Making it indestructible

Birmingham's rich industrial heritage in the automotive and metals industries has been fed by an impressive array of smaller manufacturers in and around Britain’s second city. Indestructible Paint Ltd, a supplier of coatings for the aerospace and defence industries is one of those, as James Pozzi discovers.

Investing to strengthen

Situated in an unassuming industrial facility close to the high street of the Birmingham suburb of Sparkhill, Indestructible Paint is a company that has never felt the need to announce itself via grand gestures or self-promotion.

But when your customers are the likes of NASA, McClaren F1 and Rolls Royce, the results of taking a more measured production approach speaks for itself. As a major SME supplier of coatings to the aerospace, defence and high value manufacturing industries withstanding a series of global crises, Indestructible is a company worthy of its name.

And seemingly, the best is yet to come. Such is the faith in Indestructible, it was the recipient of a £300,000 grant from the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI) in April this year. On top of this, the company self-funded an additional £1.1m towards a project that will see the firm create between 15 and 25 jobs over the next five years.

The AMSCI money has also been earmarked for investing in facilities and infrastructure, as well as IT and research and development. In a West Midlands region that has had to battle more than most against economic downturn and regressing industries, Indestructible goes from strength to strength.

Graham Armstrong, Indestructible's technical sales manager since 2000.

But one look at its history will attest to such patience. Formed in 1978 by Chairman Douglas Norton, and now run by sons Brian and Alan, Indestructible has endured much in the same way as the coatings it manufacturers. Unlike most paint companies, it produces to specific customer requirements.

With its future inside an aerospace and defence industry estimated to be worth £30trillion by 2030, further growth is inevitably on the agenda. And given the company’s history over the last 10 years, the signs are promising.

Indestructible’s technical sales manager Graham Armstrong says that apart from the  9/11 attacks that resulted in a global aerospace downturn, the company has experienced productive years ever since.

But such an appraisal also comes with a realisation of the highs and lows of being on a manufacturing supply chain dependent on its prime customers. “At the moment aerospace is in a period of sustained growth, but inevitably that will collapse. When this will be, no one can say,” says Armstrong, a company veteran of 13 years. “Obviously there will be a peak and a troughs, and you must account for when the troughs hit.”

Defence, the company’s other primary sector with the added bonus of often overlapping with aerospace, has also remained strong. Despite various defence cuts, there has also been changes in operating standards within the industry that has given SMEs more opportunities to get involved in defence than before,” he explains.

It is this awareness and willingness to account for a multitude of scenarios that has served as a driving force behind Indestructible’s growth.

Indestructible’s strength in numbers

  • Indestructible Paint currently employs 40 people, with plans to bring in an additional 15-25 over the next five years
  • The company’s 2012 turnover was £3.6m, a growth of 10% on the previous year
  • Investment in the company this year has totals £1.4m

But the road ahead still holds obstacles. One current pitfall is the European Union’s REACH regulations, the ruling on the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals. One of the primary chemicals requiring authorisation under the regulations is Chromium Trioxide, one of Indestructible’s primary ingredients in its products.

Work being undertaken at In

To combat this, the firm has set about bolstering its R & D ranks. With 25% of its 40-strong workforce working on research and development, it remains conscious of driving factors such as REACH, and ongoing improvement changes in performance and environmental issues.

“Every time a company designs a new aircraft, there is an increased requirement in performance for environmental reasons; burn less fuel, be more efficient, get greater thrust from less fuel usage,” says Armstrong. “This all impacts on the coatings used and the ones developed.”

A financially lucrative offshoot is its coating products use in high performance industrial areas. While as Armstrong says, the company “pays the bills” through its small-scale aerospace and defence contracts, it can also be spun off into other areas requiring larger product volumes.

The challenging world of exports, often so difficult to manoeuvre for many SMEs, has also been tackled. The traditional defence powerhouses of the USA, UK, France and Germany inevitably provide the largest customer bases. So much so that the company exports between 60-65% of its products.

Moving forward

A review is currently under way to assess whether the existing site, which Indestructible acquired in 1991 after moving from nearby Acocks Green, is an adequate fit for its growth intentions. Having seen its site grow four times in size in those 22 years, all options are being considered in how to approach further expansion.

A flurry of approvals to add to the ones proudly adorning the office’s front entrance are also in the pipeline. On top of existing defence contracts with Agusta Westland and Safran, Indestructible has recently linked up with GE Aviation to provide coatings for its aircraft components.

In respect of the sensitivities associated with aerospace and defence contracts, the company remains unwaveringly tight lipped about much of the work in its pipeline. But given its key role in providing coatings for the world’s leading industrial sectors, this Birmingham SME’s best days are very much ahead of it.