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Croft Filters: Looking to Inspire the Industry Professionals of the Future
The world of manufacturing offers opportunity and growth for the next generation of professionals entering into a manufacturing career. To succeed in this business requires both aptitude and attitude – in equal measures. As we head into a new decade and celebrate 33 years in the manufacturing industry, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how Croft Filters came into being, driven by the determination of one family, and how we hope to use our story to inspire the industry leaders of tomorrow. And so, for this article, we’ll be taking a look at one of our Directors – Mark Burns’ – story to illustrate how we, as business owners and leaders, can harness the talent of the future.
Harness a Passion for All Things Mechanical
Mark Burns is a co-Director at Croft, and he has always had a passion for mechanics and engineering. From stripping and rebuilding motorbikes as a youngster to joining the RAF as an aircraft technician working on Hercules and Tornado engines at 16 years of age; he has a natural ability with all things engine-related. Mark says, “So often Ive seen a young family member (and friends’ children) with an innate passion for taking things apart to see how theyve been put together – just like I did! “Many children exhibit a fascination for technology – from programming computers to taking apart a clock and putting it back together. By harnessing their interest at a young age, and encouraging it, we can help set the business leaders of tomorrow on a pathway to developing their interest into a lifelong career.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Your Dream
Nine years after joining the RAF Mark left to pursue the burning passion he had held for some time – to start up his own business. Initially intending to manufacture hydraulic components, he drew up a business plan after attending a short course on starting your own business at a local college. But his brother, Neil, who was at the time selling wire mesh, discovered a potential area for development – businesses were asking about using wire mesh to form filters. The company Neil was working for didnt want to do this – but Neil and Mark did, and the story really begins! The business plan was amended, and with a 9K startup (including inheritance money, a bank loan from the British Legion and a grant from the Prince of Wales Trust) Croft Engineering Services was born. You may have a burning passion to start your own business – and these days there is plenty of help for the budding entrepreneur. From short courses to degrees – business management is a popular subject and appeals to the Millennial and Gen Z generations who are looking to do their own thing – with Gen Z poised to become the most entrepreneurial generation ever.
Nurture Your Resilience
Over the years, Croft have faced the ups and downs that all small businesses face. Weathering recessions and everyday challenges has built their resilience – and resilience is definitely a trait Mark advised for anyone thinking of going into the manufacturing business! The storms of 2007 saw the Croft factory roof disappear and several workers injured. At the time, with production halted due to asbestos contamination, it was thought the company wouldn’t survive. But they did. Workers who had bee injured returned to work and the company carried on. Having a loyal workforce is something that all businesses need to nurture. A sense of collaboration, support and cohesiveness in a workforce will enable them to stick together in hard times for the good of the company and each other. For future leaders, its wise to remember that the ability to bounce back or recover from stress, will help them become flexible and able to adapt to circumstance – thriving on rather than fearing change, confident that they can do so successfully.
Interval: The Doorstop That Exploded
As well as the downsides of running a successful business, there will be the upsides too. I’d like to take a minute here to tell you a funny story from Croft’s archives. One day, an employee brought an object into work for the Director’s advice, because “the boss knows everything.” “Well, it looks like a bomb.” was the advice! The response from the employee: “Well, my gran’s been using it as a doorstop for years,” he said. About to take a saw to it, he was stopped, and the bomb squad called – just in case. After some negotiation with the owner of the next-door field and the procurement of a large bag of sand – the bomb and a detonator were placed in the bag, the police stopped the traffic, and everyone took cover. A massive bang followed, and sand flew everywhere. ‘”Well,” said the bomb disposal officer, “I think that was more than just the detonator going off!” Imagine having a live bomb as a doorstop!
Develop Your Potential – Think Big!
Successful businesses adapt and grow – so if youre thinking of becoming an industry professional you need to be open to new ideas and prepared to challenge the status quo. You may not move far in terms of geography - over 33 years later, Croft still operates from – albeit larger – premises on the same trading estate they initially worked on – but you could be miles away from your starting block. For example, with a team of 21 employees, three directors and two students, their filtration products are extensively known throughout the world. Cutting edge technology is the key – if you have the ability to make products that sell globally, it doesn’t matter if you are working from a small business in the North West of England!
Quality, Quality, Quality
Attention to detail is critical for successful manufacturers – and the ‘Croft Way’ drives quality and longevity in all products. With a quick reaction to customer requests, they can draw, punch and mesh quickly and are therefore agile as a business. Helping the customer in tricky situations is a by-word for Croft. Future manufacturing professionals take note – customer service is key! One filter recently made its way by helicopter to a power plant in Ireland which was haemorrhaging £1 million an hour in lost revenue for the duration of the downtime. Time is money!
Remember to Pay It Back
Investment in your local community and developing the next generation is always a priority for forward-thinking businesses. Here at Croft, as well as supporting employment for the area, and sponsoring local events and organisations such as the youth club and village carnival, we have been actively involved in working with the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation at Lancaster University alongside their postgraduate researchers to support a new generation of industry professionals. The students contribute to the company’s progress using their research into new technologies – helping drive Croft forward and putting them ahead of competitors. And our Year In Industry placement offers them the benefit and experience of working in real-life scenarios, while Croft benefit from the innovative applications of the studies they are funding.
What Does The Future Hold for Manufacturing?
For future industry professionals, keeping an eye on global markets is crucial. Our Director, Mark, believes the major challenge for the future of the industry as competition from the Far East. As Chinese imports improve in quality, there is a need for UK and European manufacturers need to up their game plan to compete with increasing wire mesh products making their way from China into the market.
Growth Areas to Consider
One of the methods that could help business compete successfully lies within Additive Manufacturing (AM) – the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material. Although already accepted for production of plastic components, its use in producing metal items such as filters is still relatively new and is slow to gain traction in the marketplace. With some manufacturers hesitant to embrace this new technology, its worth noting that it offers benefits that traditional methods inhibit. Some manufacturers are wary that laser-melting to create a 3D filter may weaken the metal, but this is not so. The process doesn’t weaken the metal in any way – in fact, Croft have used an AM constructed metal filter in a Thames ferry with success. Initially, it was thought that it would be too brittle, and the vibration of the diesel engine may fracture the metal. However, this turned out not to be the case. Additionally, AM allows design and manufacture of smaller runs – ideal for SMEs – and it is quick. Hence the product can be with the customer in a matter of days, rather than weeks.
Drive and Determination
For those thinking of pursuing a career in manufacturing, Mark has this advice: “Each day is different, so be flexible and prepared for challenges; running your own business requires resilience and drive. It also requires hard work, dedication, and you have to really want that success.” Marks adds, “We started out doing 100 hours a week, putting everything we had into making it work; today I still enjoy coming to work each day, though the hours are thankfully not so long – I’m being paid to do something I love.”
What Next for Future Professionals?
I hope this short canter through Crofts manufacturing history has provided some inspiration for anyone thinking of entering the manufacturing business. If you, or someone you know, is thinking of pursuing a career in the manufacturing industry, why not read our blog on the 8 Skills You Need to Kickstart Your Career in Manufacturing (link to this blog) for more advice.