MADE IN SHEFFIELD: High-pressure cylinder firm in good shape for global market

Chesterfield Special Cylinders, Martin Nicholls test and inspection manager
Chesterfield Special Cylinders, Martin Nicholls test and inspection manager
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Rarely is it said in polite circles, but business is war.

If you don’t win, the other guy or girl will - and you go bust.

That explains why Chesterfield Special Cylinders set up an office in the States and poached three of the best people from its US rival when it was having a “wobble.”

Now CSC is banging on the door of US submarine manufacturers and tendering for contracts.

The raid was a repeat of a successful venture into Germany five years ago when it hired the sales and technical director from a struggling rival. It went bust and CSC picked up their order book.

It now supplies German shipyards and, through that, six navies including those of Egypt, Turkey and Portugal.

Managing director Mick Pinder, Chesterfield Special Cylinders

Managing director Mick Pinder, Chesterfield Special Cylinders

The firm makes extreme high pressure cylinders used as oxygen and ballast in submarines, air suspension for cranes on oil rigs and even fighter jet ejector seats.

It employs 65 and is based on Meadowhall Road near Junction 34 of the M1.

Managing director Mick Pinder said supplying the Royal Navy was a big help.

He added: “Once you’re in you stay in because meeting the standard is so hard. When you trade internationally you realise the esteem the British Navy is held in. It’s also helped us get full compliance with US navy manufacturing standards.”

Press at Chesterfield Special Cylinders

Press at Chesterfield Special Cylinders

CSC has also diversified into inspecting and servicing cylinders which can be up to 30ft long. Most can’t be removed once fitted. ‘Integrity Management’ is on course to make half the firm’s profits within the next five years.

But sending staff to places like Namibia, Cameroon and Mexico has meant getting serious about security and hostile environment training.

When Mick joined seven years ago, 80 per cent of the business was in oil and gas, the majority with one Norwegian customer.

The sector has since fallen off a cliff.

Shop floor at Chesterfield Special Cylinders

Shop floor at Chesterfield Special Cylinders

He said: “We looked at the risk of having all our eggs in one basket. By the time of the oil and gas downturn two years ago our diversification plans were delivering.

“We get a lot of satisfaction in seeing the benefit of inventing new processes and new ways of doing things.”

Today there are five firms worldwide in the same market. CSC is second or third largest. The Far East is a threat, labour is cheaper in South Korea and Chinese steel is cheaper too.

But Mick won’t cave in to the pressure.

“They’ve pretty much copied what we do, but their stuff doesn’t meet British standards. We sell a highly engineered product and we don’t need to compromise.”

SAFETY STANDARDS GO DOWN A BOMB

Daniel Michael Health and Safety Officer

Daniel Michael Health and Safety Officer

There’s so much stored pressure in a CSC cylinder it’s a bomb equivalent to the same weight of TNT.

So standards are everything.

The firm takes mild steel tubes cast in Italy and - after thoroughly inspecting them - heats one end and forges it into a hemisphere.

Welding is out of the question - it has to be seamless.

Then they test them to 150 per cent of the pressure required - and have never had a failure.

Sometimes they do a ‘burst test’ in a quarry when it “really goes with a bang,” according to boss Mick Pinder, at about three times the pressure rating.

Some small cylinders are used in jet fighters, in order to trigger landing gear, flaps and ejector seats in an emergency.

Some are wound with wire so if they are hit by a bullet they don’t explode.

Mick displays a test model with two holes: entry and exit.

CSC has been making cylinders for a century.

It moved from Chesterfield to Sheffield in 2004, following a management buy-out from German owners who had been planning to close it.

Today the company is part of the Pressure Technologies group.

MADE IN SHEFFIELD

Chesterfield Special Cylinders has a massive ‘Made in Sheffield’ logo on its factory on Meadowhall Road.

Boss Mick Pinder says: “It’s a big deal and it should be. Manufacturing in Sheffield is something to be proud of. There’s a sense of history that goes back centuries which you can never take away. Plus manufacturing is sexy again and Sheffield has the talent pool. It really is something to shout about.”

Mick Pinder with a 'wire wound' cylinder shot with a bullet.

Mick Pinder with a 'wire wound' cylinder shot with a bullet.

Cylinder heading into the furnace

Cylinder heading into the furnace

Hot cylinder after forging

Hot cylinder after forging