Sustainability in the copper sector might not have been possible 50 years ago. However, Metelec is now proving that with a little bit of innovation, anything is possible

Metelec, the UK’s only mill-owned center of excellence for extruded copper, has a history that dates back over two decades. Acquired by the Gindre Group in 2002, the company has undergone significant transformation, particularly under the leadership of Kevin Draper, who has been at the helm for over three years. 

“When I joined, Metelec was a very traditional metal stockholder,” Kevin explains. “Although it was successful, it had hit a ceiling with a turnover of around £20 million. Recognizing the potential for growth in the copper market, especially with the rise of data hosting, electrification, and green energy, we set out to expand.” 

With a well-established operation, the business needed a well-oiled team. When asked about the company culture, Kevin describes it as open and engaged.Extruded copper products “There’s no demarcation; we’re one team,” he says. With the consolidation into a new, unified workspace, operational challenges have been overcome, fostering a sense of unity among employees. Kevin also emphasizes the importance of building a motivated and dependable workforce, as well as a high caliber management team composed of industry experts from various sectors. Leveraging supply chain principles, they analyze order books and customer segments to forecast demands accurately. “We took a punt two years ago and said, ‘I’m confident I’m going to be 80 percent right that these are the product demands for the year,’” Kevin explains. “Through experience we now have the ability to reserve capacity by machine with our parent supplier, this effectively gives us a four-week lead time, a significant advantage in a market with up to 22-week lead times for some products.” He confirms the team has been exceptional. 

Taking the business’ manufacturing one step further, Kevin expresses that sustainability is also key to Metelec’s ethos. “It’s the heart of the brand,” he says. With a pedigree of 200 years, Metelec’s parent company, Gindre, is vertically aligned through ownership to Montanwerke Brixlegg, a primary smelter, based in Austria, on a site that has been smelting copper for over 500 years. Situated in the Alps, Montanwerke Brixlegg operates with a focus on sustainability, recycling copper from 100 percent recycled material. 

Minimizing environmental impact

“They’ve developed processes to recover and upcycle all grades of copper from sources such as production scrap, electronic equipment, motors, mobile phones, and then extract valuable materials like tin, silver, and gold,” Kevin explains. “The energy required for refinement is supplied by five hydro plants, making it a truly renewable operation.” As a result, Metelec boasts the lowest carbon footprint primary source in the world for producing copper, emitting only 0.74 tons of CO2 equivalent per ton of copper, compared to the industry average of 4.6 tonnes. “Sustainability is not just a buzzword for us; it’s ingrained in everything we do,” Kevin emphasizes. “From our supply chain to our production processes, we’re committed to minimizing our environmental impact while providing high-quality copper products. We invest in a wide range of high-quality copper products for distribution across the UK and Ireland.” 

Sustainability strategy

Metelec’s commitment to sustainability is not just a vision but a tangible reality, building on the primary copper smelting activity that is independently certified and verified by TUV, a leading auditing authority in Germany. “This next year they’ll be looking to publish their through supply chain embedded carbon figures, meaning our Scope 3 CO2 emissions will be transparent and certified,” Kevin proudly states. 

With sustainability as the cornerstone of the brand, Metelec is ahead of the curve, with plans for a zero-carbon future. The new 47,973 square-foot office, manufacturing and distribution center at Hilton Cross Business Park in Wolverhampton is a significant milestone for the business as it looks to take the next step in its growth. “It’s an excellent building, with the best insulation and air source heat pumps,” Kevin explains. “We’re also planning to install solar panels on the roof and already have the infrastructure for 45 electric vehicle ports.” 

Employee engagement

Moreover, Metelec is exploring innovative solutions, like microgrids, with key partners to actively manage energy usage. “We’re looking at zero-carbon manufacturing through our new equipment and potentially investing in electric trucks for local deliveries,” Kevin adds. 

But how has this shift towards sustainability been received by customers and stakeholders? Kevin acknowledges that while environmentally savvy clients have embraced the change, others are taking time to adjust. “It’s quite an old industry,” he remarks. “You have clients steeped in tradition and old practices.” However, the true measure of success of the transition lies in the response from Metelec’s employees, who have embraced the sustainable journey. “The amount of engagement we’ve had from our employees is phenomenal,” Kevin proudly states. “Together with the supply chain, it’s going to be the true differentiator. 

“On top of significant investment and restructuring in 2021, we’ve invested around £400,000 in state-of-the-art CNC machinery this year to enable production of busbars and other electrical connections. We tailor our offering around customer demand for low, medium, and high voltage switchgear and other power infrastructure applications. With this in mind, we’ll continue to invest in CNC manufacturing equipment, and consider our manufacturing product provision as a service; we can fill capacity gaps, deliver bespoke solutions, fulfil repeat order requirements, or provide complete kits.” 

We then turn our attention to wider industry challenges. Navigating the complexities of the supply chain hasn’t been easy, especially with recent economic turbulence. Kevin emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement and investing in relationships to overcome challenges. “It’s a real challenge,” he admits, “but it’s the only way forward.” 

Growth trajectory

Looking ahead to 2024, Metelec anticipates growth in two key areas: data management and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. “AI is exploding the demand for data centers, and the growth in electric vehicles is set to be phenomenal,” Kevin predicts. As for Metelec’s long-term vision, Kevin reveals the business just kicked off its 2028 strategy. With plans for a further 50 percent growth and increased emphasis on manufacturing, particularly in the electric vehicle sector, the future looks bright. 

In conclusion, Metelec’s journey towards sustainability is not just about reducing its environmental footprint; it’s about embracing innovation, fostering employee engagement, and leading the way towards a greener future in the manufacturing industry with product that is essential to enable the green energy transition.