Progressive processes at Thomas Broadbent
Thomas Broadbent & Sons is a specialist in the design and manufacture of centrifuges including support of solid to liquid separation systems and laundry equipment
Supported by over 140 years of experience, the company works closely with process industries to develop its expertise, including chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, mineral, oil and gas, sugar, sweeteners, laundry, and textiles as well as related environmental management and protection sectors. Its centrifuges are installed in over 100 countries and extensive in-house manufacturing facilities provide equipment to international standards.
“We’re an engineering company that manufactures centrifuges for the process industries and the majority of our production is bespoke,” says director John Wright. “Established in 1864, we’re a private company controlled by the Broadbent family with 260 staff and a turnover of £28 million to £30 million per year purely on centrifuges. Our headquarters are in Huddersfield in the UK, where our main manufacturing plant is and we have a wholly owned subsidiary in the US, Broadbent Incorporated, as well as several joint ventures around the world in countries such as China, Spain and Japan. We cover the rest of the world with representative agents.”
Originally an engineering company servicing north England’s textile industry, by the late 1800s Thomas Broadbent was designing and manufacturing centrifuges for the textile industry. By the early 1900s this range of centrifuges had expanded to include the sugar industry and the emerging chemical industry both in the UK and worldwide.
The ability to adapt quickly to change has contributed to Broadbent’s longevity and currently it is reacting to the market shift towards Asia: “The active markets are in the Far East – China, Asia in general, and India – certainly for the petrochemical plant products,” says John. “The market for the sugar industry tends to be the tropical equator belt where sugar cane is produced in the US, South Africa, and Indonesia. Our business has changed over the years and we now export 97 per cent of what we manufacture, compared with 50 per cent 20 years ago because there’s no real development in the UK anymore.“
R&D is at the forefront of Broadbent’s strategy for growth and its experienced in-house design team comprises over 25 engineers and laboratory staff: “R&D is crucial if we are to progress and we aim to conduct three major R&D projects per year. It’s important to keep abreast of technology and ahead of the competition,” explains John. “Major changes, particularly with the types of materials available, have improved machines in terms of quality, cost and performance. For example, standard stainless steel has progressed towards super duplex and alloys, and there have been significant advances in abrasion protection in terms of ceramics and adhesives. The production plants we serve have increased in capacity so we’ve developed larger centrifuges and there is a definite trend in increasing equipment size to cope with industry demands. We actually have the largest commercially available centrifuge for certain processes.”
Improving efficiency is an important aspect of the company’s activities, having implemented a just-intime policy and updated its machinery: “We’ve recently invested in modern manufacturing equipment and multi-discipline machining centres which are capable of machining components in one set up,” says John. “The development of larger centrifuges for higher capacities has been incredibly beneficial. We’re constantly trying to advance efficiency in terms of manufacturing methods, sub-suppliers and selection. We strive with our sub-suppliers to make similar improvements to their processes and supply chain because we work on a just-in-time basis. When we’re building equipment for a contract we have a kit date on which we’d like all parts to arrive from our manufacturing and sub-suppliers so that we aren’t getting parts in early.”
John believes that Thomas Broadbent is in a very strong position despite increasing competition: “The market is buoyant but competition is strong. Our larger machines give us an edge and our multi head machining centres allow us to reduce costs but unfortunately there are too many manufacturers. The market has shrunk and moved to the Far East so manufacturers are trying to penetrate smaller areas. Succeeding in the face of such competition is our biggest challenge.”
Broadbent’s progress in supplying large-scale decanter centrifuges to the Far East has continued with recent deliveries to petrochemical companies in China and Thailand. The exceptionally robust machines provide uninterrupted duty for over a year, thereby reducing additional expense and downtime. “We deliver to clients in China and we’re opening Broadbent facilities there because of market trends. It will be a joint venture with our own service, sales, and support centres similar to Broadbent Incorporated in Texas. We’re already manufacturing certain product ranges in China but our own facilities will be operational in China by the end of this year.”
John believes that the future of Broadbent depends on utilising its long-standing expertise to proceed into new markets: “We intend to grow turnover via associations and manufacturing systems in the Far East although our headquarters will remain in Huddersfield along with the central engineering design and manufacture of strategic parts. Our equipment relies on strong service support so we’re focusing on opening service centres in the key market areas of India, Thailand and China, and I think our future lies in organic growth in overseas markets.”
Products: Centrifuges and related equipment
Sites: West Yorkshire