On 14th September 2014, Sheffield fabricator Advanced Engineering Techniques (AET) will celebrate 25 years in business. For the past two decades, the company has based its high quality services on sheet metalworking machinery from Bystronic UK and before that, Pullmax and Edwards Pearson, which the Swiss Bystronic group acquired.
A privately owned company, AET employs 150 skilled staff of which five are apprentices in training to NVQ Level 2 and above. The turnover of £10 million in 2013 was 25 per cent up on the previous year and well over double the 2009 figure. Average year-on-year growth in business and personnel has been 20 per cent over the past five years.
The firm principally supplies laser-cut, folded, machined, fabricated, shot-blasted, painted and finished assemblies, which are produced around the clock except on Sundays. Batch size can be anything from one-off prototypes to many hundreds. In 2013, it was ranked one of the fastest-growing 50 SMEs in Yorkshire in a survey carried out by Bradford University School of Management.
The firm’s fabrications, manufactured to ISO standards, are to be found in hundreds of locations around the UK, including prestigious constructions such as the centre court roof at Wimbledon, Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Millennium Dome. Another project of which the company is particularly proud was the conversion of 300 buses to transport Paralympic athletes during the London Olympics, and their conversion back again afterwards.
A large part of AET’s output goes into the transport sector, including road, rail, coach and bus, as well as into yellow goods for construction, access platforms and security towers, conventional and renewable energy, agriculture, aviation and defence. Customers are to be found both nationally and in other countries, notably the USA and Canada.
It was in 1995 that David Larcombe, then an applications engineer at Edwards Pearson UK, first met AET press brake team leader Andrew Richards and helped him to understand better, and maximise the production output from, the new press brake that the company had purchased. Messrs Larcombe and Richards are now managing director and operations director of their respective companies.
Mr Richards commented, “Bystronic’s reputation for good service and technical support was key to our decision to place orders with them in the mid-90s.”
AET now has four CO2 laser cutting machines from Bystronic ranging in power from 4.4 to 6 kW, capable of cutting up to 25 mm thick mild steel, and with bed sizes up to 4 metres x 2.5 metres. It also has four press brakes, with a fifth planned for later this year.
A high rate of investment was maintained at the end of the last decade with the help of regional growth funding, which was one of the reasons that AET was able to pull out of the recession so strongly. Over £1.5 million was spent between 2009 and 2013 acquiring a Bystar 4025 CO2 laser profiler, an Xpert 400 tonne / 5 metre press brake and a ByAutonom 3015 CO2 machine, all from Bystronic. The same period saw an additional 17,500 sq ft of factory space added, bringing the total to 60,000 sq ft on the 2.5-acre site.
Further investment in 2013, including in a new 4,000 sq. ft. factory to house the new shot-blast and wet paint facility, and another Bystronic laser machine added a further £1 million to the tally. This year has already seen the purchase of a Faro arm laser tracking inspection system. A new Bystronic 200 tonne / 4 metre press brake will follow later in the year, along with the first of two Panasonic robotic welding cells. The second is due to arrive in March 2015.
Stephen Woollen, AET’s sales director, commented, “Investment in modern plant and equipment is key to maintaining profitability in most businesses, and particularly so in ours.
“We will continue to buy new machinery and already have plans for two more Bystronic laser profilers in 2015 and 2016, one of which will be a fibre laser machine for high productivity when processing thinner materials”.
“Our green credentials will be further boosted by the use of solar panels next year to add to the LED lighting and a new heating system powered by recycled waste and energy from our machinery.”
Managing director David Birch added, “At this level of growth there is a strong possibility we will need to re-locate to a bigger site in the Sheffield area within the next three years to cope with continuing strong demand for our products and services.
“In addition to this, we are looking at various options that may mean we have a presence in the Far East to service the coach and bus industry in that region, to which we currently export a lot of fabrications.
“I would like to conclude by stressing that AET’s emphasis is on solving customers’ problems, maintaining a close professional relationship with them and delivering the whole package on time and to the right specification.
“Individuals are approachable right to top senior management level within the company. They are proactive in offering help rather than waiting to be asked and maintain a watchful eye on all customer jobs”.
Image: A Bystronic ByAutonom CO2 laser profiling machine in action at AET, Sheffield.