Team effort

Posted on 25 Feb 2009 by The Manufacturer

Drallim Industries is the Sussex-based manufacturer of fluid controls, high voltage test and monitoring equipment, cargo aids and dry-air technology. Last year, the company celebrated its halfcentenary year by taking home the Leadership and Strategy prize at The Manufacturer Awards. Mark Young spoke with MD Dave Mooney

Drallim Industries is made up slightly differently to most manufacturing firms. It was started by a man called Angus Millard as a way to produce and market an innovative pneumatic valve that he had invented. Drallim then existed for a good many years as a varied engineering company. When Millard retired he created a trust – The Millard Trust – and donated his share of the firm to it. Drallim is still majority owned by the Trust today. Dave Mooney, Drallim’s managing director, said: “Our attitude to business reflects our ownership in that we are essentially employee-centred; the Trust allows us to be a little bit more focused on our people than the average company.”

Drallim is financially self-sufficient – the trust is a beneficiary for the employees, providing bonuses and social events, as well as helping with any grievances that should arise.

Mooney has been with the company five-and-a-half years. He joined as technical director at a time of quite substantial change. Many of an aged board were retiring and one of Mooney’s first jobs was to iron out product development issues with the overall aim of reconfiguring Drallim’s portfolio and its focus. He took over as managing director 15 months later.

In 2004 the company moved to a purpose-built, 30,000 square foot premises and “that really heralded an era of new management,” said Mooney. “It was great opportunity for the company to re-birth itself. We broke down the old practices and manufacturing processes and gave everything a new lease of life.” The physical move was very much an analogy of the change in direction the company was taking. “We had to do a complete a systematic review of our products,” said Mooney. “We were throwing a lot of our eggs into one particular basket that wasn’t really returning. It took a fresh look at our portfolio to realise that we needed to cut our losses in that respect.” After the review, the company identified four divisions that it could grow organically and decided to focus its efforts on those. Those four areas were telecommunications, remote monitoring and test, cargo aids and controls and automation.

Its product portfolio includes process and control valves; compressor desiccator units for telecom and industrial applications; partial stroke testing for process, oil and gas industries; pneumatic automation and remote equipment; condition monitoring; pneumatic interlock valves; compression and pipe fittings; panel systems; cargo hooks; fittings and load measurement for helicopters and lashings and restraints for military and special purposes. Its box and panel building provisions include electromechanical assemblies; enclosures for all environmental conditions; hydraulic, electrical and pneumatic assemblies and mechatronic systems. In addition it provides further design and manufacture services including re-engineering projects; design for economical manufacture; prototype services and field and factory, service and repair.

Since 2007 Drallim has been fulfilling one of the biggest contracts in its history – the supply of pressure monitoring equipment for BT’s OpenReach copper cable network, which carries voice and broadband internet. The contract has involved the design and development of data collection equipment and transducers along with customised monitoring software, adapted to suit BT requirements. There has been a significant service element which includes data migration and helpdesk services. Mooney said: “This project really demonstrates our approach to partnership working. We were involved in over three years of discussions and development prior to contract award and have continued to react to new requirements as the project has proceeded. We try to listen closely to our customers’ requirements and deliver quality products and services in return.”

From the refreshed energy afforded by the upgrade in HQ, Drallim’s Mission Statement was born. It includes three sections: ‘Values’; ‘Quality Policy’ and ‘Environmental Commitment’. Mooney describes the statement as “best business practice,” in line with Drallim’s ethos, and “general common sense.” But he extols the virtues of having it in writing as it provides documentation by which the company can hold itself to account and makes its policies official, as opposed to oft-repeated rhetoric. The first section – ‘Values’ – outlines Drallim’s commitment to open communication, equality and the development of its people, while the second – ‘Quality Policy’ – lays out the company’s observation of ISO 9001:2000, its use of statistical quality checks, the maintenance of relationships with both customers and suppliers to ensure a smooth supply chain and the promotion of pride in performance to ensure first rate standards. In ‘Environmental Commitment’ the statement relates Drallim’s intentions to ‘where reasonably practicable, eliminate any adverse impact’, minimise its energy use, prevent pollution, comply with legislation and take steps to neutralise past activities that have had negative effects on the environment. It is summarised neatly as: “Innovative people; delivering quality niche products and services.”

Drallim has a turnover of around £4.6 million. The majority of its wares are sold domestically though around 30 per cent is exported. The cargo aids go mostly to satisfy military needs though the company is building upon supply to commercial ends too. The electrical test products go predominantly to the National Grid, but have been sold as far afield as utility firms in Hong Kong. The control products are sold to oil and gas firms.

At the time of writing, Drallim employs 56 staff. By the time of publication, this figure will be over 60. The company recently held a recruitment open evening which over 70 people attended.

Mooney modestly concedes that his company has been “fortunate” in its delivery to industries like utilities which haven’t been hit too hard by the credit crunch. But when you find yourself in opportune positions you have to capitalise on them. “We’ve had the infrastructure in place to allow us to take advantage of that,” he adds.

A lot of success hinges on identifying aims, ambitions and limitations. Drallim is a modern British engineering firm in terms of its capability with traditional British values in the way it conducts business. “We think we offer good honest value for money. We know we can’t compete with China and the Far East in terms of all sorts of high value things. So we don’t try. We protect our customer base by continuing to supply them with what they want, to the quality they expect, and we are concentrating our growth by acquiring businesses that can improve our product portfolio and not necessarily simply extending it. We look for organic growth first, then horizontal integration.”

Overall, it is Drallim’s agility that has been the secret to its success and its people that have been the enabler of its growth, says Mooney. “We are very contract driven and we chase opportunities. But we do our job well because we have built up a team of people that want to succeed.”

The company grew by 30 per cent in 2007 and 10 per cent the year before. “We’ll have grown at least 10 per cent in 2008,” assures Mooney. “And we’re taking on people,” he adds. “We’re watching our backs but I think it’s safe to say we’ve found some relatively comfortable shoes in which to outrun this recession.

“I wouldn’t be the director of the company if I didn’t have a cracking set of people behind me,” continues Mooney. “We’ve moved away from that kind of ‘heads down, don’t shout’ mentality towards a more laid back environment where we allow people to take a few risks.” Calculated risk is necessary in business and while Drallim obviously doesn’t take all ideas on board, it has a culture which allows its people to get involved, express what they think and help shape strategy.

“We find our staff are a lot more productive, mentally focused and generally happier this way,” said Mooney. “We like to treat people decently and charge customers reasonably and I genuinely believe this outlook wins us more business.”