MADE IN SHEFFIELD: 239-year-old manufacturer says ‘no second chances in aerospace’

Hi-tech manufacturing at Doncasters Bramah in Halfway. Picture: Chris Etchells
Hi-tech manufacturing at Doncasters Bramah in Halfway. Picture: Chris Etchells
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“I’m comfortable when I’m on a plane because I know who made a number of parts in the engine.”

By that Kevan Donohoe means he ‘knows personally’ who created certain components and who did the machining, crack testing and riveting.

For they all work at Doncasters Bramah in Halfway, Sheffield, serving engine manufacturers Rolls Royce and CFM, where he is plant manager.

And not only does he know their skills and experience, but he also sets the priorities to which they work.

They are in order: safety, quality, cost, delivery and, lastly, speed.

He said: “If you have to get it right first time, rushing gives you no benefit at all. It’s all about quality of product.

General manager Kevan Donohoe with a chevron crown jet engine exhaust.

General manager Kevan Donohoe with a chevron crown jet engine exhaust.

“In aerospace there are no second chances.”

Doncasters Bramah employs 235 at its Holbrook Works on Station Road.

The firm was founded in 1778, when Daniel Doncaster set up in Sheffield using the crucible steel-making process to make hand tools. It is one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the world.

At that time, the father of production engineering, Joseph Bramah, was manufacturing tools which could cut cast and wrought iron, making the industrial revolution possible. The two firms later combined, forming the beginning of the Doncasters Group, today headquartered in Burton-upon-Trent.

Bob Lockwood, inspecting a chevron crown exhaust. Picture: Chris Etchells

Bob Lockwood, inspecting a chevron crown exhaust. Picture: Chris Etchells

The Holbrook Works makes everything from parts for Rolls Royce jet engines to helicopter rotor blade protectors.

But its bread and butter is exhausts for CFM jets which power Airbus A320s, with more than 10,000 delivered.

Established in the 1970s, the plant has kept adding machines so that today it can claim to be unique in Sheffield.

Andrew Woods, business development manager, said: “If you are interested in manufacturing this is like being a kid in a sweetshop because we have got everything under one roof.”

Sheet metal operator David Cosgrove. Picture: Chris Etchells

Sheet metal operator David Cosgrove. Picture: Chris Etchells

That includes niche processes such as hydrobulging, hot forming, electroforming, super plastic forming, plasma cutting, chemical milling and electron beam welding.

It also does traditional sheet metal working and has two Gemcor riveting machines on order - total cost £1.25m - to add to the five on site.

Titanium and exotic alloys such as inconel are used to make “really high tolerance critical components.”

Andrew added: “There’s a real buzz working here at the moment. There’s investment and recruitment. In the last two years there’s been a real emphasis on growing market share.”

The prospects are good. Kevan says Airbus alone has orders for 1,036 planes.

Doncasters Bramah turnover has grown from £26.5m to £34.5m in the last year. It has £35m of work on order for next year. Headcount is predicted to hit 246 by the year end, an annual increase of 29 per cent.

Alan Dickson, Gemcor Operator. Picture: Chris Etchells

Alan Dickson, Gemcor Operator. Picture: Chris Etchells

A 239-year tradition seems secure for the next few years at least.

Company raises profile with Made in Sheffield

“We decided to get our name out there instead of sitting in a corner on our own.”

Doncasters Bramah ‘suffers’ from two things: manufacturers’ modesty and being in Halfway, which is quite far from Sheffield’s industrial heartland in the Lower Don Valley. So the firm is on a mission to raise its profile - and that includes joining the ‘Made in Sheffield’ club. Its application has just been approved.

Plant manager Kevan Donohoe said: “It’s been a blind spot. We are that focused on doing what we do well. We seemed to be the missing company at Made in Sheffield.

“We want to promote ourselves to young people who might want to develop their careers in a precision engineering business.”

Apprentice Matt Shaw with a titanium track can for an aeroplane wing.

Apprentice Matt Shaw with a titanium track can for an aeroplane wing.

Andrew Woods, business development manager, with the rubber press at Doncasters Bramah. Picture: Chris Etchells

Andrew Woods, business development manager, with the rubber press at Doncasters Bramah. Picture: Chris Etchells