Bots investment drives record growth for UK manufacturer Contracts Engineering | City & Business | Finance

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Bots investment drives record growth for UK manufacturer Contracts Engineering | City & Business | Finance

Productivity is no puzzle for sheet metal and fabrication specialist Contracts Engineering Ltd (CEL) whose highly skilled workforce backed by robots is firing on all cylinders achieving record outputs.

Asset finance for the automation has come from NatWest Group’s Lombard and underpins the high volume and growth capabilities of the manufacturer in Sittingbourne, Kent. Supplying original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier 1 (top level) companies with a factory or assembly plant in the UK is its prime focus.

Via those clients CEL’s products are shipped to Europe, the Middle East and north America, servicing a wide range of markets from heavy lifting equipment, defence and aerospace to industrial machines, commercial furniture and refrigeration.

“Our team and operations are built around investing in them and modern technologies to make us as productive as possible, providing well managed, efficient production runs, a clear strategy so we are all aligned and seamlessly integrating into clients’ supply chains,” says chief executive Troy Barratt, whose experience covers investment banking and private equity.

“Our vision is to bring more manufacturing back to the UK to support our industrial renationalisation. It’s a long game but we want that trend to be our friend.”

Troy and his wife Catherine are majority owners of CEL and Furnitubes International, a furniture company for public spaces which together form holding company the BAMUK Group.

Barratt bought CEL in 2011 with the intention of “acquiring a picks and shovels business to supply those doing well”, he says. “Since then we have transformed every part to support the change in end markets. Another driver has been the UK realising it needs a stronger domestic manufacturing industry.”

Having doubled the staff numbers to 38, sales have increased five-fold. This year’s turnover is forecast to rise to £10million and the goal is quadruple existing sales by 2028.

While CEL hasn’t looked back after shifting from small batch runs to OEMs, the introduction from 2020 of first a cobot (aka Colin) where machine and human work together, then two robots plus a large fibre optic laser cutting machine that can handle heavy pieces, has made a massive difference transforming its services.

“Troy shows that success in manufacturing isn’t just about producing goods, it’s about a clear purpose, adapting to the future, embracing digitalisation and fostering a resilient culture,” observes Laura Capper, NatWest head of manufacturing and construction.

Already a NatWest customer the £500,000 asset finance deal from Lombard was “competitive, the bank gets what we do”, says Barratt who worked with the lender from the planning stage.

“We did not immediately jump into robots, we tested automation on our office software side first,” he points out.“We also built in time to scope out the right system integrator to give the production support we needed. We chose a FANUC Robotics solution through Cyber-Weld, a welding specialist. The systems are ideal for repetitive work.

“But people are equally essential for robot programmes. Sittingbourne has good colleges and is attractive to those wanting a career and companies that invest in training.The UK now has an amazing opportunity to become a manufacturing powerhouse and our aim is to be one of the largest contract manufacturers by 2028.”,,


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