MD’s vision led to 300,000 sq ft one site purchase

Massive space: Inside MTL's new factory in Brinsworth.
Massive space: Inside MTL's new factory in Brinsworth.
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MTL started out as a family business 16 years ago, specialising in contract laser cutting and bending metal plate to make components for construction and quarrying equipment.

The company grew from nothing to a workforce of around 130 people, generating sales of £17 million a year in 10 years, by which time the family decided to sell the business and realise its investment.

Their decision coincided with Dr Henry Shirman’s return to Britain from the United States.

“When I came back from the States I wanted something else to do and I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” recalls Dr Shirman, who has a PhD in engineering and whose business career includes 17 years working for Ford, which culminated in running its Halewood plant, and six years with JCB.

“I could see the potential the company had for growth. It had an excellent workforce that was motivated and made up of good quality people,” he adds.

Dr Shirman led a Buy In Management Buy Out (BIMBO) with backing from the Bank of Scotland and set about expanding the business.

MTL moved into making bodies for refuse trucks, safety critical components for the rail industry and fabrications for the defence and renewable energy sectors.

The company also targeted export markets, boosting foreign earnings from less than half a per cent of sales to 17 per cent today, with customers in 27 countries around the world.

Within five years of the buy out, MTL’s workforce had grown to 340, and the company was operating from four factories on three sites providing a total of about 140,000 sq ft of manufacturing space.

“The company was still growing and we ran out of room to expand,” says Dr Shirman.

“The logistics were getting quite costly. We had people going from site to site and materials going from site to site.”

MTL started looking for a single site with room to grow and settled on the former distribution warehouse on Grange Lane, which provides about 300,000sq ft under one roof, sitting on 25 acres of land.

The deal took about a year to negotiate and turning the warehouse into a factory meant getting a new electricity substation and gas supply installed, as well as installing overhead cranes, compressed air and gas pipework and foundations for MTL’s machines within the factory.

The company also put in improved facilities including a lunch room and showers.

MTL set up its own multi disciplinary team to design the new factory, write the specification and plan the move once contractors JF Finnegan and Waingap Contracts had completed the work.

“We moved from four factories to one at the same time as we had a record year for sales. It really was a substantial achievement for everyone in the factory,” says Dr Shirman.

“Before we moved we got the whole workforce together in several meetings and explained what we were doing and how we were doing it, then we bussed everybody up here to walk around the site and to get a feel for it.

“As the development progressed we took photographs which we displayed in the four factories so that everyone was kept abreast of everything that was happening.”

Dr Shirman said: “We haven’t had one negative comment about the move, even though people were initially working in very difficult conditions,” he says.

“There was no heating here and it was very, very cold because we had to wait for the gas supply to be laid on from the main road.

“We gave people thermal underwear and woolly hats and didn’t have any complaints.

“That’s all about communication, people understanding what’s happening and feeling they are part of the development of the company.”