Manufacturing Wales continues to grow from strength-to-strength, with an ever-expanding membership that now includes GTS Flexible Materials of Ebbw Vale and Philtronics Ltd of Hirwaun – two Valleys-based businesses that have built significant centres of excellence, evolving their own operations to become R&D innovators as well as world-class manufacturing facilities.
We spoke with Chris Burgess and Simon Pritchard about their hopes and ambitions as members of Manufacturing Wales – and how being part of this unique collaborative community can help their businesses benefit from a shared vision and practical support.
“We’ve always known that ‘Made In Wales’ made sense from a product and supply chain perspective”
The “Made In Wales’ mantra of Manufacturing Wales is something we have voiced for a long time” says Simon. “Most people in industry have experienced at first hand the many fallacies of offshoring, where the maths always stack beautifully on paper, but the reality of poor product delivery and extended lead times meant that any cost efficiencies disappeared – usually along with the product IP. So I’m delighted to be part of a collaborative manufacturing community that’s focused on optimising the manufacturing prowess we have here in Wales.”
“GTS Flexible is all about being ahead of the curve – and being part of Manufacturing Wales will help us achieve that”
It’s a belief in self-sufficiency based on collaboration that’s shared passionately by Chris:
“We have invested significantly in our own R&D facility as well as continually refining our manufacturing processes, to make sure that we’re ahead of the curve in meeting the demands of the automotive and power generation sectors. 90% of our orders are for international markets in Europe, China and Korea, so we never stop learning and we’ll never be complacent. That’s one of the reasons why we joined this network – to constantly learn new best practices and see how we can continually refine our own operation.”
“Philtronics is an example of what can be achieved if we work together”
“Philtronics is in many ways an example of trusting in the supply chain we have in our region”, stresses Simon. “Nearly two decades ago, we started working with SPTS Technologies in Newport – they basically said to us ‘come with us on our journey’ – and they remain a highly valued customer to this day. That key relationship has allowed us to show what we can do, working to world-class standards for a company that now leads on a global stage. This close co-operation has enabled us to forge a reputation, build a wide customer base – and invest in creating our own development arm, which is tailored for enterprises who have a great idea and need an experienced partner that can advise and deliver right across the product development and manufacture lifecycle, with the option to scale through manufacture too.”
“Sharing our knowledge and experiences on issues that challenge us all”
“We provide flexible laminates and insulation tapes for the most demanding applications and industries, for customers and technologies that are evolving all the time” explains Chris “and that means we’re continually looking to grow our team and develop new skills ourselves. The whole issue of talent pipelines is an area where we as a sector need to voice our concerns to the government and training providers – and Manufacturing Wales gives us the platform to do that.
“Since 2015 we’ve expanded our team from 40 employees to 90-strong and we’re doing all we can to future-proof and manage our growth” says Chris, including bringing-in our first HR Manager and putting structured training programmes in place. But given the national skills shortage, we’ll always be challenged to hire the traditional mechanical and electrical engineers we need, as well as attract the scientists who develop our high-performance materials in-house. So it’s reassuring that we can benefit from the shared experiences of our fellow members on an issue that I know challenges us all.”
“Adding value through strategic partnerships”
“The way we work in strategic partnership with both commercial and academic collaborators is also very much in keeping with the Manufacturing Wales philosophy” emphasises Simon. “As a business that takes ideas from concept to delivery, working with companies such as Creo Medical, we instinctively look to join the dots and add value at every stage. Recently, we worked closely with Swansea University to bring to life a product that will help revolutionise safety in a major contact sport – acting as the real life coalface for learning, being able to bring together diverse perspectives gained from working with different sectors, to take blue-sky thinking and make it happen in the marketplace.
“It shows we have the know-how for every stage of development and production, to deliver high-quality products in a safe and protected environment, here in the valleys – using our expertise to future-proof as well as manufacture any product. And it shows yet again what we can do when we work together here in the Welsh manufacturing ecosystem.”
“Thinking and acting with ambition, to be the best we can be”
“Manufacturing Wales is about raising our ambitions and being as good as we can be – and that’s a belief we have long lived by here at GTS” reflects Chris. “Since our MBO six years ago, we have developed our operation, our team and our market reach considerably, continually investing in the highest quality processes to meet the most demanding global customers. We’ve constantly pushed ourselves to be better, including partnering with a private equity house to give us additional bandwidth where we need it. I see our membership of Manufacturing Wales in that same spirit – to be the very best we can be.”
Frank Holmes, Chair of Manufacturing Wales, was delighted to welcome GTS Flexible Materials and Philtronics into the Manufacturing Wales fold:
“These are two self-owned businesses that have become manufacturing powerhouses from their respective valley locations. They both demonstrate the blend of ingenuity and work ethic that distinguishes manufacturing here in Wales; and I’m looking forward to seeing them and their fellow members enjoy the synergies and practical support that Manufacturing Wales can provide.”