Finding the right factory in Sheffield is a lot more difficult than you might think, if you are into serious manufacturing, according to R3 Products.
“There is a real problem in Sheffield with industrial estates having insufficient power,” says company chairman Kevin Parkin.
“There is a great deal of residual power left over by the steel industry, but it turns out the industrial estates aren’t built for manufacturing, they’re built for assembly and warehousing and that was a bit of a surprise.”
To add insult to injury, when R3 settled on a factory and decided to invest in up rating the power supply and wiring to meet its needs, it took two months to get the power company to turn the electricity on.
“They were particularly difficult. It was just a bureaucratic nightmare,” says Kevin Parkin. “We are not talking about a sophisticated connection. It was just a question of putting the fuse back in. Before, in the days of Yorkshire Electricity, you would have rung a guy up and it would have been done.
“It was only by banging on doors and pulling in favours that we managed to get someone to respond.”
R3’s challenges haven’t ended there. The company decided to invest in a purpose built line for making sheet plastic as a re-usable alternative to plywood, but the machine builders have yet to get equipment up and running. With orders from the Middle East to fulfil, the firm decided to buy a second hand machine, originally used to make thin sheets of styrene for products like yoghurt cartons and use its own engineering know-how to up rate it to work with recycled plastic and produce thicker sheets.
Fortunately, R3 was able to find a comparatively new Italian machine, thanks to the fact that the Italian Government provides 100 per cent capital allowances on new equipment – something that UK companies have been urging the British Government to do for years, without success.
That means the Italians buy new equipment every few years and machines are sold off while there is still plenty of life in them. R3 has also had to overcome technical challenges with the tooling it uses to make plastic alternatives to concrete kerbs.
“The tools we use are not run-of-the-mill injection moulding tools. We need special tooling and techniques which is all tied up with the dispersion and distribution of the material in the mould and we have done a lot of work redesigning tools,” says Kevin Parkin.
But, there is an upside to all these trials and tribulations. They mean that even if competitors find a way around the patents R3 is putting in place to protect its intellectual property, they face having to climb a steep learning curve to get even near where the Ecclesfield firm is today.