the past 18 years to create solid foundations and establish the procedures, processes, quality management systems, and technologies required to be successful, Lake is now embarking on the next phase of its evolution. “We have achieved a £20m turnover, and we believe that in the next ten years we will be able to double that by employing our unique business model,” Steven asserted. “But what I never forget is that it is impossible to create a sustainable business without the help of many people along the way. I have mentioned our suppliers, employees, and customers and I genuinley want to thank these people for the endless, tireless effort that they put in to making Lake a success. When you are building a business from scratch you cannot do it on your own and recognising that is incredibly important for any organisation.”

Lake Chemicals & Minerals
Services: A technical distribution specialist
www.lakecm.co.uk

A material world

Having evolved from a part-time business in Halifax into a leading upholstery fabric expert turning over $30m a year, Mobus Fabrics is now focusing its attention on improving efficiencies, building the brand and becoming a benchmark for excellence

Originally buying yarns from Italy and India, and undertaking the weaving in the UK using local suppliers, upholstery manufacturer Mobus Fabrics experienced significant success in the first seven years of its existence. Then in 2001 four UK Mobus 179 bdyeing suppliers ceased trading, and with that turn of events Mobus reassessed its options and decided to look at buying finished goods from China.

“In 2003 Mobus launched its first collection from China and grew slowly in the first few years,” said Lee Paxman, Sales Director, as he takes up the story. “In 2008 Mobus invested in a China-based Fire Retardant (FR) finishing plant - Mobus Sian - which was established to offer a credible Fire-Retardant finish to sell to Chinese furniture factories importing furniture into the UK.”

That establishment of close links with China proved pivotal to Mobus, and today it operates with two sourcing teams based there, as well as a sales team and the FR finishing plant. “We regard all parts of our operation as different asset centers, where each team has responsibility and has the opportunity to grow,” Lee commented. “Our primary sourcing team has been with us since we started working in China. They are a wonderful group and we are all good friends. Like the rest of our suppliers, we consider them as partners who are equally responsible for our success,” noted Lee.

The Chinese Finishing Plant was very successful indeed and 2015 saw Mobus invest in a new plant in the country to offer better quality finishing, a greater variety of finishes and increased capacity. In fact, such has been the success of Mobus’ Chinese venture that its growth in cross trade direct from China was acknowledged in 2017 with a Queen’s Award for International Trade, which also recognized the company’s growth in exports from the UK.

This success was swiftly followed by a management buyout in 2018. “This gave all directors an equal share in the company, and Fabricsallowed the company founder Mike Presley to retire but stay on with a reduced shareholding as non-exec director and still have some involvement in the company he created,” added Lee.

The flurry of activity that started for Mobus in 2003 finally culminated in January 2020 with the relocation of its head office from Elland to Brighouse. “We received the keys on the 3rd Jan 2020,” noted Lee, before going on to highlight just how significant this move was. “We have changed our processes so that all inbound stock arrives at our site (we used to have direct deliveries to UK FR finishers). We now batch plan the finishing and work on a stock system rather than a just-in-time supply base. This is already improving service levels and giving much greater processing and working efficiencies.

“We have created stock classifications for every product; each classification uses different stock routings to reduce handling and improve efficiencies. We have also changed the outbound processes so that we consolidate more shipments, reduce packaging and shipping costs.”

Thanks to this astonishing growth journey, today Mobus is able to offer a wide range of fabrics specifically designed and engineered for the UK upholstery market. “We offer all fabrics with the UK Fire Retardant (FR) finish, which we can supply from the UK or from the finishing plant in China. All fabric is tested and certified to ensure full compliance with full traceability and due diligence,” noted Lee. “We invest with our key partners in new designs, create our own color lines and work with UK retailers to offer bespoke ranges.”

Mobus prides itself on working closely with customers and retailers within the product development cycle, as in Lee’s words: “It always helps us focus on styles we are missing in our collection, and helps us identify emerging colors which have become increasingly important to consumers.”

This product development capability also keeps Mobus up-to-date with important trends, and an area to watch is fabrics with a more environmentally-friendly pedigree. “Recently we have developed a new type of finish with our chemicals and finishers, which is a greener alternative to the old Deca-brominated FR systems,” Lee revealed. “This new chemical will launch at the end of 2020 on the Mobus Eden, which is a new 100 per cent recycled polyester velvet. But I don’t want to give too much away now!”

The launch of the Eco range also coincides with the rollout of an enhanced social media presence and advanced website that is currently in development, as well as images of a new distribution center, testing laboratory and development center, all of which will help to promote the future direction of Mobus Fabrics.

“Eventually we plan to move all our collection onto the Green-FR finish and drive forward with other eco-friendly products,” Lee continued. “We will also invest in the development and testing teams to improve our quality and due diligence even further.

“We have recently consolidated our Chinese operation so all our purchasing, QC and sales teams come together under one company. This consolidation will give us a platform to expand our Asian market presence further. It will also give a Mobus 179 cfoundation to open up other export markets around the world, many of which we are still actively seeking distributors for.”

Having such close ties to China has created a multitude of opportunities for success for Mobus, however, it also meant that effects of the Coronavirus pandemic hit the business earlier than many in the UK, and the challenges that followed required the business to pull out all the stops to meet orders and keep performing up to customers’ expectations. “The outbreak for Mobus started at the end of January, when we were made aware of the pandemic and the subsequent China lockdown. The lockdown extended the Chinese New Year holidays by another four weeks, leading to huge stock shortfall on many top selling collections.

“The China lockdown then coincided with our move and put our sales team under huge pressure. At that stage, some of our customers were unaware of the severity of the issues and felt the problem was ours to resolve as we were buying from China. As the severity of the outbreak hit the UK media and impact to supply chains was more clearly understood, customers became a little more understanding. We were working 12 to 16 hour days to support our customers, re-work priority lists, allocate stocks and support our suppliers with weaving and dyeing plans,” Lee highlighted.

“We then hit a period of calm between China re-opening and Europe going into lockdown. In that period, we shipped 19 containers of fabric (circa 600,000m) but sadly, as it started arriving, the UK went into lockdown. We also had a huge order book with our suppliers who had invested heavily, but we had to stop all future shipments leaving China.”

Team spirit
Understandably, the impact on the business of these circumstances has been huge: “Like most people, our outlook swung under lockdown from really negative to positive and back again,” Lee admitted. “As a board of directors, we had a conference call every day at 10am and collectively picked our way through the issues. We had a skeleton warehouse team to unload the containers and complete the move to our new site. We moved our head office and while working from home we prepared a full stock plan, categorized stocks and set up the warehouse routings and procedures.

“The cash flow impact on the industry has been a real challenge. However, with the support of HSBC and commitments from suppliers and customers, we have managed. We have pushed all our customers for payments so we could keep making payments to our suppliers - the flow of funds at such a time was critical to keep the supply chain alive and ready for the hopeful bounce back.”

Thankfully, Lee was able to report that since the return to work at the end of May, sales have steadily grown and are definitely moving in the right direction. “We offered open cancelations to all our customers and rather than fighting cancelations we understood the full supply chain had to realign and reset. We also gave bulk processing commitments to our UK finishers so they had the confidence to reopen and take staff back off furlough. This helped restart production for the sector and keep our stock plan ahead of demand. We hope to post a break-even year and if the bounce back continues we hope to even post a small profit.”

From speaking to Lee, the contribution that the staff made to Mobus’ efforts to maintain its standards throughout this time cannot be underestimated and he declared that ‘the people are what make Mobus the company it is.’ Going forward, he hopes to add more people to the team, which still features eight of the original ten members that joined in 2009. “The culture of Mobus is fun, but hard working, with a strong emphasis on the team and we collectively look out for each other and our partners,” Lee added. “We have a high staff retention rate in all areas of the business, from directors to warehouse, and I would really like to thank our team for their hard work, as well as our partners both up and down the supply chain and the support services. Mobus is on an incredible journey and its success is down to the people we work with.”

Mobus Fabrics
Products: One of Europe’s leading upholstery fabric manufacturers
www.mobus.co.uk

Cool operators

From humble beginnings, ICS Cool Energy has grown into an international market leader in temperature control solutions, turning over £80 million a year

Offering an unrivalled range of temperature control and HVAC products, Southampton-based company ICS Cool Energy has built a 30-year reputation as a customer-focused business providing cost-effective, energy efficient solutions to suit the ever-changing needs of its clients. A trusted partner for a variety of customers, the company serves a vast array of industries, including medical process engineering, plastics, pharmaceutical packaging, food, aviation, and warehouse storage. Though it specializes in the delivery of industrial cooling and heating - from minus 40 to 400 degrees centigrade - which the company can tailor to the needs of the customer, the firm is also a full provider of heating, ventilation and air ICS 179 bconditioning (HVAC) services.

“Our customers have primarily industrial needs, so we tend to be heavily involved in these processes rather than in HVAC, although we are happy to do HVAC if the need arises,” says Russ Baker, the company’s Director of Rental for the UK and Ireland. “The majority of our workload comprises the provision of cooling or heating technologies (and sometimes both) for various settings including factories, warehouses, Grade 1 listed buildings, and marquees. Sometimes we are required to help with products that need to stay within a certain temperature window, and facilities management commercial buildings, data centers, and petrochemical sites are quite a big thing for us. A lot of what we do is determined by the season, so in the winter we perform cooling for ice rinks, for example. Large events are always in need of our services and we are experienced in working on occasions like graduation ceremonies for universities and events in stately homes, where we not only have to provide the heating and cooling, but we need to be sympathetic to the building we are in - we can’t be knocking holes through ancient monuments!”

In terms of its products and services, ICS Cool Energy is divided into a capital sales and service division and a rental division – the latter of which is headed up by Russ. On the capital side of the business, the company is focused on providing the most energy efficient solutions possible.

“A customer might ask for 500 kilowatts of cooling and you could install a 500-kilowatt chiller for them, but that might not actually be what they need,” Russ explains. “We might be able to provide them a free cooler instead, which is a way to use the ambient air temperature to precool the liquid before it hits the chiller. Alternatively, we might be able to employ a cascade system using the free cooler during the night and as the temperatures raise during the day, bring in the mechanical cooling, oscillating between them as temperatures change. It’s a particularly interesting solution for sites that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Total support
On the rental side of the business, ICS Cool Energy offers a fleet of chillers ranging from three kilowatts through to 1.4 megawatts, as well as electric, gas, dual fuel, and diesel boilers from 20 kilowatts up to two megawatts as a single unit. Energy efficiency comes in to play here too, and also as a company committed to compliancy, ICS Cool Energy ensures that all its units fulfil current regulations and every piece of equipment is rigorously serviced and tested before being sent out to the customer. The rental fleet also includes so called Free Coolers, which are items of plant designed to cool liquids using air passing through heat exchangers driven by fans, as well as adiabatic coolers, evaporative coolers and cooling towers. This range features 250kw, 500kw and 2MW units that can be connected in parallel to provide MW cooling systems.

“We are very, very focused on the quality of our equipment and we have a high-spec boiler in there and a very high-spec burner too,” Russ states. “The environment is important to us too and all our products comply with the Clean Air Act. We are proud to say that our units are actually up to 97 per cent efficient when converting fossil fuels into heat energy and everything is tested at our warehouse and commissioned by a qualified engineer. It’s important for us to make sure everything is compliant and in working order because we might be operating halfway up a mountain in Switzerland where the oxygen content is different and that sort of detail needs to be recognized and adhered to.”

With 30 years of experience behind the business, ICS Cool Energy has been able to assemble one of the industry’s most comprehensive training programs and the firm spends a lot of time developing the skills of its workforce. Thanks to its thorough training regime, the company can trust its employees to deliver projects from consultation to installation on a full turnkey basis.ICS 179 c

“One of our key selling points is that we do a lot of things our competitors won’t do,” Russ claims. “We can arrange road closures, ‘lift and shift’, cranage, and all those things that take stress away from the customer. For example, in the past, we have delivered full packages into hospitals where we have had to close roads, offload the equipment onto skates, and skate it into the location as it wasn’t accessible with a standard vehicle or crane. We can also ‘flat-pack’ machines, disassembling them into their component parts and then reassembling them in rooftop and underground plant rooms where the fully built machine was too large to access.

“For anything that we supply, we provide 24/7 aftersales support. My phone can ring at 2am if the customer has a breakdown or requires new equipment. We are one of the few companies that has sales engineers and service people on call, so my team are capable of organizing delivery of a two-megawatt boiler in the middle of the night, on the weekend or during a holiday.”

With 21 locations worldwide and a high presence in Europe, ICS Cool Energy offers huge flexibility for the global rental market, which now makes up over half of the company’s business. Around 25 per cent of the firm’s contracts are based outside the UK, and though Brexit will pose challenges for the company’s European contingent, a shared European fleet supported by experienced local staff at local depots has created a solid foundation from which the business can tackle any potential upheaval.

Investing in the future
Undaunted by the unknown, the impressive way ICS Cool Energy has responded to 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic will fill the firm with confidence about its ability to overcome adversity in the future. Over the last few months, the company’s rental division has seamlessly serviced the demands of the NHS and private hospitals, as well as working with temporary building suppliers to help customers increase their effective commercial footprint. As Coronavirus restrictions are lifted, ICS Cool Energy’s capital division is also experiencing an increase in activity, particularly in the area of servicing and maintenance.

“Over the last decade, people have been moving away from the ownership model. We have customers that just come to us every summer for some extra cooling or every winter for extra heating, but they are not buying capital in the way they used to and I think that this pandemic situation will probably stimulate that market,” Russ predicts. “People are moving towards a sharing economy and we are a very busy part of that.

“Overall, it’s been an incredible few months,” he says, before continuing with some details about how Covid-19 has affected the organization. “We have gone from a business of more than 100 in the office to everyone working from home and connecting virtually. I run a team of 15 salespeople dedicated to the rental business. The admin team have done a great job implementing social distancing and we’ve got 30 guys out there in our depots preparing equipment in their masks and face visors and gloves. It’s been absolutely stunning the way that the team has rallied in a difficult time.

“We have also worked with a major broadcast organization to ensure they could televise their particular sporting event around the world. As part of our preparations we carried out a ‘virtual’ Factory Acceptance Test prior to shipping our hire units to their site, with their engineering representatives watching our test engineers put the equipment through its paces over a video link.”

Backed by supportive corporate ownership, ICS Cool Energy will continue to invest in the future of the company and ensure that the firm has the latest, state-of-the-art equipment. Environmental issues are also on the agenda, and the company is already looking into the possibility of adding more energy efficient and environmentally sound options to its product range. These include the replacement of R134a refrigerant gas with R513a and R1234ze, as these significantly outperform R134a in terms of GWP (Global Warming Potential). “This is in addition to the introduction of high performance heat pumps as energy efficient alternatives to traditional fossil fuel burning boilers, with the use of booster technologies capable of bring waste heat water temperatures up to 80˚C,” added Russ.

“As part of the Gigaton Challenge, we are dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of our customers by a gigaton over the next decade,” Russ continues. “It’s a long-term and very real aspiration we have. We want every piece of plant that we put into the hire fleet to be as energy efficient as it can be. We could add cheaper alternatives and the hire rate could be lower, but we are serious about putting in equipment that is A and AA rated for energy efficiency.”

ICS Cool Energy
Products: Temperature control and HVAC solutions
www.icscoolenergy.com

Patients are a virtue

A manufacturer of disposable stoma products that help to improve the lives of patients across the UK, Pelican Healthcare achieved record levels of production throughout the Covid-19 pandemic

Based in Cardiff, Pelican Healthcare, a manufacturer of ostomy appliances for patients with a stoma following bowel operations, was purchased by the Eakin Family in 2007 and acted as a significant springboard towards the creation of a Pelican 179 blarger Eakin Healthcare Group.

“The acquisition of Pelican was a very important move for us,” states Pelican’s UK CEO Paul Eakin. “In the 1970s, my father established TG Eakin Ltd in Northern Ireland, a single product focused medical device manufacturer making a specialist adhesive. We wanted to broaden the base of that business, and as TG Eakin was already in the ostomy space, the purchase of Pelican Healthcare was a fast track approach to being able to provide a much more complete range of ostomy related products. The fact that the products were manufactured in Cardiff by Pelican was really central to our motivation to buy the business. Pelican and TG Eakin are both manufacturers in their own right, one of specialist adhesives, and the other of ostomy appliances, and together it gives us a really wide coverage and manufacturing capability.”

Since 2007 Pelican has undergone a number of major developments. In the early stages of ownership an accelerated program of investment, which allowed for a complete remodeling of the company’s headquarters, as well as a substantial increase in the levels of automation used for the ostomy products enabled a meaningful reduction in manufacturing costs and the introduction of Pelican’s products to international export markets. Investment in bespoke, fully automated, end to end production systems for stoma appliances greatly enhanced the company’s production capability and capacity.

“The process of re-equipping Pelican Healthcare started in 2007 and is ongoing today,” Paul notes. “It’s put us in a position where we can achieve significant levels of international sales for Pelican Healthcare products but also greatly improve our manufacturing capacity for the domestic UK market.”

Around the same time that Pelican was purchased by Eakin Group, the healthcare firm became the first company on the market to offer a ‘soft convex’ stoma bag – a specialism that helped the business grow its UK market share to around ten per cent. Though the market has grown substantially since then, Pelican has grown with it. Around its core range of ostomy bags, the firm has developed soft convex derivatives including most recently, a bag with Vitamin E enriched adhesive. With more new products scheduled to be released in the latter half of 2020, Paul says it is important for Pelican to maintain strong links, and an open dialogue, with patients.

“Pelican Healthcare sees that as a new pillar in our strategic development going forward,” Paul elaborates. “We use our relationship with patients to better understand their needs, and from that we try to understand the fundamentals of what really constitutes an improved product for the future. We do focus groups and engage with nurses and users and any stakeholder that can help us drive product development forward. The feedback we get from people is used to improve our offering.”

Dedicated to customers
As a provider of vital healthcare appliances, Pelican has enjoyed a surge in demand during 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic. From February onwards, the company experienced increased consumer pressure for the supply of products integral to the everyday lives of stoma patients throughout the UK. As concern among patients grew regarding the sustainability of the supply of these fundamental products, Pelican responded with unprecedented levels of production.

“We were looking at a rapidly developing Coronavirus situation where GPs were seeking to ensure that patients had sufficient product available to them. We needed to make sure we had adequate stocks to be able to supply those patients and give them security of supply for a foreseeable period,” Paul recalls.

“In terms of how we responded to that, we put great emphasis on our ability to supply at a rapid pace. We have always held significant stocks of raw materials and finished goods, which was greatly beneficial. At Cardiff, we now have four of the manufacturing systems we first ordered when modernizing Pelican’s production systems, plus ancillary automation around other activities. Each machine provides rapid throughput and we routinely operate for 24 hours a day, five days a week, and we can expand that to 24/7 if we require. These machining capabilities, a reliable stock of raw materials and finished goods, plus the ability to increase production by 40 per cent enabled us to meet the requirements. Not only did we supply the UK market, but as I mentioned, we pushed the Pelican products through the wider TG Eakin supply chain and we were able to meet that demand also.”Pelican 179 c

Understandably, Paul is proud of the way Pelican’s workforce has reacted to the challenges presented by the pandemic, suggesting they have performed ‘magnificently’ throughout an ‘exhausting’ period. A firm with Investors in People status, Pelican’s parent company, Eakin Healthcare Group, hired its first HR Director in 2017. The move will help Pelican continue its impressive record of recruiting and retaining employees that embody the core values of the Eakin Healthcare Group.

“We enjoy good relationships with our staff and understand the reliance that patients have on our people,” Paul asserts. “Nobody in the Eakin Healthcare Group, or at Pelican specifically, would ever want patients to be in any way disadvantaged by a lack of supply of our products. Our people are always stepping up to the mark in terms of doing that bit more to make sure we have goods to supply. We do sometimes expand the workforce on a temporary basis when required and we have done a lot of cross-training internally so that people are able to step into different roles within the operation. Cross-training has helped enormously throughout this pandemic and investment in that area is very important to us.

“Most importantly, as an employer, we see it as our obligation to provide a safe working environment. All our staff are viewed as essential workers and have been working in the factory continuously throughout the pandemic. Our policies are developing all the time, but our workforce continues to receive the utmost protection.”

Understanding patients
Entering the latter half of 2020, Pelican saw its sales numbers return to the more regular levels that the firm had become accustomed to before the pandemic. Looking to the future, Coronavirus continues to limit opportunities for the business to promote a variety of new products, but Paul and his team are working to discover new ways to access Pelican’s client base. “We’re very optimistic about the future and anticipate that our business will continue to grow,” Paul declares. “I’m confident that the shortfalls we had in our first quarter will be recovered by the end of the financial year.”

Whatever happens in the coming years, Pelican will continue to forge strong relationships with stoma patients that extend beyond the firm’s products and are instead built upon each patient’s individual experience. At the heart of this lies the company’s online blog and lifestyle column offering patients information, advice, and a sense of community.

“Understanding the patient journey is really important,” Paul remarks. “Not only the journey through surgery and their initial experiences with products that they are potentially going to be using for the rest of their lives, or until their stoma is reversed, but also as that person embarks on the rest of their life. Our website offers patients advice on how to live a regular, healthy life with a stoma bag. It explains that, even for people in their 60s and onwards, you can still enjoy good levels of physical activity such as swimming or tennis and it includes information on how that situation changes as you get older, or if you are less mobile. We care about the overall patient experience and we want to extend that journey.”

Pelican Healthcare
Products: Stoma care products
www.pelicanhealthcare.co.uk

Positive corrugation

An environmentally-conscious designer and manufacturer of corrugated packaging and display units, Fencor Packaging Group is a customer-focused business that continues to invest in a better future

Led by Group Managing Director David Orr, Fencor Packaging Group has grown significantly since 2000. In the last seven years alone, the company has ploughed close to £10 million into improving its manufacturing capabilities and increasing its factory and warehouse space. Now boasting a workforce of 140 employees, and a turnover of almost £20 million a year, it is clear that the firm’s investment strategy is paying off.Fencor 179 b

“It all comes down to a simple rule,” David says. “We will not hesitate to invest where our Groupcustomers need us to. We will follow the needs of our customers, and if we don’t do that, we don’t deserve to keep them.”

Fencor’s commitment to the needs of its customers, as well as its willingness to invest in areas of need, were in evidence at the end of July when the company took on an extra 25,000 square feet of working space.

“By adding the new space, we can hold extra stock, but more importantly, we can free up room within our manufacturing unit so that we can install more machinery,” David explains. “Within the next week, we will be placing an order for a flatbed die-cutter and a few other bits of equipment. This follows recent orders for automatic taping and gluing machines. The total bill is going to be around £750,000, but we believe it is the right thing to do, and as a Board, we will not hesitate to do what is right. We’ve already communicated these plans to our customers and hopefully they will understand and appreciate the fact that we’re doing something to keep pace with their requirements.”

More than manufacture
Operating as two distinct companies – Manor Packaging and Easypack POP Displays – Fencor serves a variety of industries, including the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, food and drink, retail, and horticultural sectors. Whilst Manor Packaging produces conventional corrugated boxes and flexographic print products, Easypack focuses on the manufacture of three-dimensional cardboard displays for end-of-aisle promotions.

“The displays we create are very specialist and retail oriented. There are some businesses that can only get their products into stores through the use of promotional displays and that is where we come in,” David states. “We’ve got specialist equipment, including two Hewlett Packard large format digital printers around 3.2 meters by 1.6 meters in size, so these are big beasts which eliminate the need for printing plates. The specifications of display products tend to be extremely complex and require huge design elements that are relatively costly in comparison to a normal brown box, so it favors digital technology. That’s why we’ve also got probably the biggest hand platen die-cutter in the country, which measures 3.2 meters by 1.8 meters and weighs about 23 tons. It’s also why we have just installed a new large format Elitron digital cutter, which is ideal for producing short runs.

“Still,” David adds, “as is the case across the whole of our business, the real differentiating factor is customer service and design and everything that surrounds a product but isn’t actually the product itself. It’s the customer experience, it’s the lead times, it’s the nurturing element of the business and that requires good people, engaged people, and continuous investment in state-of-the-art equipment.”

As David suggests, Fencor is more than just a manufacturer. In 2019, the company’s extensive design capabilities helped it take home a Silver Award in the Temporary Display Confectionary category at the POPAI Awards. The award-winning product was a sustainable, recyclable Oreo Cookie Shark Display, designed and manufactured for Cadbury in partnership with Total Marketing Support (TMS). This followed a POPAI Gold award in 2018.

“TMS handle Mondelez’s print and packaging requirements and they use us to design and produce displays,” David reports. “We have a similar arrangement with another marketing services company working with a global brand, who, before we could qualify to do the work, put us through a really stringent audit, including cyber security, colour management and confidential manufacturing. We’ve also been designing frustration-free packaging for satellite boxes that is fully recyclable and allows for easy delivery.

“As a business, we are very fortunate to have two highly skilled and experienced design teams full of people who can see a structure out of a flat sheet of board. It’s a rare talent and they are really capable people. Our Group Sales Director started life as a structural designer, so it is a really good place to begin working for us. We’ve got other salespeople and account managers who started as designers too. We like to carve a career path from designer on to other roles, if that’s what people want. If you’ve got that intimate knowledge of the product, you can find solutions for complex client requests much quicker than someone who hasn’t got that background.”

Magnificent response
Fencor’s response to 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic has been widely recognized in the media and David is particularly pleased by the resilience on show throughout the business. After modelling a ‘worst-case scenario’ budget and receiving Fencor 179 cfinancial reassurance from the bank, the firm tackled the challenges of Coronavirus head on.

“We knew we needed to focus on the end game. We had the kit, we had the finances, so we turned to our workforce and assured them it would be worth going through all this to come out intact and in a strong position. We said to our team, we can make it through this with no job losses and no financial damage or harm to any employee, but we have to stick together, we have to be there for our customers,” David reveals. “The response was absolutely magnificent. We did everything we could to protect our staff and they volunteered to work through weekends and bank holidays. The resilience the whole company showed allowed us to maintain our reliability, whilst also creating a bond of trust. It’s something that has really served us well.”

Having experienced a huge surge in demand in March, both Manor Packaging and Easypack remain busy. Demand for e-commerce packaging continues to soar and David is thankful for the investments Fencor has made in recent times that have allowed the company to cope with – and profit from – such a significant increase in activity.

“Among the equipment we’ve purchased is a Bobst Casemaker,” David comments. “Bobst is the Rolls Royce of our industry, so this is a machine that has been hugely beneficial in our battle to cope with the surge in demand. Only last year, we added a speciality multi-point gluer that helps to manufacture boxes that form instantly when you twist them. That’s been particularly useful for e-commerce and even though we only installed it a year ago, it’s now one of the busiest machines in our group. The company is really seeing the advantages of always staying on the front foot from an investment point of view.”

Green approaches
Having made it through the first half of the year relatively unscathed, Fencor is expecting to see more growth on the e-commerce side of the business over the next six months. Alongside the firm’s continuing program of investment, David suggests that the company is also in a strong enough position to add new recruits to its ranks. “We’ve taken on three new team members in the last month and we plan to take on more before the end of 2020,” David notes. “It is a healthy position to be in and we really are counting our blessings.”

As far as the future is concerned, sustainability and environmental strategies will guide Fencor on its journey through the next decade. Assisted by the fact that the company’s core product is inherently green - all Fencor packaging is 80 per cent recycled and 100 per cent recyclable – David hopes the firm will be able to persuade more companies to use corrugated materials over plastics.

“We’re talking all the time with companies that want to change from plastics,” he declares. “We supply a number of horticultural businesses and we were tasked by one of them to come up with a recyclable alternative to vacuum-formed trays for plug plants. Historically, cardboard wasn’t considered feasible because it is too absorbent, but we found a special coating that had never been used for this purpose before and we were able to get it to work for the product. We have also been able to apply the same principle for a customer in the personal care and cosmetics industry, so we are using the environmental qualities of cardboard to help customers move away from plastics.

“Fencor is a part owner of Corrboard UK, which provides the majority of our raw material and which is the world’s first corrugated sheet board manufacturer to be powered by a sustainable energy generation facility fuelled by organic waste. Internally, we continue to invest in LED lighting and we are working in conjunction with Suffolk County Council to install solar panels on one of our factories. The next big push for us will be to source all our power from renewables. I imagine it will be in place before the end of the year, which will be a big step towards our stated goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

Fencor Packaging Group
Products / Services: Designer and manufacturer of corrugated boxes and display units
www.fencorpackaging.co.uk

To protect and secure

For several decades now, CLD Fencing Systems has brought world-leading innovation to the physical perimeter security industry, and continues to revolutionize the market with both its permanent and temporary solutions

The roots of CLD Fencing Systems can be traced back to 1969, when the business was first established by the Wells family. Since then, it has evolved into what is now the UK’s largest manufacturer and supplier of rigid mesh fencing systems and security gates, with the family still very much involved in its day-to-day operations.

Working with architects, main contractors, local authorities, and Government organizations such as the MoD, the Royal Air Force, and leading security consultants, CLD Fencing Systems has risen to become one of the main drivers of CLD 179 binnovation when it comes to the concept of perimeter security systems. “CLD Fencing comSystems was among the first companies to bring rigid mesh fencing to the UK market, and since then it has remained the core ingredient of all of our perimeter security fence systems and our range of temporary fencing products,” explains Chief Executive Officer, Russell Wells.

“Where we excel,” Russell continues, “is in producing fencing systems designed to deter and mitigate intrusion, that are aesthetically pleasing, yet never compromise on delivering the highest of security levels that our clients wish to acquire. When we design and manufacture any mesh fence system, we will typically have it comprehensively tested independently by the British Research Establishment (BRE), who will certify said system to determine key characteristics such as its cut-through properties. This rigorous process has resulted in the creation of a range of products that are used in a wealth of different sectors, and our work can be seen in projects of all kinds, from individual schools, warehouses and distribution centers, to large scale infrastructure projects such as HS2. With the latter, we continue to supply temporary fencing products to its various sites, while also working with its architects to devise a permanent fence system.”

Headquartered in Sandbach, Cheshire – home to a 4.5-hectare site that includes the company’s manufacturing facilities – CLD Fencing Systems also has satellite offices in London, Sydney and Dubai, as well as distributors around the world in more than ten countries. Further to this, in 2017, the company became the first UK entity to export rigid mesh fencing systems to China for a number of specialist sports projects.

“Our global presence enables us to have the necessary skills and expertise available in multiple time zones, and to service needs at a local level, which are particularly attractive commodities to have when supplying international clients,” Russell states. “It is important to remember also that the UK is still upheld as being a global leader in the manufacture of security products and standards, which makes a UK manufacturer such as ourselves a go-to when international clients are seeking products and standards to accompany their security infrastructure.”

Significant investments
As Russell goes on to detail, in the last five years alone the company has doubled in size, achieving an average of 20 per-cent year-on-year growth in that time. “As of today, we are manufacturing over three kilometers of high security fencing products every single day, and to support this growth we have invested significantly in new floor space. This includes a new 9000 square foot, two-story office building in Sandbach, which we moved into in January 2020, and a brand new five-acre distribution center in Middlewich, Cheshire, which opened its doors in June 2020.”

It is from these new facilities that the company has been able to increase production of some of its newer product ranges, and invest in ever-more efficient processes. A prime example of the former is CLD Fencing Systems’ collection of temporary security products that fall under its FenceSafe brand. “With our FenceSafe products, we truly believe that we have revolutionized the temporary fence sector,” Russell enthuses. The system was the first temporary fencing range to use the same rigid mesh panels and posts that are used in the rest of the company’s permanent range, but in a format with zero ground strike.

At present, the company’s temporary fencing solutions are being utilized across a wide number of the UK’s Covid-19 testing centers. These sites have been ring fenced with secure temporary fencing systems from its FenceSafe range, enabling the operators to remain comconfident of having a well-protected boundary. It also allows for the erecting of debris netting, shade netting and anti-vision screens, all of which can ultimately be taken down and removed from site once no longer in use.CLD 179 c

Today, a dedicated R&D team continue to work to create quicker, faster and more efficient ways of developing and deploying temporary security fencing that can suit an increasing number of needs and/or specifications. Furthermore, in the summer of 2020, the company will also be establishing a new business called FenceSafe Hire, which will provide customers with the ability to hire out CLD Fencing Systems’ temporary fencing products. “We see huge potential in this field, and we feel that the ability to offer customers rental agreements on either a short or long-term basis – as well as the ability to purchase our products outright – will help make us an even more flexible and versatile proposition,” Russell declares.

Another recent innovation that the company is keen to highlight is the development of an entire new hoarding system. “Your typical hoarding system nowadays tends to incorporate traditional materials such as timber,” Russell says. “What we have done is design a reusable system, which makes use of recycled composite plastic for its main board, and is supported by a network of steel uprights and rails that allow it to be taken down and redeployed as necessary. Where this differs from timber alternatives is that these tend to be scrapped after just a single installation, whereas our reusable system could give users as much as ten-to-fifteen years of reliable service.”

Meanwhile, within the confines of the company’s manufacturing premises, the most up-to-date machinery aids in the creation of its products and systems in an effective, timely and accurate manner. Alongside the usual CNC machinery that one would expect to find, the company also makes use of fully automated picking systems. These include the Lean-Lift automated in-house picking solution, and the WinMan Go service, which forklift drivers and pickers can access on handheld devices to scan individual products onto and off delivery vehicles.

While the business may have continued to grow in size, scope and reach, the management of CLD Fencing Systems has nevertheless endeavored to retain the family values and atmosphere that have served it so well for more than 50 years. “To this day, the Wells family remain very hands-on, helping to oversee the activities of every department,” Russell affirms. “As Covid-19 began to spread across the UK, they joined the rest of the board of Directors in plotting a course for the company in which the safety of our employees was the foremost priority, ahead of the prosperity of the company and ultimately job security. This forward thinking helped us to trade and remain profitable throughout the months that the UK was in lockdown – in a socially distanced manner with no outbreaks of the disease amongst our workforce – which I think was a massive achievement.”

Moving forward, the company expects to maintain its recent growth rate of around 20 per cent year-on-year, thus doubling again in size in five years’ time. “This is the pattern of growth that we are forecasting, and in achieving this we hope that we can go on to solidify a reputation as being the global market leader in the manufacture and supply of innovative, secure fencing systems,” Russell concludes.

CLD Fencing Systems
Products: Rigid mesh security fencing systems
www.cld-fencing.com

Making paper

Already offering hygiene paper products that are manufactured to the highest quality standards, Star Tissue’s ambitious investment plans include warehouse expansions and new technology

When the late Allah Ditta started to sell toilet rolls to market traders, little did he know that his efforts would lead to the creation of a major UK manufacturer. Now run by his sons, Abid Ditta, Sajid Saifullah, and Khalid Saifullah, Star Tissue has evolved into one of the UK’s leading independent manufacturers of hygiene paper products.

“My brothers set up Star Tissue in 2003 and we have been developing ever since that point,” began Managing Director Khalid Saifullah. “This year we were included in the Sunday Times FastTrack 100 list as one of the fastest growing and Star Tissue 179 bmost profitable companies in the UK in this sector, which goes some way to illustrating how well the company has flourished since those early days.”

It is impressive to consider that from those humble beginnings, Star Tissue now manufactures a wide range of household and away-from-home paper products at a custom-built production facility in Lancashire. These include domestic and luxury toilet tissue, dispenser toilet tissue, center feed rolls, hand towels, kitchen towels and facial tissues to name a few. What connects all these products is that they are manufactured to the highest standard of quality, and supported by extremely high levels of customer service.

“We built our business by building relationships, so we work very closely with our customers, making sure they get their products as quickly as possible and at a competitive rate so they keep coming back,” agreed Khalid. “We like to help our customers grow by providing them with the products and services that they need, when they need them. Equally, we build relationships with our suppliers, so it’s not really just about selling products to customers - it is also making sure that we have a good source of supply, with the right grades of material, to ensure the quality of that product is always consistent and is of the highest grade.”

Sterling reputation
This approach enables Star Tissue’s clients to trust in their products, and be confident that they are of superior quality to the competition. “As a company, we are very focused on our output, we understand our customers and we have built our products and services around their needs. We keep in touch regularly, so we are not just there to sell them paper products - we are there to help them build their businesses. Many of our customers have grown as fast as we have and the bigger they grow the more they buy and the better we do!”

Thanks to the adoption of this continuous improvement mind set, Star Tissue has garnered a sterling reputation in the market, and this extends from its products and services, to its own internal workplace culture. “People are another key factor, and I think as a family business - we are still run by three brothers – it is crucial that we create a family atmosphere and our staff fits into that ethos. So, we have got a very good team here, who all take a lot of pride in what they do, they feel a part of the business and they have a good strong stake in it. Everybody wants to do the best that they can for the company and that is obvious in all our activities - how we work, what we produce and how we deal with other people.”

Focus on sustainability
Meeting the needs of its customers as well as making sure it is ahead of the curve in production capabilities requires Star Tissue to make continuous investments in the latest technology, and as Khalid explained, this means it can consistently produce better and faster, every time. “This also results in our lead times being reduced and our production capacity increasing too, and that means we can make more to sell to more people, and again increase our service levels to customers,” he said, before going on to give an example of how the money is spent. “This year alone we are investing £5m, so we have just completed one new warehouse, and we are in the process of completing the second one, in about four to six weeks’ time [at time of writing]. This will give us an additional 60,000 square feet of capacity, which enables us to manufacture and then hold stock for customers, which brings us back to our focus on customer service.”

Further developments are underway on the factory floor too, as more space is created for a new production line. “This is being installed in August, and will feature some of the latest available technologies in producing hygiene paper products,” Khalid stated. “This is a very large investment and we have been working with the machine manufacturers in Serbia and Italy for two years. That relationship is so strong that it actually led to the Italian company purchasing the Serbian company so they are now working as one business. We have been analyzing every aspect of the machine with them, from unwinding the paper, to making the toilet rolls, to packaging them and palletizing them.

“That machine will allow us to make 800 toilet rolls a minute more than what we do already, so it is adding to our capacity by about 30 per cent. It also offers some innovative packaging opportunities, including going plastic free, so we can Star Tissue 179 coffer more environmentally sustainable packaging for our customers who require that.”

In fact, sustainability in general is on the radar for Star Tissue, and the business is looking at how to reduce its carbon footprint. “We are looking at how we can make products more compact, with more paper, as they will require less transport, and less packaging overall. Our customers are pushing us in that direction and the market is moving that way too, so it is then our responsibility to meet those requirements,” Khalid noted.

As the UK makes its way out of the extreme lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t that long ago that the panic buying of toilet roll and other hygiene products gripped the nation and Khalid admitted that did bring a surge of enquiries to Star Tissue. “We already had full order books but we were in high demand and had to put people off so we could focus on our day-to-day operation,” he said. “But as the lockdown took effect and many of the sectors where our products are used closed, that did have an impact on us and our production. Unfortunately, it’s not something we have control over, so until those sectors come back we are making sure to use this time effectively.

“We’re pushing ahead with the investments mentioned previously, and we are usually running at such a fast pace that we don’t have the opportunity to undertake some of these actions. We are doing them now, whilst things are quiet, so that we will be much better placed, and much stronger when things get back to normal again. We will have our new production capability, as well as existing production equipment that is being upgraded and renovated. We like it to be busy, but these tasks are important and we want to be taking full advantage of this time so that we can be ready for what comes next.”

Future vision
That could be a surge in demand – as Khalid pointed out, as schools, offices and businesses reopen there will likely be a higher requirement for cleaning, as well as hand washing and drying. “We expect the usage of our products to go up in general, but we will likely also see certain sectors decline as people work from home. There could be some new requirements for specific products, which we are looking at, but I can’t really say what they are yet!

“We had already formulated the plans for our new production machine before we even knew what the pandemic would mean, and with this new line we will be able to undertake some activities that not many others can do, and we will be able to test the market a little bit and then fast track some of those products if the demand allows it. I think that we are well placed to benefit from any increase in demand once everything is back to normal.”

From speaking to Khalid, one point that was abundantly clear was that Star Tissue never slows down or rests on its laurels – it is constantly looking for new ways to improve. “We do like to innovate as much as possible,” confirmed Khalid. “We are already looking at further automation in our warehouse and logistics operation, so we can dispatch products to customers a lot faster. This includes automated guided vehicles for example, and shuttles, and supplying real time information to customers.

“We are looking at investing in technology that gives us access to more data, so that we can make decisions faster, too. We are investing in Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things solutions, looking at how we can get our machines communicating more effectively, and we want to maximize the potential for utilizing technology in the business to make it more efficient, more responsive and to be able to service our customers much better.

“Our vision is to be the best in our industry,” he concluded, “and that means looking at our products and the most effective ways to manufacture them - combining the finest people with the most productive technologies available. If we mix that with our own flexibility, then we can continue to meet and exceed the diverse requirements of our valued customers - large or small.”

Star Tissue
Products: Hygiene paper manufacturer
www.startissue.co.uk

Tags:

Page 2 of 187

Contact Us

Manufacturing Today Magazine
Cringleford Business Center
Intwood Road, Norwich, UK,
NR6 4AU

  +44 (0) 1603 274 130

Click here for a full list of contacts.

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.

Click here for more testimonials.

Choose DuPage

Back To Top