Changing for the better
Having delivered some of the world’s most prestigious industrial pump projects, the reputation of SPP Pumps for quality and value continues to grow as it diversifies its offering and its client base
It was back in 2015 that Manufacturing Today last had the privilege of documenting the activities of SPP Pumps, a leading manufacturer of centrifugal pumps and associated systems with more than 130 years of history and experience behind it. In May 2021, we were able to catch up with the UK-based pump producer and its Managing Director, Alok Kirloskar, who went into great detail as to what the intervening years have been like for the business.
“During the mid-2010s, SPP Pumps was what I would consider to be a very oil and gas reliant business, with a great number of products being sold into that particular industry,” Alok begins. “With the downturn in oil prices hitting around the mid-2014 period, a bold decision was taken by the company to focus on how best to diversify itself so as to be less reliant on one market. Considering the wealth of knowledge that we possess when it comes to oil and gas, it was considered a prudent move for us to venture into the maintenance and services realm, which we did initially by working with Petronas. We would subsequently go on to sign additional framework agreements with the likes of Shell, BP, and more recently with a number of the newer, private-equity-backed operators that have taken over the running of various platforms and assets.
“The next logical step for the company was to develop what we call our subscription services, which include all of the associated smart diagnostics, data signs and predictive capabilities surrounding the management and maintenance of our pumps so as to ensure reliability and the effective management of costs for the operator. The popularity of these concepts especially in the pandemic as well as SPP’s platforms like Fire Eye™ and Kirlosmart™ helped to transition SPP Pumps from being just another maintenance company into a multi-faceted service provider.”
SPP Pumps has gone on to further embrace new technology to deliver greater results to its clients. For instance, today it is making use of Augmented Reality (AR) technology to support its field service work. “What our AR platform – which comes in the form of an app connected to the Kirlosmart™ platform – does is provide all of our engineers with the information, data and support needed to assist our customers efficiently and effectively,” Alok explains. “Utilizing cameras, the software can pinpoint a specific pump and draw up from our digital library its model, dimensions, and historic issues reported by past service engineers along with a live tutorial to resolve common issues. This results in faster resolutions to problems being identified and enacted, and helps in our objective to provide consistency in our service and delivery to our customers.”
Meanwhile, from an internal manufacturing perspective, SPP Pumps has continued to make expert use of modern processes, such as its use of 3D printers, which have become integral pieces of equipment to its everyday actions. “3D printing has very much changed the dynamics of our industry for the better,” Alok confirms. “Today, we are able to use this technology to print parts in a matter of hours, which means a customer can receive the parts they require in little more than a couple of weeks, as opposed to months as would have been the case in the past.”
In order to adapt to the ever-changing nature of the business world around it in recent times, SPP Pumps has broadened its horizons further by not only embracing new markets to serve, but also extending its geographic reach. “Where we have seen significant growth is in our work within the water and utilities sectors, producing pumps and pumps as turbines (PAT) that are helping to generate power for clients not only here in the UK – for the likes of Scottish Water – but also abroad, such as in Hong Kong where we work with Hong Kong Water,” Alok details.
Where SPP Pumps has also shown its forward-thinking characteristics is in its determination to also work with those clients whose efforts are increasingly turning to making the greatest use of renewable sources of energy as possible. “As the UK’s leading pump manufacturer, it is a requirement that SPP Pumps remains being seen as a leader within its field. As such, we have followed the trend towards sustainability closely over the years, and continue to work both internally and externally with our clients to source ever-greener solutions and ways of working, this includes fish friendly pumps manufactured by companies within our group” Alok enthuses.
In spite of the impact felt by economies and industries the world over as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, SPP Pumps actually saw its profits almost double in 2020 compared to those achieved in 2019. Alok goes on to document how the business responded to the crisis, and which factors have helped to contribute to its performance in the last 12-to-18 months. “Initially, when the pandemic struck, it is fair to say that there was a lot of confusion out there as it pertained to changing rules, guidance and potential shut downs of different sectors,” he says. “What we knew right away, however, was that there was an immediate need to ensure that we could conserve cash within the business, which we did by reviewing all of our planned spending, and by retaining good control of any debt we had. Part of the reason for this was so that we could continue to pay our suppliers, who we have shared strong relations with for many years, and who we knew would be critical to our future prosperity regardless of the pandemic.
“We also benefitted greatly from the British government’s various business support schemes, such as the furlough scheme, and from our people’s willingness and ability to adapt to changing ways of working. While our teams responsible for the running of our manufacturing facilities remained on-site, those whose roles were shifted to working remotely embraced this challenge very well. In many ways, I think the last year has – if anything – brought our teams even closer together, which is a fantastic development.”
Looking to both the short- and long-term future, Alok is cautiously optimistic about what lays in the months and years ahead for SPP Pumps. “Although I would say that the vast majority of the markets that we serve today – including oil and gas, the water and the utilities sectors – look fairly buoyant at the moment, we are still approaching the immediate future with a degree of caution as the economies of the world re-open and government-backed support packages wind down,” he says. “In terms of what we are doing as a business, we continue to invest in various services, such as our subscription service, and support functions. For example, we have recently opened a new Service Centre in Coleford, Gloucestershire, which represents an important piece of capital expenditure that will help to support our growing services business for many years to come.
“Referencing back on a point made earlier, the time between 2015 and 2018, at the height of the downturn in oil prices, were some of the most challenging years in the company’s history. Nevertheless, the decisions that we made during that time to diversify our offering, product range and geographic reach, have paid dividends during 2019 and 2020, and we expect that pattern to continue throughout 2021 and beyond.”
Products: Centrifugal pumps and associated systems