Fun all the way as super machines boost oil and gas

Andrew Taylor, founder and chief executive of X-Cel Superturn
Andrew Taylor, founder and chief executive of X-Cel Superturn
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It all began with a second hand CNC machine tool, bought in the early 1980s, when engineering firms were laying off staff right left and centre, and it has grown from there.

Today, X-Cel Superturn has scores of machines, manufacturing, largely, for the buoyant oil and gas sector and operating out of modern factories on Atlas Way, at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, in Batley and Houston, Texas.

The growth, fuelled most recently by £2.8 million-worth of funding from HSBC, is down to the vision of 56-year-old founder and chief executive, Andrew Taylor, a skilled workforce that numbers 120 today and is capable of tackling technologically challenging and complex contracts and, last, but not least, a sense of fun.

“We try to do stuff in different ways and make it more fun to work here,” says Andrew Taylor.

The sense of fun – together with an employee ownership scheme and a willingness to promote from within in addition to seeking specific skills from outside - helps to keep staff turnover low.

But, it’s clear that it’s also what keeps the boss going.

“I always think that if you can’t come in to work smiling in a morning, you can’t expect your employees to,” says Mr Taylor.

“You have got to try to develop a relatively light-hearted atmosphere in the office, but have people taking their jobs seriously at the same time.”

Part of the determination to make work fun may be a reaction to the time Andrew Taylor spent as a student apprentice at long defunct Laycock Engineering in Sheffield, where, he recalls, morale was “appalling” and people couldn’t wait to get out of the door when their shift ended.

The contrast between Laycock and his first full time job, at Ewen Engineering, couldn’t have been greater and laid the foundation for the launch of X-Cel Superturn.

Ewen, which is still going strong today, was “very go-ahead,” Andrew Taylor recalls, and among the early adopters of CNC technology. It focused on larger clients and Andrew Taylor rapidly realised there was a niche he could fill by setting up his own business, using similar technology to serve smaller clients.

“My wife was pregnant at the time, but I gave up a company car, a safe job and spent three months looking for finance,” says Mr Taylor.

Sheffield Superturn – as the company then was - started off with a single CNC machine and began adding one or two machines every year. A the same time it began adding employees, the first of whom, John Marsh, is now works director.

“The company wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for him,” says Mr Taylor.

In the early years, coal mining was the company’s mainstay. As the pits closed, the company switched to serving rolling mills, then the small tools industry.

“The business from the rolling mills disappeared, then a lot of the small tools business went overseas and we ended up in oil and gas.”

Since the move into oil and gas, the company has never looked back and 95 per cent of its production today goes into that sector.

“Everyone else is wringing their hands, but I am quite happy when the price of petrol goes up,” Andrew Taylor concedes.

“The days have gone when you just drilled a hole in the desert sand and oil poured out. A lot of our work is for sub-sea components, which have to withstand huge pressure. It’s a very challenging environment and they need more and more technical components to get the oil and gas out.”

Making mission critical components for challenging environments is right up X-Cel Superturn’s street and, what’s more, the future is becoming more certain in the sector.