Never standing still
Datum was kept busier than ever by its clients in 2017, and expects to win more business in the coming years
As well as 20th Anniversary celebrations, 2017 was a year of astonishing growth for Datum, the UK’s leading supplier of phenolic GRP composites. Managing Director, David Taylor is clearly delighted with the fantastic year the company’s rail division had: “We doubled in size last year, which was a fantastic achievement for our team. We have worked a lot on our internal development, whilst continuing to deliver our products and services to our clients,” David begins. “We have improved our internal manufacturing systems and procedures. We have not only brought in some highly skilled people but have developed people internally. This has solidified the technical and QA support within our management team. The operations system has created a framework for us to manufacture within. Everyone knows what they should be doing and how it should be done. It has helped us scale and remain in control of our core competencies. I believe that if you are able to do that and stay competitive, you are going be in a solid position to win new business. It sounds simple, but it is not easy to put in practice but we are committed as a team and with continuous improvement and drive, we’ll reach our goals,” he reasons.
Alongside improving the operational processes, Datum have also invested in a new CNC machining centre, due to be commissioned in April 2018, and David explains why this was a significant decision for the company: “It is a state-of-the-art facility that will bring our tooling division to a whole new level. We will be capable of machining, single piece whole train front tools and when we couple that with the investment in GOM inspection capabilities, we have ‘best in class’ manufacturing from start to finish. We can take a customer’s initial concept right through to the finished part. I expect this to significantly help our growth.”
Datum recorded another impressive achievement it had set as a goal early in 2017, when the business began developing in the prepreg phenolic market. “Prepreg is a slightly different method of manufacture to what we are used to. There have been developments in new prepreg phenolic materials developed specifically for rail, and working with key suppliers we became one of the first companies in the UK to process this innovative material. We have invested in a press tool, which is dedicated to this type of manufacture and is significant step forward in widening our processes. The advanced material will help us reach a higher standard in the products we manufacture, reduce production time and costs, and increase our productivity. It is more suitable for higher volume part production. Our clients are already showing interest in the new technique and while it needs just a little push over the line to take off, I am confident that it will be a big success. It is a fantastic product that meets all the fire and safety specifications in the rail industry, and my feeling is that it takes the composites in the rail sector up to the modern era, because it is a very innovative product, which is exactly the type we want to use,” David enthuses.
David is keen to speak about the company developing its manpower, as well as what he calls a crisis in the employment of skilled staff. “We try our best to run apprenticeships programmes for school leavers. We train to upskill people internally, through on-the-job training schemes, but it is becoming very difficult to send the apprentices anywhere locally for specific training needs in the disciplines we require. We are responding to the crisis as best we can but we really need change / support from the highest levels. Datum aim to ensure that we pay competitive wages and the new factory has created a nice working environment, but it seems like a ubiquitous problem, because I hear about it at every forum I attend. The UK educational system has been skewed far too much to the academic side, whereas disciplines like engineering and the craft trades have been ignored,” David maintains, while noting that a company is only as good as its people.
Despite the challenges in the labour market, Datum is in a pole position for the near future, and David is enjoying the direction the company is going in, at the moment. He shares his expectations for further growth in the next couple of years. “We are well-positioned with our key clients and we see that there are many new opportunities coming up for new projects where new vehicles may be preferred over refurbished ones. Recently Alstom and CAF along with Hitachi have set up significant manufacturing facilities in the UK, proving the big OEM manufacturers have a real confidence in the UK market. Datum cannot be complacent but the sector is strong and I see a very positive future,” he assures us.
His words were confirmed in January 2018, when Datum secured the biggest contract in its history. Bombardier, a leading manufacturer of planes and trains, has placed a multimillion pound order for the company to manufacture 222 Cab fronts for its East Anglia, Aventra project. This contract is key evidence of how large UK infrastructure contracts can cascade down and support the UK supply chain, creating jobs and opportunities to train the next generation of engineers and secure the future success of the business.
“The focus for the next couple of years is to keep doing what we are doing and do it well. My wish is to further develop the management team, along with our operational procedures and get us to the next level. I would like to take the number of 90 employees across the site, up to 110-120, and cement Datum as the go-to manufacturer of cabs, toilets, and other interior GRP products,” David concludes.