Engineering innovation

By nurturing loyalty and sustained growth, Ramfoam offers unparalleled expertise in foam conversion, from design and prototypes, through to high-volume supply

Established as a privately-owned SME in 1995, Ramfoam is the UK’s leading manufacturer, converter and supplier of closed cell polyethylene and open cell polyurethane foam. “We specialise primarily in the conversion of expanded polyethylene-grade foams for use across a diverse range of UK and international markets, from healthcare and automotive to aerospace and leisure,” states the company’s Group Sales Director, Timothy Mulqueen.

Covering a total work area of 90,000-square-feet, Ramfoam’s main facility is based in Oldbury, in the West Midlands, from which it serves customers in the UK, Europe and ROW. It is here that the company also sought out a new, 100,000-Ramfoam asquare-foot building in which to install new machinery and manufacture its new and market eading RamfoamCare+ Protective Visor. In addition to these sites, Ramfoam also has a facility in Dubai, UAE – called Ramfoam Repackaging Services LLC – which opened in 2016 to serve its Middle East and Africa-based customers.

“Our manufacturing processes range from the simple splitting of foam sheets, to highly complex CNC machined components, while our vast array of products and applications include everything from product case inserts, medical accessories and exercise mats, to buoyancy aids, construction insulation and cushioning, and automotive door and roof systems,” Timothy continues. “What sets us apart, is our continual investment into the latest and most advanced manufacturing technologies, which allows us to be world leaders in the conversion of polyethylene foams. As a business, we are constantly adapting and evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of the industries we supply, and this rapid adaptation is what enabled us to become one of the primary suppliers to the NHS.

“When the UK first went into lockdown in March as a means of suppressing the virus, Ramfoam – like many other manufacturers and processers globally – had no choice but to face the titanic challenge of quickly adapting,” Timothy highlights. “We knew immediately that we wanted to support the NHS, particularly amidst a growing and pressing shortage of PPE products, so we rapidly joined the ranks of the 16,000 other businesses who applied to assist.

“This decision, coupled with existing experience in medical markets and our ability to design and test our protective face shield in a matter of weeks, led us to be awarded a DHSC contract to supply three million RamfoamCare+ visors each week to the NHS. As a direct result of that contract, we’ve been able to create over 500 new jobs and safeguard in excess of 1000, either directly with Ramfoam or throughout our wider supply chain.”

Elaborating on the above achievement, Timothy explains how the company already possessed significant experience in converting medical-grade foam products for the healthcare market in numerous applications, and therefore knew that it was more than capable of creating a market-leading product that would help to protect frontline medical workers. “We had previously been approached by a number of companies to supply foam strips for face visors, and with input from our existing NHS contact base, we were able to create the RamfoamCare+ Face Visor in record time,” he says.

“In early April 2020, we set out to develop something that could offer the maximum amount of protection in the most comfortable, sustainable and cost-effective way, and that didn’t cause painful sores or open wounds around the ears after long periods of use. We wanted to create a visor that was manufactured from world-class modern British materials, with the least number of components possible (just two), to allow easy self-assembly in seconds using replaceable and recyclable components, and finally to create high-volume production capabilities. After a very intensive period of design and testing, the team was able to develop the RamfoamCare+ Protective Visor in a matter of weeks.”

Now that production is fully underway, Ramfoam has made its visors commercially available beyond the NHS and is currently supplying schools, retailers, private healthcare bodies and hospitality venues throughout the UK and rest of the world. It is also proud to offer its premium face visors in fashionable colors with fun sticker accessories, direct to consumer via its customer facing brand UltimateVisor.

Ramfoam benefitted greatly from already having a highly multi-skilled workforce that had recently taken part in a reskilling process before Covid-19 hit, which meant that it held a comprehensive skills matrix in-house. “When we recruited for the extra jobs created by the NHS contract, as well as the usual qualities of diligence, adaptability and attention to detail, we sought out staff who would have the same level of commitment and dedication as we do,” Timothy continues. “Every member of our team at Ramfoam is incredibly proud to play a role in helping to protect the NHS. Every one of us who comes to work in the morning knows that each visor we manufacture is a chance to stop the spread, lower the transmission risk and ultimately even save someone’s life – and there is absolutely nothing more motivating for us as a workforce and a business.

“Meanwhile, from an infrastructure point of view, we had also previously invested heavily in the automation of some of our equipment, including press machinery and wrapping, which meant we were able to ramp up production quickly. Ramfoam bAdditionally, we sought the support of Warwick Manufacturing Group’s High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult who, along with the team from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), added significant value by helping us with factory modelling, mapping and automation. WMG assembled a team as part of their Digital Innovation for Manufacturing project to support our highly ambitious scale-up plan. Their use of 3D shop floor simulations helped us to test its layout and process assumptions digitally, prior to moving into our new facility, which – along with the help of Nissan Motors UK - enabled us to de-risk our scale up plans.”

This year – 2020 – marks the 25th anniversary of the company, and this milestone gives Timothy the opportunity to not only reflect on the whole team at Ramfoam’s success to date, but also what the coming years may hold. “We are firm believers in the necessity for adaptability in manufacturing. If we hadn’t been able to continually identify new trends and needs in our key markets, our business might look very different today. The quote that sums up our premise most succinctly is Charles Darwin’s observation that ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ Aligned to that is our ethos that when the team pulls together, everyone achieves more.

“As with most organizations, our initial medium to long-term plans have had to flex to accommodate the new normal that is life with Covid-19. However, we remain keen to continue to positively impact our customers and extended community wherever possible. As part of our plan to venture into new markets, we are actively investing in the business by expanding our operational leadership along with the creation of a new in-house design team using state of the art software to offer 3D visualization of products, and an enhanced service offering to our global customer base and partner network, along with additional hiring across sales and related support functions in the business. We strive to be the international partner of choice for foam related solutions – and we will achieve this by entering new countries and markets, enabled by dedication, hard work and team effort.”

In concluding his thoughts, Timothy has one final, important point to make, and it refers back to the success that the company has had with its RamfoamCare+ Protective Visor. “We would strongly encourage all trading sectors to explore the use of protective visors as an addition to traditional face masks – and the benefits that these can add to your business in terms of protecting staff, ensuring consumer confidence and showcasing corporate branding,” he enthuses. “Visors protect the most vulnerable areas, such as the eyes, nose and mouth from splashing or spraying, while the anti-fog visor and the latex-free foam headpiece are washable and recyclable making them highly cost effective. As we move through what could be a difficult winter, we want to help protect as many staff in as many sectors as possible and halt the virus, and in addition let’s make Great British manufacturing great again.”

Services: Foam suppliers, manufacturers and converters

Generating a buzz

Founded in December 1999, Holtec Gas Systems (Holtec) is today an internationally recognized, experienced designer and supplier of nitrogen generation systems

Holtec Gas Systems (Holtec) was the brainchild of its President, Thorstein Holt who – with many years of experience in the field of gas separation under his belt – recognized an opportunity in the market for a company that would be able to provide the most efficient nitrogen generators around. More than 20 years later, Holtec has designed and fabricated solutions for a variety of industrial, food and beverage, and manufacturing applications worldwide, and continues to provide Holtec aa complete turnkey solution, from concept to engineering design, fabrication, commissioning, and personnel training.

Nitrogen generation has been shown to provide an affordable, energy-conscious alternative to liquid nitrogen/high pressure gas cylinders. Holtec supplies both membrane and PSA type generators – either as standard models or custom-built in accordance with precise specifications – that are ready to hook-up to a compressed air supply. It also provides engineering support, as well as repair services for existing installations.

“Our customers are – and have always been – our number one priority, and we make it our mission to respond rapidly to existing customers needing support, as well as new customers needing proposals,” Thorstein explains. “Our experience in the gas separation industry dates back to the early 1980’s, and our employees have an in-depth knowledge of nitrogen generators that helps them to design, build, service and support all of our products. Based on the broad experience of our team, we come up with new ideas to improve our products to make them more efficient and user friendly.

“We spend a significant amount of time on research and development to improve the system efficiency to reduce air consumption, and therefore lower the operating cost to make the return of investment time shorter than that of our competition. We focus, as well, on building long lasting systems, which require very little maintenance. So, in summary, reliability, efficiency and customer service are the main differentiators that have contributed to Holtec’s success.”

Effective research and development has also been of constant importance for Holtec and its ability to produce the most efficient, user friendly and durable systems on the market. “Over the last decade, for instance, there has been a continuing movement towards pressure swing adsorption (PSA) type nitrogen generators being the technology of choice,” Thorstein states. “Holtec’s strength was in building larger PSA systems marketed under a series titled HNS, however, in 2017 we launched what has become a highly successful smaller product line designated HNBS, and this has allowed us to further cement our reputation for being a one-stop-shop for generators of all sizes.”

At the same time that the company has been increasing its physical product range, it has also been developing important supporting technology, such as its HoltecConnectTM and EnergyAssistantTM features for PSAs. The former is a remote monitoring and control tool that allows the company to operate and troubleshoot its nitrogen generators from anywhere in the world, which has become particularly useful in these challenging, Covid-19 dominated times. The latter, meanwhile, turns Holtec’s generators into variable capacity systems, where users can save up to 60 per cent of their air if they only consume 40 per cent of the rated capacity. Also in the case of PSA technology, Holtec has also developed and proved-out a comprehensive and accurate design simulation program to ensure its system designs perform as predicted every time and at the optimum efficiency. As a result of having this simulation program, there is now no longer a need to run costly factory acceptance tests for large systems, as they consistently meet or exceed the guaranteed performance.

One of the biggest recent developments involving Holtec was its announcement in June 2020 that it would be investing some $3 million into purchasing and updating a 50,000-square-foot facility in its home of St. Charles, Missouri. “This investment represents an immediate increase in shop floor space of over four times our previous location, with an additional equal amount of space that is currently being leased to a tenant,” Thorstein details. “We looked at a lot of properties before we found one in St. Charles that met our requirements. One was for it to have high ceilings, so we could install a large overhead crane, which is already in place. By having this capability, we can assemble larger nitrogen generators in-house with increased efficiency to reduce cost and fabrication time. A larger forklift truck was also purchased to increase our production capabilities. Another big investment was a large air compressor so we can test large nitrogen generators as well, without having to charge our customers extra.

“Other benefits include the fact that, previously, we had to store parts and materials at several different locations in Illinois and Missouri, whereas now everything is stored under one roof. This reduces storage, shipping cost, and production time, and increases our manufacturing efficiency. We have therefore been able to reduce the price and delivery time of many of our nitrogen generators to make us even more competitive. We have a big back yard where we are able to build large containerized nitrogen generators, which was a more difficult task at our old location.”

Having the right infrastructure and technology in place is, of course, of vital importance for any business, but as Thorstein goes on to highlight, it is the people that make up Holtec that are the most important element of all. “Our products and services are provided by our employees and their creativity, and without them there is no business,” he proclaims. “Purchasing our new facility shows our employees that we are in this for the long run, and it has energized everybody in a very positive way. Not only has it led to increased efficiency, but also to new thinking and even a more pleasant working environment. We have also found that, with Covid-19, having a bigger place makes it easier with social distancing to Holtec bkeep our critical business in operation.”

At the time of our conversation with Thorstein, the company was in the midst of preparing to appear as a speaker at the Growing Global 2020 – Globalization in Transition online interactive event on September 25, 2020. “The Growing Global event is hosted annually by the World Trade Center of St. Louis,” he tells us. “We have been working closely with them for many years, and they have connected us with Missouri’s Department of Economic Development and other resources to help Holtec and other Missouri businesses grow their export business. At this year’s event, we will share our experience in order to help other companies understand the important aspects of growing their export business. We expect it will be a good opportunity for us to connect with many possible local customers, as well as new suppliers.”

Looking beyond the Growing Global 2020 event, Thorstein feels that with its new facility having lots of space for expansion and growth, Holtec is in a good place to further grow its sales and distribution network, and in turn, add new employees to its team so that it can meet increased production demand. “We have the potential to double or triple our revenue in the next several years, and therefore get the best use out of our new facility,” he adds. “Effective research and development will be needed to continuously improve our nitrogen generators for this to become a reality.”

In looking ahead to the future, Thorstein is also able to reflect on the past and on the success that Holtec has had. “When I started this company in my basement more than 20 years ago, it was a very different time,” he reminisces. “Not many people had the special blend of nitrogen generation technology expertise and manufacturing experience to field a competitive nitrogen generator product. Since then, the landscape has changed drastically. Where Holtec has led the way, many other companies have attempted to follow. We have outlasted many of them, but every day we are hearing about others just starting. Our goal is to outlast these too.

“We will do so by spending a lot of time brainstorming, testing, discussing, debating, and sometimes even yelling at each other about how to create the best quality, yet affordable, nitrogen generator. We believe strongly that the strength of one’s reputation goes a very long way, so we are very passionate about making sure all of our customers are happy customers. Our promise is very simple. When we sell a nitrogen generator, it’s going to do what we said it would do; and if by chance it’s not right, we will make it right. In 20 years of business, that has never been an issue, so it’s not a scary or bold claim for us to make, ever.”

Holtec Gas Systems
Products: Nitrogen generation systems

On A roll

Constantly evolving, Nova Tissue is a family run manufacturer of toilet tissue with a reputation for utilizing the latest equipment to execute on contemporary market trends

When people hoping to purchase toilet roll began to gather outside the gates of Nova Tissue’s production facility earlier this year, Managing Director Khurram Iqbal knew that 2020 was going to be different. During what Khurram - tongue firmly in cheek - describes as the ‘infamous toilet roll shortage of 2020’, demand for Nova Tissue’s products skyrocketed, to the extent that the firm was receiving hundreds of emails and telephone enquiries a day. The surge was unlike Nova aanything the company’s MD had ever seen before.

“We were absolutely inundated,” he recalls. “From supermarkets to homeless shelters, foodbanks to people turning up at our factory – everybody wanted toilet roll. We have always operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so there wasn’t really a great deal more we could do in terms of quantity, but for three months we were flooded with orders.”

Since then, as Covid-19 restrictions have continued to impact businesses across the UK and Europe, Nova Tissue has experienced a lull in the market. According to Khurram, it is not a phenomenon unique to the UK, but something being felt across the breadth of the industry.

“When we speak to colleagues and other companies in the industry, everybody is in the same situation,” he says. “The whole market seems to be depressed at the moment. Manufacturers of away-from-home products for hotels, pubs, and restaurants are also suffering because much of the hospitality sector is still subject to major restrictions. Even on the consumer side, money isn’t being spent in the same way it was before the pandemic. The high streets are not busy, and we suspect that this is likely to continue until at least the end of the year.”

Despite the challenges, Khurram is upbeat about the company’s current standing and is keen to use the market downturn to prepare Nova Tissue for the future. Unwilling to dwell on the momentary reduction in sales, Khurram is focusing on using the second half of 2020 to ensure that the company is ready to take advantage of any opportunities that may present themselves as soon as regular levels of demand return.

“As a business, we are concentrating on what we can control. Once we make it through Covid-19 and Brexit, we know that we will be able to hit the ground running in terms of new product ranges, refreshed pricing, and our preparedness to take on new opportunities,” Khurram asserts. “From speaking to our customers, we are aware that if we can lay the groundwork now, there is no reason why we can’t be in a very, very strong position in six months’ time.”

One of the reasons Khurram is so confident about the future of Nova Tissue is down to the company’s strong family culture. Founded by his father in 1986, Khurram purchased the business in 2017 and the company’s family dynamic has never been lost. With multiple generations of the Iqbal family still working at Nova Tissue, Khurram believes that the firm maintains a strength, unity, and resilience that only working with family can induce.

“Nova Tissue has always been a family company at heart and I still have siblings, uncles, and brothers-in-law working here in key positions throughout the factory - not just in the office but down in the warehouse too,” Khurram reveals. “I think it brings a dynamic to our business that you wouldn’t find in large companies. It extends to our customers too, many of whom we know on a first name basis. We like to create close relationships with our clients and we have a customer retention rate well above the industry average.

“In terms of managing the family dynamic, we probably have more open discussions than you might expect in a normal corporate environment, but it definitely makes for a relaxed and enjoyable place to work because you’re in such close proximity to people you enjoy spending time with,” Khurram adds. “There is a strength and closeness throughout the management team here that I think is only possible in a family business.”

Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, adaptability has become a vital trait for businesses wishing to succeed in a difficult climate. Renowned for its ability to evolve and adjust, Nova Tissue is always finding ways to give better service. Constantly redefining, redeveloping, and redesigning its offering, the company ensures that its products are perfectly suited to the requirements of both its customers and, most importantly, its end users. It is this ability to Nova bunderstand the market that has helped to inspire Nova Tissue’s longevity and continuing growth.

“We always have an eye on the final end user,” Khurram claims. “As a starting point with all our products, we ask ourselves: ‘If we were the end user, would we purchase this product?’. We like to make sure that everything we produce is not only visually appealing on retailers’ shelves, but also, if it’s kitchen towel, it needs to be strong and absorbent, and if it’s toilet roll it must be soft and luxurious.”

A manufacturer and supplier of various toilet roll and kitchen roll products, including economy packs, luxury packs, two-ply, three-ply, perfumed, and jumbo rolls, Nova Tissue is proactive in its search for product development opportunities, aiming to predict market trends rather than react to them. One of the latest trends the firm has tapped into is eco-friendly products, a range that Khurram suggests is being directly driven by user demand.

“Eco-friendly products are something really contemporary and it seems that everybody at the moment is looking to purchase goods that are more sustainable, that have ethical supply chains, and that are produced and manufactured locally,” he states. “We currently have a range of eco-friendly products under the brand name Soft on Nature, which incorporates both toilet roll and kitchen roll. It is something being requested by people emailing our company; even school children have been writing to us to say that this is something they believe should be more widely available. We want to service that demand.”

The new eco-friendly range that Khurram describes works as part of Nova Tissue’s larger sustainability efforts. As well as exploring carbon offsetting schemes, the company sources all its raw materials locally from established, accredited suppliers with FSC and PEFC certification.

Another way the company stays ahead of its competition is by embracing the latest technology and equipment. Nova Tissue is proud to work closely with manufacturers across Europe in order to stay abreast of the latest news on new machinery that could give the firm a competitive edge.

“Year-on-year, we replace some of the older equipment in our facility with newer, more modern, more reliable, automated technology, allowing us to make products faster, more efficiently, with less downtime and less reliance on service work, maintenance and engineering,” Khurram explains. “This is something that, despite the Covid-19 situation, and despite Brexit, remains a constant part of our plans and we budget for it year in, year out.

“A lot of the equipment we have onsite at present comes directly from two partners that we work with particularly closely,” Khurram continues. “One of them is Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC), and the second is Rolco Europe. Based in the Netherlands, they are a family company like us. Not only do they provide us with new equipment, but they work really closely with us to make sure our very specific requirements are met. We are not always just looking for new machinery but for something bespoke that fits in with our operation, the size of our premises, and the types of changeovers we want to do.”

As well as profiting from the market-leading capabilities of the firm’s pioneering new equipment, Nova Tissue clients also benefit from customer service tailored to their individual needs. “We deal with independent wholesalers, retailers, and chemist chains. We also export to Ireland, Africa, Malta, and our products even end up as far away as India and Pakistan. Considering toilet tissue and kitchen roll doesn’t really lend itself to export, we’ve always performed well in the export market,” Khurram comments. “What sets us apart are our fantastic service levels, whether it is someone who buys from us twice a year or a major customer who purchases ten truckloads a week.”

Buoyed by the success it experienced in the early part of 2020, Nova Tissue is ready to move forward – something that comes naturally to a company built on values of ambition and enterprise. Beyond Covid-19, Khurram believes that, with the right support, the business will soon be on a roll again.

“Due to the pandemic,” he remarks, “the UK manufacturing sector is currently receiving backing from the Government. If it continues, there is no reason why we can’t be optimistic about the future of the whole tissue converting industry in the UK.”

Nova Tissue
Products: Toilet roll and kitchen roll

Beyond robots

A privately owned engineering, integration, and custom manufacturing firm, for Production Systems Automation, diversification has paved the way to exceptional growth

Recognizing America’s fastest growing private companies, the prestigious Inc. 5000 list has provided many of the USA’s most well-known brands with their first taste of national exposure. Major names like Intuit, Zappos, Under Armor, Patagonia, and Microsoft, are among the list’s previous honorees, and in August 2020, Production Systems Automation (PSA) joined the illustrious ranks. Thanks to three-year revenue growth of 626.38 per cent, PSA ranked 761st on the PSA alist, placing it in the top 20 per cent of the USA’s most dynamic independent businesses. Speaking to Manufacturing Today, PSA Owner and CEO Michael McHale is quick to recognize the contribution of the company’s workforce.

“I want to personally thank the entire team at PSA for their dedication in supporting the needs of our customers at such a high level,” he says. “I truly believe that the growth we’ve experienced has been driven by our staff. We set a vision four years ago of what we wanted the company to look like and we’ve worked towards it with all our employees. We have a very dedicated team that has worked incredibly hard to help the business grow.

“I think the automation sector is a very people-centric environment and we are always challenging our staff with new technologies, continual learning, and pioneering projects that really drive them towards bigger and loftier goals,” Michael adds. “Every day, our people come to work knowing they have something new and innovative to get stuck into. We encourage discussion too. Our staff have the ability to comment on projects and our process is naturally very team-oriented, so everyone’s point of view gets listened to.”

After founding its first location in Aston, Pennsylvania, in 1985, PSA began life as an engineering company building and installing electrical control panels for its clients. Growing in line with technological advancements, the company soon added mechanical engineers and machinists to its existing group of electrical engineers and fabricators. A second location was established in Duryea, Pennsylvania, in 1999, extending the company’s service portfolio and allowing PSA to move to its current 21,000 square foot facility, which houses all engineering, electrical and mechanical production, full-service machining, and military work onsite.

In the early 2000s, PSA began installing and programming robots to work in its clients’ industrial applications. This line of work has endured, and today, as a robotic systems integrator for both ABB and UR Robotics, the firm is staffed by qualified electrical and mechanical engineers, designers, welders, electricians, machinists, and technicians, both at Aston and Duryea.

Always looking for new opportunities, in 2018, PSA added repair and installation work to its offering. The company also designs a line of ‘standard products’ for industry specific customers and works with the US Military and Department of Defense on contracts relating to drone technology and ammunition housings. Such strong diversification means that clients look at PSA as more than just a turnkey automation solutions specialist, but as an industry expert with an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge.

“Being so well diversified allows us more channels to the market to grow into, which then leads to the overall expansion of our business and our growth,” explains Director of Sales and Business Development Joseph Redding. “We are kind of unique in our offering to the marketplace. We are different to a traditional integrator. Though we focus on the robotics and controls system integration at our core, what differentiates us is the fact that we don’t solely rely on those services. For one, our military and government work provides a lot of revenue and allows us to focus more energy on the robotics and controls integration side because those are areas with fairly long sales cycles. Along with the service and repair business at Duryea, our standard products line, which includes bedbug ovens, decontamination units for PPE, and test stations for the hot fill PET plastic bottle industry, help to make us successful, and prove that, as a business, we are not a one-trick pony.”

The diversification Joseph celebrates has helped to stabilize the firm and drive its continued expansion throughout 2020 - a challenging year for the worldwide business community, but another record-breaking year of growth for PSA. In many ways, Joseph argues, the Covid-19 pandemic has helped the company to improve.

“The collaboration that working from home has required means the pandemic has opened the door to a lot more conversation and a lot more interaction than we might have had before,” he reveals. “Microsoft Teams has allowed us to stay in contact with our customer base, keeping projects moving and preventing them from going stagnant. Incorporating Teams meetings and other virtual processes has changed how we do business on a daily basis and it’s something we expect PSA bto carry through with us, even when the pandemic is over.”

Of course, PSA is no stranger to technological innovation, and the company is widely recognized as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for its clients, providing everything from CNC machining to panel building, water jetting to welding, programming to system delivery. Having built strong partnerships with OEM manufacturers of industrial products and market leading producers of innovative equipment, PSA leverages the best technology the marketplace has to offer.

“Whether it be camera technology, sensors, robots, or conveyors that we are trying to integrate into a solution, by partnering with the OEMs that drive innovation we are always at the forefront of what’s available on the market,” Michael comments. “CNC programming, robot programming, drive control programming, and PLC programming - we do everything. What it means for our clients is that when something comes in-house, they don’t have to worry about vendors seeing their drawings or any other secretive parts of their processes being revealed because everything is taken care of by us. It’s a key technological advantage over our competition.”

Among PSA’s latest projects was the development of a robot retrieval system for Dorman Products in 2019 that allowed the company to catalogue recycled Toyota Prius batteries. More recently, PSA has developed two robot systems for Mia Products, designed to handle the packaging of Italian ices. Alongside the release of an intuitive collaborative palletizer for the wider marketplace, 2020 has seen PSA launch the SaniPro 2000, an oven capable of treating and decontaminating N95 masks. Joseph explains more about the timely innovation:

“We are not what I would consider a product-driven organization,” he begins, “but we do design and manufacture some standard products. We developed the SaniPro 2000 because we saw the need when Covid-19 came about. We were initially manufacturing a bedbug oven, which uses dry heat to kill bedbugs, but we soon found that dry heat could also kill Coronavirus. We then discovered that if you add moisture to the heat, you can even more effectively treat protective equipment used around the virus. With this knowledge in mind, we pivoted on that offering and came out with the SaniPro for that specific market. Our core business remains as an integrator of equipment, custom building machinery for other people’s manufacturing facilities, but if we see a gap in the market that we can exploit, then we are not afraid to make the most of that opportunity.”

Thanks to years of reliably delivering on the desires and requirements of its clients, PSA has become renowned as a customer-centric business that puts people first. This approach not only benefits the company’s clients, but also its staff, and when Michael discusses the organization’s future growth strategy, it is clear that PSA’s valued employees are the firm’s priority.

“We are going to continue growing all of our verticals and diversifying the business because it continues to prove successful and helps us to stabilize our projects, our cash flow, and the job security of our workforce,” Michael declares. “Honestly, that is the most important part to us - especially with the current global situation - making the company secure, safe, and stable for our employees, so no one ever has to worry about losing a paycheck. That is strategy number one, and then, from there, we will grow through potential acquisitions as those opportunities present themselves, as well as expanding our geographical footprint.”

Production Systems Automation
Services: Engineering, integration, and custom manufacturing

Flying high

Through creativity, hard work, and personal sacrifice, Whitebird has become one of North America’s leading manufacturers and distributors of corrugated solutions

Both a manufacturer of corrugated solutions and distributor of packaging, sanitation, and safety products, Whitebird has over 40 years of experience in the graphics and commercial printing sector. Established in the 1980s by Henry Heikoop Whitebird aSr and Jack Tamminga, the company survived recessions and industry pressure to become an adaptable and valued partner to many local Niagara businesses.

After diversifying its offering in the late 80s, Whitebird began focusing on corrugated materials, distributing to thousands of companies across Ontario.

“In the early 2000s we decided to invest in 600 sizes of corrugated stock cartons and bulk up our offering,” reports company President Hendrik Tamminga. “We then moved from 20,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet to help with space requirements. In late 2010, we invested in manufacturing equipment to help control the process and provide better service to our customers and that’s evolved to what we are today - we like to do things right, and we like to do things fast.”

In terms of the company’s key products and services, Whitebird can offer its clients highly custom boxes, trays, displays, and ecommerce supplies, as well as more standard products such as garbage bags, bubble wrap, and janitorial supplies. Alongside the ongoing appeal of a broad, high-quality product offering, Hendrik suggests that Whitebird’s success can be explained more generally.

“The key to our longevity and loyal customer base is down to our ability to solve problems for our clients,” he says, “particularly when it comes to tight timelines and packaging projects that take some creative engineering to help move the goods well protected. It is also true to say that without the support of our vendor partners, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Another contributing factor to Whitebird’s growth over the last few years - up to 30 per cent in total - is the company’s commitment to technology. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, Whitebird’s primary production and distribution space covers 123,000 square feet and is home to the company’s newest addition to its equipment lineup – the EFI Nozomi C18000. The 71-inch C18000 is a single-pass, LED inkjet, ultra-high-speed digital press was Canada’s first. Operating at speeds up to 246 linear feet per minute, the press can print over 10,000 35x35-inch boards per hour. A premier technology for high-volume digital corrugated packaging production, it has received top industry honors, such as a 2018 Printing Industries of America InterTech™ Award and a 2018 SGIA Product of the Year prize.

As more and more of the globe’s leading corrugated manufacturers turned to EFI Nozomi presses to help meet growing demand for high-quality digital production, Whitebird seized the opportunity to transform its future.

“We were first to the market in Canada with a single-pass digital press to print full colour for the e-commerce packaging market and it’s given us a huge competitive advantage. We’re so proud to blaze a trail like that in such a crowded space,” Hendrik states. “It’s the latest in a long line of technological additions we have made in the last few years. For example, we own quite a few pieces of legacy corrugated equipment to service a huge ecommerce market including a Bobst Specialty Gluer for complex finishing projects.”

Operating from two main manufacturing sites, with a third location being used for the fabrication of protective shields and other Covid-related products, Whitebird’s celebrated production capabilities continue to help the company win new business. In late 2019, premium meat and seafood delivery service Farm 2 Fork came to Whitebird looking for boxes that were easy to set up, pack, fill, close, and palletize, whilst still reminding customers about the quality products within. The fact that Whitebird was capable of printing directly to corrugate instead of employing the use of print plates was important to the company as it allowed for multi-color graphics and flexibility in the messaging used.

Working closely with Farm 2 Fork, Whitebird ordered in special board with a digital top liner and water-resistant adhesive for the boxes. A coating was applied to achieve a high gloss look and the manufacturer printed directly onto the board using the Nozomi press. The result was a box that showed off Farm 2 Fork’s new graphics and remained structurally sound when packed and refrigerated. The delivery service’s founder Jonnel Sloane was thrilled with the results.Whitebird b

“Whitebird packaging has added value to our brand because every time a customer goes in their freezer and sees the boxes, they are reminded of the quality of our products and service that is associated with our brand,” she said as the new boxes were rolled out. “Our customers’ reactions at their doors are that they always love the boxes. I believe branded boxes create a connection with the customer and the brand.”

More recently, in March 2020, McMaster University’s Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) approached Whitebird with an opportunity to produce face shields for hospitals to help with the surge in demand for PPE brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As a manufacturing research group, we knew we had a role to play in helping with the COVID response,” states Simon Oomen-Hurst, Program Manager of MMRI. “Shortages of PPE in hospitals and long term care homes was looming. MMRI had suppliers, hospitals, an approved design and a production process ready to go, but was missing key aspects to execute, such as sales, labour and distribution. When we connected with Whitebird’s team things moved quick, and the hands-on approach of their leadership really made this a success.”

“I was extremely proud of our team as we were able to pivot and start producing PPE within two weeks, eventually getting up to 70,000 shields per day,” Hendrik reveals. “Our product quality was rated excellent by the hospitals and on time delivery was amazing. We certainly will remember this time as a milestone. Due to our exceptional performance, the clients have asked us to continue with production, so we’ve made the decision to invest and carry on manufacturing PPE in the same space.”

Though Whitebird’s operations were not drastically altered by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, the wider business community continues to experience uncertainty that could still impact the company in the future. No matter what happens in the coming years, one thing that is sure to continue is Whitebird’s commitment to sustainability. As a business, Whitebird is dedicated to offering environmentally friendly products to its customers. Consequently, the firm only purchases raw materials sourced from suppliers that are FSC and SFI certified. The calculated average of recycled content in corrugated sheets material Whitebird ccurrently being processed at the Whitebird facility in Hamilton, Ontario, is approximately 69 per cent, and this is comprised of 64 per cent postconsumer fiber and 31 per cent virgin fiber. Brown liners in use by the company are up to 95 per cent recycled, whereas white liners used by other businesses can be as low as 21 per cent recycled.

As is evident in the company’s green strategies, Whitebird is a firm with its eyes on the future and the endless opportunities it represents. Building on the family principles of the company’s founders, Hendrik, and fellow next generation owner William Heikoop, hope to continue working with the same high standards of quality, reliability, and integrity. Though Whitebird’s largest market is currently Ontario, the pair believe that the company’s reputation for personalized service, quality products, and competitive prices, can facilitate a major breakthrough in the US market within the next five years.

“I see Whitebird as one of the leaders of packaging and manufacturing innovation in North America,” Hendrik asserts. “As the pandemic has exemplified, things have certainly changed since the founding of Whitebird in the 80s - many positive changes, some negative. What has remained is a large number of loyal employees who have stuck with us through the good and bad times. A servant leadership style is certainly helpful in employee retention and the willingness to get your hands dirty as an ownership team. We’ve learned things from making mistakes over the years and it’s our wish that we will soon be renowned for having the best workplace culture in our industry. The way the team performed during the difficult early portion of this year suggests that we are definitely getting close to that idea and I can only see things improving for the company, both externally and internally, over the course of the coming decade.”

Products: Corrugated solutions manufacturer

Meeting the challenge

An acclaimed aluminium diecaster, trusted by a host of international prestige brands, CastAlum is a forward-thinking company that is now leading the charge in utilising additive material technology

It was in the winter of the year 2000 that ground was first cut on a greenfield site in Welshpool, Mid Wales, which would become the home of CastAlum, an internationally recognized aluminium diecaster. Originally supplying cast only parts to a single customer, the company has since expanded to supply a range of high pressure and ‘squeeze cast’ products to clients in the UK, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and beyond. CastAlum’s components are cast, cast and machined, assembled and tested in-house, and today find themselves within vehicles produced by the likes of VAG, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Fiat, Porsche, Mercedes, Jaguar Land Rover and other prestigious marques.CastAlum a

“CastAlum is a naturally proactive and aggressive business, and one that has built its reputation upon being best in class and producing particularly challenging products,” explains Engineering Director, Paul Dodd. “Ours is not a foundry that makes what I would call ‘punch and crunch’ products, but rather we target higher end, higher added-value components. With regards to high pressure diecasting, we have ten fully automated high pressure diecasting cells in the range of 1000-to-2000 tonne locking-force, each with its own integral bulk-melting tower furnace and in most cases up to four robotic devices. Where previously we focused on steering gears, we have more recently increased our knowledge base to specialize in more transmission-type components.

“Squeeze casting wise, we have three fully-automated cells in the range of 1600-to-1800 tonne locking force for the manufacture of indirect squeeze castings in aluminium, again with their own individual integral bulk-melting tower furnaces and robotics. These allow us to produce heavier, more structurally dense parts for transmissions that are heat treatable. Core products made from this process include steering knuckles, and power take-off covers and housings where elevated mechanical properties are required.”

In the last decade in particular, CastAlum has invested heavily in the development of new products, processes and capabilities. One of the most exciting elements of this has been its investment and understanding of additive material technology to aid with conformal cooling. This has allowed the company to change what is viewed as feasible within its field.

“We began our additive journey in 2013, spurred on by the experiences of one of our favoured tool makers, and we could immediately see a range of benefits and huge potential from it,” Paul continues. “Where we did face a challenge was in replicating the technology over a number of tools running at the same time and gaining consistency. It quickly became clear to us that, whilst there was a huge appetite for additive technology, there was little actual knowledge out there as to how to best apply it. Add to that the fact that, while it was mostly suited towards use on refined, skeletal, lightweight structures, we wanted to use the technology to produce heavy, dense lumps of tooling with a complex water course running throughout. This, ultimately, led to us forming a tri-party consortium – via Innovate UK – in conjunction with British engineering company Renishaw and Coventry University.”

The objective of the consortium was to gain an understanding of how best to apply additive technology to steel tooling, how to make the process repeatable, and to identify its limitations in conducting these tasks. It also has provided CastAlum with the knowledge needed to create a solution that gives it considerably more design freedom in terms of cooling. “Dealing with the heat generated by the casting process is a considerable challenge,” Paul affirms. “We are pouring aluminium at around 700 degrees, injecting it at huge speeds and pressures, cooling it down as quickly as possible, and starting the pattern all over again. With that can come certain quality defects if the cooling process is ineffective, including soldering, leak paths and enhanced porosity. With the vast majority of the parts we make having pressure tight requirements, ineffective cooling has the potential to cause costly downtime.

“One of the University’s contributions in Coventry to the consortium was to identify the optimized cooling geometry and heat transfer at which we can run the additive material technology in order to generate our products in various different geometric shapes and sizes. This knowledge gives CastAlum a massive competitive advantage.”

Today, CastAlum can proudly boast that it is the first aluminium caster in the UK (and possibly in the whole of Europe) to have introduced additive material capabilities to its own premises, and as Rhys Jones – Additive Manufacturing Project CastAlum bManager – reveals, this has the potential to give the company far-reaching potential. “Having the technology and experience under our own roof means that we can look to offer help to anyone out there that is looking for ways to manage temperature through conformal cooling, whilst maintaining our competitive advantage,” he says. “For example, we have held some initial discussions with a company that is relatively local to us that is in the process of converting electric vehicles and is having to deal with the issues of the heat generated by electric motors, drive systems and batteries. So, as a potential next stage in our own development, we could look to assist such companies with their cooling, before possibly developing castings that solve their problems entirely.”

Looking at how 2020 has played out for the business, Paul details how CastAlum has been fortunate in the fact that, coming into the new year, the company was seeing what he describes as a natural reduction in output as various programs were coming to an end. “This meant that the potential effects of the lockdown that began in late March as a means of combating the Covid-19 pandemic were greatly reduced,” he adds. “Since the UK started emerging from lockdown, we have seen a fairly quick bounce back in activity in most areas, picking up build orders for a couple of new programs. These programs are currently focused around engineering activity, so will not turn into sales and production activity for another six months or so yet, however they look very promising.”

With 2020 also marking the 20th anniversary of CastAlum’s inception, it seems as opportune a time as any to enquire as to what the long-term future holds for the business, and it is clear from speaking to Paul that the company sees itself remaining class leading, not only in regards to the incredible advances it is making in additive material technology, but in all aspects of its work. “Since the year 2000, we have marked the last two decades with a pattern of steady, consistent growth,” he proclaims. “Having spent the last 18 months or so bringing existing programs to a conclusion, our outlook for new programs that will require components and solutions to challenging problems sees us on a predicted, progressive growth spell through to 2025 and beyond.CastAlum c

“For CastAlum, our mission is not to be the cheapest, rather it is to be the very best, and testament to that approach perhaps best comes from the fact that the programs we find ourselves picking up are typically not new ones. Rather, they are existing programs where the customer has yet to succeed in overcoming their casting or cooling challenges, and they ultimately turn to CastAlum, because we have a proven track record of success. So, in the long-run, we expect growth to eventually return to pre-pandemic levels, and we will continue to ensure that we remain the supplier of choice for complex components, all while providing a rewarding place of employment for our workforce!”

Services: Aluminium diecasting T: +44 (0)1938 557557

Canny business

Already receiving bookings for 2022 and beyond, Stolle Machinery Europe offers the food and beverage industry a comprehensive package of services that help turn investments into a reality

Founded in the USA, Stolle Machinery is the world’s leading producer of machinery for can and end manufacture. As part of its global footprint, the company has expanded its operations across multiple continents, establishing offices and Stolle afacilities in Latin America, China, India, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.

Headquartered in the United Kingdom, Stolle Machinery Europe serves food and beverage canmakers throughout Continental Europe, the British Isles, the Middle East, and Africa. Though the company’s main facility is situated in Carlisle, Stolle Europe has an additional UK location in Altham, as well as another plant in Poland. Led by Executive Vice President Steve Higginson, the company’s success is built upon its unique positioning in the market; with the exception of a palletizer, Stolle Machinery offers every piece of equipment - including conveyance - necessary for a can line, along with design, layout, installation, and commissioning services.

“Stolle Europe provides the organizational Systemglue between the equipment supply and the customer’s requirement for cans,” Steve explains. “When you buy that kind of equipment, somebody has to specify it, plan its placement in a factory, install it, commission it, and then get that process operational. In other words, it’s a bit like buying all the ingredients, but you don’t know how to cook. Somebody has got to turn the ingredients into a finished dish. That’s where we come in. Of course, we do have competitors, but they have to get their equipment from somewhere else, and also, they are not can makers. We have got the can making experience and the end making experience. There is nobody else like us.

“When an independent manufacturer comes to us and says, ‘I want a can factory’, our usual response is ‘how many cans?’ and ‘what sizes?’. If they want a billion cans, we know that they need a 3000 a minute can line and we will then design and install around it. The person requesting the factory more than likely do not have the experience in the industry, but it doesn’t matter, because we can fill in those gaps. In addition to bringing the nuts and bolts of a project - the design, the layout, the utilities you will need and where they should be - we are bringing a wealth of experience that turns someone’s investment into a reality.”

Serving not only as a regional hub for genuine Stolle OEM parts, field service, and complete technical support for can and end lines, Stolle Europe is a hub for three key supplementary groups: Stolle Global Systems, Stolle EMS, and Stolle Conveyance Systems. Acquired over time, these subsidiary businesses now collaborate under the Stolle Europe umbrella. The result is a business that, as Steve suggests, not only offers vast machining and assembly facilities, but also turnkey construction, upgrade, and process analysis services for the can and end manufacturing industry. Traditionally focused on businesses with whom Stolle Europe has already established a relationship, the company’s targeted acquisitions strategy has driven growth and f

“Stolle Conveyance Systems, which was ECI Cumbria, was a company involved in our layout design, so as our systems business grew, the natural progression was for them to become part of the family,” Steve remarks. “EMS - now Stolle EMS – an existing manufacturer of, can washers, ovens, and component machines that were missing in our portfolio. These key can line elements were not manufactured in the US, or Brazil, or Vietnam, or China where our other facilities are, but they were manufactured in Poland and the UK, so it was a natural sequence of events for Stolle Europe to absorb that company too.

“Over time, the acquisitions have led to us become a highly diverse operation,” Steve adds. “There are now many different elements to our business, including the spares and aftermarket activities, which were worth $1 million in 2006, but Stolle bare now in excess $30 million dollars. We have our conveyance business, which is the hardware that conveys a can from one machine to another, and that plays nicely into our systems work, which covers some of the line layouts and design services we offer for factories. We offer a service department and rebuild facilities from Carlisle, and all our sites have equipment build capabilities.”

Supported by investment from its parent company in the US, Stolle Europe benefits from over 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space in Carlisle, where the company produces all its conveyance and has the ability to rebuild various pieces of equipment, including diesets, bodymakers and decorators. Washers are produced in Altham, which is also home to Stolle Europe’s Precision Machine Shop – an innovative site currently working on two R and D bodymakers called The Canceptor and also the launch site for the new Stolle necker.

“Among our recent purchases was a new Mazak turning machine for our Precision site,” Steve reports. “We are very lucky in that we’ve been well looked after by Stolle Machinery in terms of providing investment. There is, of course, a process to go through, but we’ve been kept well abreast of our ability to fund what is an actively growing market.”

Together with the significant financial backing, outside influences beyond the company’s control have also been instrumental in Stolle Europe’s expansion, Steve claims. “As a business in the middle of the supply chain, we’re very much dependent on how our customers perform. Over the last couple of years, demand has been driven by pressure on plastics, causing people to turn to metal packaging as a result. The Covid-19 situation has had an even bigger impact because people don’t want to re-use packaging, whereas metal packaging is single use. It gets recycled, and in some cases, it can end up in the material in a can plant within two to three weeks.

“Changes in people’s shopping patterns has benefitted the company too,” Steve notes. “Shoppers have been buying in bulk because they could only go out once every so often, so two-piece food cans have been popular, but also beer and beverage cans as well because pubs and social outlets have been closed or restricted, and a two-piece can is the best package to keep drinks safe and fresh.”

Though 2020’s Covid-19 crisis has presented Stolle Europe with new opportunities for growth, the company would not have been able to take advantage of the increase in demand were it not for its swift adaptation to new ways of working. Within days of the virus’ outbreak, Stolle Europe formed a crisis management team that quickly agreed to implement safety initiatives above and beyond government recommendations. Meeting daily, the crisis team guided the company through lockdown, ensuring the safety of Stolle’s employees and the long-term health of the business.

“Alongside the implementation of government mandated social distancing and PPE usage, we have been fortunate to avoid any lay off situations and any furlough instances were kept to an absolute minimum. We have also taken additional Stolle cinitiatives for the wellbeing of our employees and will continue to do so, as they are critical to our business.

“We’re a global organization and obviously the travel restrictions have had a significant impact on how we do business, but it’s given us a chance to develop our standard operating procedures and that will benefit customers in the future. We’ve provided some technical assistance for clients over video calls, and our global network of offices means we still tend to be able to support customers locally. No matter what, our primary objectives from a crisis management point of view have always been to look after our staff and ensure the survival of the business.”

An industry veteran, Steve’s experience has been invaluable throughout 2020 and has enabled the company’s smooth expansion in a time of global upheaval. Also responsible for Stolle’s Asia-Pacific office in Vietnam. Steve was part of a team in 1995, when the first two piece and end manufacturing facility was installed in Vietnam. Having played a role in a number of landmark industry projects over the years, Steve is ideally positioned to lead Stolle Europe into the future. What will that future look like? Steve cites a factory constructed by Stolle Europe for Quality Pack in Hungary as an example of what the company is capable of achieving.

“It began with an independent manufacturer that already produced their own beverages, wanted to make their own cans,” he recalls. “The result was a pioneering greenfield factory. It was the first two piece can and end plant in Hungary.”

Completed in 2018, Quality Pack was a full turnkey project where Stolle Europe was responsible for providing Systems services that included equipment, full mechanical and electrical installations, startup and commissioning of the can and end lines, production ramp-up, and training of plant personnel. With demand for cans increasing, and projects like Quality Pack earning the company more admirers across the industry, Stolle Europe is preparing for its best decade yet.

“In the next few years, we will be continuing our systems program, as well as integrating the acquired businesses into one big operating model,” Steve declares. “Due to the demand for cans, we expect to see more manufacturing opportunities in the UK in the future, which will create more jobs, so we are currently recruiting. Some of our products are already sold out through 2021, so we are also increasing capacity, both in terms of manpower and space to help provide more, helping us to fulfil customer programs which already seem buoyant into 2023.

“As so many things change, we will remain a people business. We have a wealth of experience across our business groups and strong management teams, that doesn’t make us better people it just means we have different responsibilities. We place great value on the input of our employees because we are a family as much as anything.”

Stolle Machinery Europe
Services: Manufacturing, design, and turnkey systems for the can and end manufacturing industry

Calm under pressure

With a century of experience behind it, it is no exaggeration to say that Oilgear makes historically good pumps, valves and engineering systems, and that it has become a one-stop problem-solver

For the best part of 100 years, Oilgear’s high-performance fluid power solutions have proven themselves invaluable to the world’s most demanding hydraulic control applications. Founded in 1921, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the company Oilgear 1continues to set the standard in industries requiring precise, high-performance hydraulic systems, with its products finding their way from depths of Earth’s oceans to the surface of our planet’s Moon.

“One of the things that Oilgear is recognized for today is its extensive – yet niche – product range, which is geared towards the sorts of high pressures that go beyond those that standard manufacturers within the hydraulic industry are used to working with,” states Chris Howie, Oilgear’s Vice President of UK and International Operations.

Although it is best known for its robust line of pumps, Oilgear also supplies cartridge valves, subsea pressure control solutions and electrical embedded controllers, and is a global provider of complex fluid power control systems. It also has a strong presence in forging and extrusion press control systems. “Where we really thrive is in the area of 450-to-1000 bar pressures,” Chris continues. “Unlike other suppliers who have a portfolio of ‘off-the-shelf’ products to choose from, we build our systems from the ground up. This gives us an unmatched level of understanding and know-how when it comes to the solutions we supply, and that gives our customers a huge amount of confidence that in Oilgear they have a partner that will be able to answer their specific needs.”

As a truly international entity, in 2020 Oilgear has global facilities in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, South Korea, China, Brazil and Mexico, which provide fully integrated manufacturing, service and training. It also has the ability to provide engineering support to customers in more than 50 countries.

Oilgear’s UK office can be found in the city of Leeds, where its European Specialist Pump and Valve Centre boasts modern manufacturing and test capabilities for multi-fluid/high pressure component development. It is in Leeds where Chris began his Oilgear career in 1988, before moving to South Korea in 1995, from where he became involved in the company’s Asia-Pacific dealings. Fast forward to 2018, and Chris was asked to again get involved with the Leeds operation as it made a transition away from being, what until then was, more akin to a cost center focusing on inter-company trading.

“In the last couple of years, our Leeds site has taken great strides to move towards being more of a profit center for the wider business,” Chris explains. “This has been achieved by ramping up the development of its product lines, examining Oilgearnew vertical markets, and driving innovation at ground-level, rather than waiting for this to filter down through our other global offices.

“Today, our Leeds center possesses full engineering capabilities – encompassing, mechanical, hydraulic, electrical and software engineering – operated by highly skilled individuals whose actions help to create the potential for our sales teams Oilgear 2to go out and win business for Oilgear. Within the facility, we also have extensive, automated testing capabilities, including test stands delivering up to 500KW of power, and multi-fluid testing tools that allow us to carry out work on a full gambit of exotic oils for the chemical industry, power plants, and offshore and subsea mining customers.

“One of the exciting things we are looking to do in Leeds going forward is to utilize Cloud-based technology to give our customers a factory-live’ view of the facility so that they can get a birds-eye perspective of their respective product or system being assembled or tested. This will allow our customers to have unrivalled access to the development of their solutions, keeping them fully up-to-date with their progress up to the point of leaving the building.”

Industry 4.0
As Chris goes on to detail, these aren’t the only developments currently taking place within Oilgear’s Leeds site. “Recently, we have been looking closely at the integration of existing products with condition monitoring, so as to enable our existing product line to be industry 4.0 capable. This requires the incorporation of a lot of smart technology into our products, for instance, vibration monitors and casing drain temperature and flow meters. We are also working to introduce electronic traffic light warning systems to our products, which will be used to send messages to a users’ mobile device in real-time to alert them as to when a product is not being used optimally or may require a health check. These checks will then be able to be carried out either remotely or in person.”

Remote working
The drive towards condition monitoring and remote maintenance – which Oilgear began developing in 2019 – has been given a significant boost in importance this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “An understandable consequence of the emergence of Covid-19 is that a lot of businesses are limiting face-to-face contact, which would usually present a major challenge should one of our customers – for example – face a problem with their equipment,” Chris adds. “We are meeting this issue by wrapping a lot of our work around remote maintenance.

“Examples of this work include when we were contracted earlier in 2020 to carry out upgrades and maintenance lifts of Brayden Bridge in Great Yarmouth, which carries the A47 across the River Yare. We were able to maintain a limited Oilgear 3presence on site, and through the smart, remote commissioning tools at our disposal, we were able to dial into them to get a live view of the bridge as we lifted and lowered it from 200 miles away in Leeds.”

Equally as impressive, was an instance that Chris recounted whereby a customer in India was experiencing problems with some of the pumps on their particular machine. While the customer was able to order and receive replacement parts from Oilgear, the company was unable to send over a representative to do the repair work itself. Oilgear’s answer to this was to set up a live video call to its customer so that they could watch a Leeds-based engineer with an equivalent pump in hand walk through the disassembly, repair and reassembly process.

New product development within Oilgear can also be found taking place across the Atlantic in the United States. There, at its Nebraska facility – where it specializes in the manufacture of smaller, more standardized products – the company has a new product range on the market called the XD5 series of pumps. This range offers lightning-fast control response on both low-viscosity fluids and standard hydraulic oil, and is designed to handle the most challenging environments. Meanwhile, in Michigan – where subsea and offshore products are created – the company has developed its BARS (Boosting and Regulating System) product. With its unique ability to maximize pressure capacity in accumulators without increased weight or pressure on the existing piping and hydraulic system, BARS is designed to increase the fluid pressure from the surface with its proprietary intensifier pumps to a maximum of 7500psi. Storing additional volume, it then regulates the downstream pressure back to 5000psi.

With the company marking its 100th anniversary in 2021, its future strategy involves achieving both organic and external growth. “In terms of organic growth,” Chris continues, “our sales team, led by UK and International Sales Manager, Stephen Raper, will continue to explore vertical market expansion, while also identifying sectors that we can gain greater traction in, whether that be the defence arena, in civil engineering, marine and offshore building, mining or the energy/renewables field. Meanwhile, in terms of our approach to acquisitions, an example of this saw the company re-acquire Andrew Fraser Pumps in July 2020, as part of our strategy to target emerging industries such as power generation and advanced renewable technologies, and we look forward to integrating that range into our wider portfolio. In this vein, we will continue to seek out potential acquisitions that will create synergies throughout the business.”

Products: High-performance fluid power solutions

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