Based in the North of England, an area renowned for its industrial heritage and connections to the steel industry, Paralloy is a £50m niche stainless steel and nickel alloy manufacturer. Alongside sister divisions Firth Vickers Centrispinning (FVC) and Firth Vickers Engineering (FVE), Paralloy is a division of Paralloy Ltd, which is itself owned by Nimbus, an investment company founded in 1999. Paralloy Ltd was acquired in 2019 from Doncasters Group by Nimbus LLC as part of a management led buy-out and since then it has gone from strength-to-strength as it focuses on its core capabilities, new product development and export-led growth strategies.
Robert McGowan, CEO of Paralloy Ltd, gave some more details about the divisions as part of his introduction to the firm. “Our main division is based in Billingham, with the FVC sister site in Sheffield,” he began. “That is the last of the famous Firth Vickers facilities still in operation today. Our newest 60,000 sq ft site for FVE is in TeesAMP in Middlesbrough and that opened in 2020 to facilitate further growth.
“Today Paralloy is a leading specialist high alloy steels manufacturer in the petrochemical, syngas and iron DRI Industries,” he continued. “FVC makes proof machine components for the industrial gas turbine, aerospace and industrial markets. Finally, FVE offers fully integrated engineering solutions, including finish machining and sub assembly, quality control and testing.
“So, overall, we are able to manufacture cast products in various forms, from raw and recycled materials through to fully finished precision machined components, sub-assemblies and full fabrications,” Robert explained. “Products begin their journey in one of our two centrifugal foundries, which feature both horizontal and vertical centrifugal processes, or in our static sand casting foundry in Billingham. The parts are then further processed in one of our three machine shops and followed by final assembly in one of our two fabrication shops.”
With three sites employing over 300 people and covering around 250,000 sq ft of manufacturing space, the three divisions of Paralloy Ltd are able to offer round the clock capability. The companies are equipped with a huge variety of plant and also benefited from a significant increase in capital investment under the new ownership. “Recent investments range from software, planning, CNC, boring and sawing, to welding and handling equipment – all designed to improve our capacity, flow, quality and overall product quality,” revealed Robert.
“Furthermore, our focus is on developing the very best in process control, efficiency and plant reliability. We use the latest software and modelling technology to help optimize key processes, control variation and improve reliability.”
As well as supplying many of the world’s most popular nickel and stainless corrosion resistant alloys in their various forms, Paralloy also develops and patents its own market leading alloys for specialist applications via an in-house research and development (R&D) team. “Many of our latest products are focused in higher temperature, low/no coking alloys that improve efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of our end customers,” said Robert. “Our consistent on-going investments in R&D led by Dominique Flahaut are delivering world-class, leading-edge materials solutions and these enable customers to maximize their value. In addition, we combine best-in-class product quality and market leading delivery times and this is helping us to achieve year-on-year growth and differentiate ourselves from the competition.”
As part of its R&D program Paralloy has created number of new patents and products aimed primarily at making significant improvement in efficiency particularly in the ethylene production process. “Our latest material Optim-Al (aluminum containing steel alloy) has been demonstrated to significantly reduce coking in ethylene furnaces and improve production efficiency,” revealed Robert. “Other developments extend component life cycles, reduce material creep at high temperature and enable significant improvements in engine or furnace applications.”
Another interesting development is the Maxim-Al material, which couples the qualities of Optim-Al with an optimized custom designed internal profile to maximize heat transfer, efficiency and reduce coking.
When Robert first introduced Paralloy to the readers of MT, he mentioned the newest facility added to the portfolio – FVE. Now returning to the detail of how that was created, he highlighted that it was born out of the acquisition of Express Engineering’s aerospace division in June 2020. FVE is now established at TeesAMP – the Teesside Advanced Manufacturing Park in Middlesbrough. “This is part of a strategy to vertically integrate our operations, improve our customers’ ability to simplify their operations, reduce their costs whilst simplifying their supply chain management,” he said. “By offering a one-stop-shop for high quality complex castings we are able to optimize the entire supply chain from raw materials management, casting and machining, to assembly and finishing operations, thereby giving our customer the very best possible lead times, lowest cost and highest quality.
“With the current huge financial pressures and disruptions in global supply chains, being able to provide a financially and technically safe UK source of critical components as part of a wider portfolio creates a competitive advantage that is hard to beat.
“Since the acquisition in June we have maintained production throughout the Covid-19 shutdowns, acquired a greenfield site at TeesAMP and relocated the entire FVE business, its assets and its people, which has been a hugely challenging but incredibly successful operation and a credit to the team.”
Continuing with further insights into how the rest of the Group has performed over the last 12 months while dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, Robert was delighted to divulge the fact that rather than close or contract, the business expanded its workforce by around 65 people, and also took extraordinary steps to keep its employees safe. “This is something we are proud of, as we have been able to provide security and opportunity in a time of significant fear and disruption,” he stated. “It was only a few months since we’d left the fold of Doncasters, and we were almost immediately faced with massive uncertainty, risk and supply chain disruption. This had huge implications on potential cashflow, revenues, profit and our plans.
“But from the outset we decided we were not going to take this lying down nor would we compromise on the health and safety of our employees. Les Parker – a great addition to my team – led the charge, hiring in additional canteens, toilets blocks, shower rooms, PPE, doubling the cleaning regimes per day – we even changed the taps to elbow handles! We installed auto anti-virus gel stations everywhere and bought everyone antibody tests in the first wave. We knew from our testing that 25 per cent of our employees were asymptomatic weeks before anything was in the news and we had taken steps to isolate them. We rescheduled the business and focused on what we could do, trying to protect our customers, which include Ineos and others who make sanitizing gels.
“In the first wave, we installed over 50 control measures and continued improving during the second wave, including the installation of anti-virus door handles at all sites and mass testing of employees using the lateral flow tests. Over Christmas we sent everyone home with a hamper and a Covid-19 lateral flow test asking them all to test on the day before they were scheduled to return so that those who came to work could do so with peace of mind.
“By communicating often and engaging the workforce, and by deploying every measure in our power, we have continued to grow, supply our customers and improve our operating performance,” continued Robert. “We walk circumspectly and are very aware of the dangers and are therefore constantly reminding our people not to allow time and complacency to take their toll.”
From the admirable reaction of Paralloy to the coronavirus pandemic, the company’s attitude to its staff is evident – Robert confirmed that ‘people are where it’s at’. “I absolutely believe you reap what you sow and building great teams, trust and competence are mission critical. My overall goal is to make strong teams at every level of our organization. The high pressure, fear and blame culture often found in manufacturing organizations is a pet hate of mine and I believe it destroys the ability to perform over time. My other pet hate is ‘this is how we have always done it’.
“At every opportunity, we seek to attract new talent and create opportunities for the very best people we can find. As an example, I employed Dave Sibson GM for the new FVE business 18 months before we acquired the new business, and up to that point had not considered some of the opportunities we have now. I made him part of the team because I could see potential, and he has done the rest with the support of the team.
“As a culture, we run a tight ship, use clear controls, have a strong work ethic and discipline. We always strive to be fair and supportive and recognize that we are all imperfect and are on a journey – as long as we are learning and getting better every day I am fairly relaxed.
“It’s my job to build trust and to cast vision as well as manage the day-to-day results of our cumulative efforts. I am proud of my first line, each of them are industry experts, highly motivated and results driven. I cannot over emphasize the importance of people from the very foundations of our skill bases in the plants to the front-runners of each business unit. Leading by example, working safely and not thinking in a box are the keys to a great culture.”
Thanks to the strategies and approaches adopted by Paralloy Ltd and its team, the business is experiencing year-on-year growth of around 20 per cent and it continues to obtain new customers around the world. “We are planning to continue on our trajectory of growth both in terms of revenue and EBITDA but equally in terms of organizational strength and performance,” added Robert. “We are opening another new building at the Middlesbrough site in Q1 to support our growth and the delivery of a lot of new plant and equipment is part of our investment plans between Q2 and Q3.
“It’s all to play for, but 2021 promises to be a year of uncertainty, with Covid-19 at the forefront of our minds, global disruption, policy and regulation changes and massive fluctuations in currency exchange rates. Nevertheless, we have a strong order book, reputation and capability underpinned by a strong team that continues to grow and beat their own records.
“For us I believe the future is bright – new products, new investment, new customers, new jobs and significant growth. We are a global brand with a long tradition and huge untapped potential, so we will no doubt continue to use the strength of our performance to invest where there is opportunity in new acquisitions and vertical integration. Ultimately, we are an investment and my ambition is to create an authentic, scalable and sustainably valuable company that is a platform for further growth and has a high-performance culture for the benefit of our current share-holders and stakeholders.”
Products: Manufacturers of centrifugally cast products and solutions