Collaboration could “open up £1m of new work in first 12 months”

Posted on 28 Apr 2020 by Jonny Williamson

One of the UK’s longest established providers of engineering services is targeting further growth following a £300,000 investment drive and its decision to become the newest member of a unique industrial alliance.

James Lister and Sons, which after almost 150 years is still in family ownership, is in the process of installing a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across its seven sites and has just taken delivery of a new CNC bending machine to support a 20% rise in its tube manipulation division.

The company has also agreed to become the 10th member of the Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN), a unique collective of sub-contract manufacturers and an engineering design agency that works together to win orders and share best practice.

Bosses at the firm believe strength in numbers and championing UK industry will help it overcome the current Covid-19 uncertainty and provide the foundations for future expansion following Brexit.

Membership in the MAN Group could potentially open up £1m of new opportunities in the first 12 months, according to Peter Davies, chief executive at Lister.

“A lot of members already use us for their engineering supplies and, now we are part of the collective, we will look at ways where our expertise in fluid power and tube manipulation can add real value to MAN. There’s a number of joint projects we’ve already got our eye on.”

Peter adds: “I’m also keen to learn from the experiences and knowledge of nine other managing directors in how we can make our business even better, whether that is sharing apprentices, entering new markets or looking at imaginative ways where we can save money on energy.”

Power of collaboration

Speaking to The Manufacturer, Peter explains how Lister has a long history of collaborating with other groups of like-minded businesses.

“We are a founding member and key player in the Nationwide Hygiene Group, which comprises 20 owner-operated businesses that supply, manufacture and deliver a vast range of cleaning and hygiene products. This has reaped significant benefits for our business and helped us scale up and enter new markets, markets that we may not have accessed on our own.

“With this in mind, it was an easy decision to join MAN and one we had pursued for a while. The timing of us has joining has been crucial, coming just a few weeks before the pandemic struck.

“Since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, there have been regular weekly or bi-weekly video conferences between members of each of the MAN Group, Nationwide Hygiene and Make UK [Peter chairs the West Midlands Regional Advisory Board].

“This has helped us to understand how best to handle the furlough scheme, establish safe working arrangements, source products amongst each other and support customers together.

“We have taken this collaboration further, exploring how we can use our collective engineering and design expertise to produce equipment to counter Covid-19. This has resulted in a MAN commitment to tooling up, at our own cost, for a new product that will help protect lives on the frontline.”

According to Peter, as mindsets progress from survival to recovery, it will be those businesses that work in a collaborative manner, either in formally organised groups or through loose affiliations, most likely to survive and thrive.

He adds: “I anticipate that there may be much more opportunity to work together even more closely in groups, perhaps even working towards models of much more shared services and pooled resources, in order to increase efficiencies still further.”

Future growth

Lister employs nearly 150 people across its HQ in Smethwick and six other sites in the West Midlands and South Wales and is best known for its fluid power business and engineering consumables division.

This includes supplying hand tools, cutting tools and lubricants, workwear, hygiene products, hydraulic/pneumatic components and assemblies and delivering specialist capabilities like laser etching, 3D printing and the manufacture of high-pressure valves and touring car air jacks.

The biggest growth area in 2020 promises to be its tube manipulation business, with its recent investment in a new machine providing ‘left and right hand’ capacity to make components that couldn’t be produced via traditional bending.

Peter concludes “We’re setting our sights on growing turnover to £17m, which will represent a good performance with the current global uncertainty.

“Investing in making us more efficient and diversifying our manufacturing operations, combined with membership of MAN, will deliver the growth and hopefully lay the foundation for more ambitious expansion plans once we have some global stability.”

Adam Cunningham, chairman of the Manufacturing Assembly Network, believes that Lister will be “great addition” to the group, adding: “Peter and his team are also passionate about developing the engineers of the future and promoting UK manufacturing, two things at the heart of the MAN philosophy.”

MAN, which enjoys more than £150m sales and employs over 1,600 people, offers a wide variety of engineering discipline, including automation and control systems, forging, plastic injection moulding, PCB development, precision machining, high-volume pressing, tube manipulation and welded assemblies.

Its membership also includes Alucast, Barkley Plastics, Brandauer, C-MAC SMT, Grove Design, Kimbermills International, Muller Holdings, Ricor and PP Control & Automation.

*All images courtesy of Lister