Forged in steel
Renowned since the late 1800s for its ethos of integrity and dependability, William Hackett is the UK’s leading provider of chain products and lifting solutions
The oldest UK-based chain manufacturer in existence, William Hackett was originally founded in 1892, and has been manufacturing its chain and steel-based products continuously ever since. To this day, the company’s Chain manufacturing factory remains based in Cradley, West Midlands, where it produces chain products and chain harrows. More recently – in 1989 – a separate lifting division was established in Alnwick, Northumberland, and this has gone on to establish itself as being a global supplier of equipment, specializing in the work that occurs between the hook and the load.
Over the years, William Hackett has formed a number of strategic, long-term partnerships with other manufacturers throughout the world, enabling it to supply a wide range of products at competitive prices, as well as to tailor products to meet specific customer needs. “Today, we supply chain products into lifting, lashing, marine, mining and agricultural markets around the globe,” confirms Sales and Business Development Director, Ben Burgess. “By supplying to the distributors of some of the largest contractors working on the international stage, our products have become important assets to a whole host of infrastructure projects, from the construction of HS2, the Terminal 5 building at Heathrow Airport and the Olympic Park, to major offshore developments such as the Forties Oil Field in the North Sea.”
William Hackett is a family-owned business, and Ben joined in late 2012, having previously held a senior role within British Telecom’s (BT) Global Services operation. “My expertise during my time with BT was in identifying industry-leading competencies that BT had within the UK and taking these to a global marketplace. When I joined William Hackett, I quickly saw how its products were being used to great effect by those companies operating out of Aberdeen and in the North Sea, and I theorized that if they were good enough for such extreme environments, then why not also those found in places such as the Gulf of Mexico or throughout the Middle East. By pinpointing a set of competencies and excellence within the products we supply that were transferable to these different markets, the company has subsequently been able to experience significant geographic growth.”
Having been with the business for just short of a decade now, it is interesting to hear Ben’s take on what he feels sets William Hackett apart from its peers or competitors. “I think that there are a few things that make us unique in our field,” he explains. “In certain products we are a manufacturer involved in all stages of production from the use of raw steel material through to the finished article. That means we have the capabilities to do everything from straightening and heating, to bending and welding of the steel itself. Now, in that regard, we may be similar to some of our competitors. Where we differentiate ourselves, however, is in our work with manufacturing partners around the world whose strengths compliment ours but whose geographic locations benefit from lower costs of raw materials, energy consumption or labor compared to ours in the UK.
“So, by operating as part of a global supply chain, and taking what I like to think of as a 21st century approach to manufacturing, we are able to identify what we feel are our own core competencies – such as retaining the design of our products and those manufacturing processes that we wish to keep in-house – while at the same time outsourcing other work to those partners whose quality and expertise we trust. The result is an operating model that is highly agile and efficient, and which delivers customers a William Hackett product that is synonymous with the brand’s reputation. This vertically integrated approach also allows us to make strategic decisions on a product development level at a far greater pace than our competitors.”
The process of product development at William Hackett comes as result of continuous communication between it and its customers. Where the company particularly excels is in its understanding of the various applications in which its products are used and the challenges within these. This has resulted in the development of numerous innovations and industry-firsts that can be found in use across the world today.
Take its HA Master Links as an example. “Master Links are a common sight in offshore works,” Ben continues. “Originally, we had what we call our HA OS range of these products. Following the installation of a robotic forming and welding machinery development of steel chemistry and heat treatment controls at McKinnon Chain, we were able to upgrade this line in the form of our OS+ range, which gives greater working load limits and overall performance.
“Other instances of important product development that we offer can be found within our lifting and hoisting range, such as our collection of load attachment products. For example, you have the type 203 metric thread Swivel Hoist Ring (manufactured by one of our partners, YOKE), which is an excellent product that is perfectly suited for onshore works, and then you have the Offshore Swivel Hoist Ring, which we have designed, tested, and manufactured here in UK for use in the harshest of environments. With the latter, we have included a lower hardness bolt with a type of coating that protects the product from corrosion.”
In the last few years, growth in demand for William Hackett’s services have been such that production at its Alnwick factory alone has doubled. Similarly, the business is also starting to see increased success at its more recently opened warehouse and distribution facility in Houston, Texas. “Over in Houston, we have established what we call a ‘pick and collect’ service, where we deal exclusively with box quantities,” Ben adds. “Utilizing the same warehousing logistics system that we have in the UK, we have a bin location system in place, which allows a customer to go online and see in real-time what stock is currently being held, before reserving what they want, and once we have issued an order confirmation it will be placed on a loading ramp to be picked up by the collection service that is tasked with the job by the distributor in question.”
To support its growth, back in the UK the company is also continuing to make important investments in its manufacturing capabilities. An extension to the Northumberland site has doubled the manufacturing and storage capacity. Another notable recent addition is a 75-tonne dynamic vertical test bed, which is believed to be one of largest dynamic hoist test machines in Europe. “The manufacturer of this particular piece of equipment assures us that it is the largest of its kind that they have ever constructed, making it what we believe will be an industry-first in Europe at least,” Ben affirms. “It also helps to highlight how investing in additional technical equipment that improves the safety of the products that we offer and the warranty that we can apply to our products remains a key component of our expansion plans.”
The company’s expansion plans were no doubt challenged by the year that was 2020, but William Hackett’s approach to maintaining good stock levels at all times meant that it is better placed than many of its competitors to service its customers when activity levels increased following Covid-19-related lockdowns. “During the past year, we have worked exceptionally hard to service our customers and hence maintain our turnover, and we believe that in what was a uniquely suppressed market, that we were actually able to take market share away from others within our key sectors,” Ben enthuses.
As 2021 progresses, and more projects both onshore and offshore kick back into life, Ben is confident that the company will see a greater pull through of more enquiries and sales, thanks in large part to the hard work it has done in solidifying itself in the past year and more. “We are currently in discussions with rigging shops operating in different parts of the world – from Australia and Hong Kong to North America and Brazil – and I am very confident that we can get most if not all of them to convert to William Hackett in the very near future,” he states.
“Our plan over the next five years is very much to double the size of the business, which will then fulfil the manufacturing capacity that we have built up in Alnwick and beyond,” Ben concludes. “Furthermore, as a result of our data driven approach to market analysis, we know where future market potential rests, and given that we have proven time and again that the products that we stock are competitive and compelling, we have the confidence of knowing that we have every chance of replicating our success wherever demand may come from in the future.”
Products: Chain and chain-related products