They know a thing or two about keeping industry moving at Knight Warner.
Since Dave Knight founded the firm 15 years ago, there are few sectors the Chesterfield-based business hasn’t worked for.
Dave built up his expertise in electrical and electronic automation with British Steel, becoming one of the first to start working with robot technologies.
After deciding to go it alone, he joined forces with mechanical engineer Colin Powell, a canning industry expert with a flair for coming up with innovative solutions to practical problems, who is now Knight Warner’s technical director.
Initially, the firm specialised in doing the electrical work for companies putting in control systems and automatic plants, but it soon became apparent that there was a growing demand for a mechanical division that would enable Knight Warner to develop the crucial interface between electrical and mechanical machinery.
The result has been rapid growth in recent years, with success spawning yet more demand for the company’s services and putting pressure on Knight Warner to take a quantum leap into the future.
Realising it needed help to make that leap, Knight Warner brought in Kevin Parkin, who led the rescue of Sheffield-based heavy engineer Davy Markham and had 30 years experience at boardroom level of developing businesses.
“Knight Warner had been run really productively. The company had gone from nothing to £4 million in eight years and the growing pains were quite severe,” says Kevin, now managing director.
“The business needed to change its structure and put things in place and introduce the disciplines that a small company doesn’t consider a priority.
“We looked at what we were doing and suddenly discovered this wasn’t a manufacturing business that made standard products. It was an innovation business that takes customers’ problems and translates them into solutions – hopefully picking up patents on the way.
“The clever bit isn’t always mechanical; it’s programming the control systems and interfaces, combining the skills of excellent design engineers and brilliant programmers, using state of the art processes.”
Kevin Parkin is full of praise for the management and employees of the company he joined just under a year ago.
“Colin’s a brilliant technical guy, able to identify techniques and develop devices that solve clients’ problems and are unique,” says Kevin.
“Dave has managed to get those registered and take the business into new fields. He does a fantastic job talking to customers. Whoever it is he is going to see, he’s worked in a similar market – whether it is hygiene, health and safety, offshore…He very rarely visits a customer and comes away without an enquiry.
“We have got some great employees; highly skilled guys in management and on the shop floor and great team work. The guys on the shop floor are extremely flexible and they’re not afraid to receive a call at 3am, go to site and sort out a customer’s problem…
“There’s a skilled workforce here and a work ethic that runs right through the region.”
Knight Warner is also introducing Lean Manufacturing techniques and the 5S workplace organisation system.
Works manager Dave Wilson admits he was sceptical about the impact Lean Manufacturing could have on a small firm, but he’s seeing the benefits.
“I was very sceptical when we went into Lean Manufacturing, but, when I listened to what they had to say, I could see it had to be of benefit,” he says.
“It’s all about getting procedures right. Before, there wasn’t a business system and we weren’t efficient. We have completely changed systems and procedures and it has made us much more efficient.”