Machine power

Coming off a strong 12 months, rapidly-growing specialist precision engineering company Sewtec Automation is now looking to the future and a potentially game changing move into new premises

Although it boasts a proud heritage that dates back to 1897 – when it was born out of the Singer sewing machine company’s design and development team – and today possesses a client base including numerous blue chip entities such as Nestlé, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Proctor & Gamble, Sewtec Automation (Sewtec) has typically gone about its business quietly. “Previously, Sewtec has essentially hidden its light under a bushel,” Managing Director Mark Cook readily admits. “What we have been doing recently is making our capabilities much more widely known to the market and the attention that we have received has been hugely positive.”

An example of said attention is the numerous awards that have been lavished upon the designer and manufacturer of bespoke automation systems for the food, pharmaceutical, personal care and tobacco sectors in the past nine months alone. These include topping the digital technology and engineer category at the Insider ‘Made in Yorkshire Awards’, picking up the Exporter of the Year award at the Yorkshire Post ‘Excellence in Business Awards’, the best UK pharmaceutical robotics and automation specialist crown at the GHP Manufacturing and Packaging Awards, and winning the international trade category at the prestigious Yorkshire Business Masters Awards.

Sewtec’s awards success, however, is just the icing on the cake of what has been an extremely prosperous year since it last featured within the pages of Manufacturing Today Europe. “In terms of new business, the last nine-to-twelve months have been particularly strong, and we expect that we will exceed our original turnover expectations by a significant margin when those figures are revealed at the end of the financial year,” Mark explains. “This increase in demand has come about due to several factors, including a general pattern of growth in industrial automation and the continued strength of our export operations, which account for around 80 per cent of our business.

“On a more specific level, we have also seen a big uptick in business relating to the introduction, in May 2019, of the EUTPD2 (European Tobacco Products Directive) regulations. Included within this is the requirement for all tobacco companies products to be trackable and traceable down to individual packets. The adoption of these new rules has required investment and upgrades in various machines, but has created a very pleasing spike in demand for Sewtec’s services. Going forward, the World Health Organization has plans to introduce a similar global standard, FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), which we expect to have a positive impact on our business, having been responsible for some pretty ground breaking work in partnership with the European Union.”

In addition to the specialist equipment brought in to facilitate the needs of its tobacco clients, Sewtec has also been investing in enhancing its capabilities in innovative ways. “We have spent a fair bit of time and money working with various partners, namely the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, in order to develop our expertise in additive manufacturing for metals,” Mark states. “At the same time, we have invested in our IT and management information systems in order to identify efficiencies throughout the business.”

Sewtec has built its reputation on its ability to design and build machines, but Mark realises that it is important to recognise the men and women behind the success of the business. As such, it has been diligently introducing wider initiatives in regards to the development of its people. “We have begun rolling out significantly more training opportunities, with one-to-one leadership coaching being offered to directors down to middle management,” he says. “We have also taken on a larger number of apprentices, while also creating enhanced benefit programmes for existing personnel, ranging from bonus schemes to a new health insurance policy. All of these efforts are designed to not only attract new talent, but to further incentivise those skilled people that contribute to our success each day to remain with Sewtec.”

From an infrastructure and equipment point of view, the company also has plans in place to acquire additional machinery in the form of new CAD tools and CNC machines, however these will arrive when Sewtec makes its long-planned move to new premises. “As of today, we operate from several locations, renting out various warehouses and sheds in the vicinity of one another for the purpose of storage and machine assembly, which, as you can imagine, is somewhat inefficient,” Mark states. “We have identified a couple of options that will allow us to consolidate our activities into one site that will provide us with twice the total space that we currently enjoy. Whichever option we pursue, this move should be completed during the course of 2020, and will open up a wealth of new opportunities for the company.”

Securing the aforementioned premises is understandably at the top of Mark’s list of priorities, and doing so will form a central pillar in the company’s plans to double turnover in the next two years. “One of the exciting aspects of our relocation is that we already have customers ready to talk to us about larger, more complex programmes once we have more space to work with,” he says. “Alongside this, we will continue to do all that we can to attract the right level of resource into the business to support our growth, as we believe we will be much better located to attract talent, and to retain our existing personnel. Last, but not least, we will ensure that we work with the very best supply chain partners, as this is absolutely essential.”

It is clear that the next 12 months are set to be an extremely exciting time for Sewtec, but Mark and his team are remaining determined to keep their feet on the ground. “We are certainly optimistic about what the near future holds for the company, but what is most important is that we remain focused and win the business that will take us to that next level,” he concludes.

Sewtec Automation
Products: Automation solutions