Posted on Tuesday 4 February 2014 by Ulster Business
The Managing Director of SJC Hutchinson Engineering has invested around £1.5m to take the company – which specialises in laser cutting components used by a range of manufacturers – into the potentially lucrative aerospace sector.
Hutchinson AeroTech was established at a new facility in Antrim in February last year and officially opened in December. It’s a speculative but strategic move backed by the firm’s board of directors and Hutchinson believes it could be the future of the business for the next 20 years if they get it right.
“I like a challenge,” he says. “Our business had grown to a level but I felt we needed to inject something new into it to help make it more sustainable.
“So we took the bold decision to look at a new industry. We did our market research and decided aerospace didn’t fit in with our business on the existing premises. The equipment we had in Kilrea, even though it is high end, was not appropriate. So we decided the best way to focus on it would be to set up a new trading division and go from a blank canvas.”
While it might be a risk it also illustrates the ambition and creativity Mark has demonstrated since joining the company straight out of school in 1997. Founded by his father Maurice in 1971, the engineering firm was at the time a small player serving the farming community.
“My dad saw business plateauing and really needed some new ideas so I came into the business at 17 or 18 with loads of them. I did my A-Levels at Dalriada and knew I wanted to go into the family business so there was no better time,” he says.
“Since then I’ve grown the business to its current position where it has 76 employees. When I joined there was me, my dad and four others.”
Mark puts that success down to diversification.Hutchinsonnow supplies components to customers such as Wrightbus, James Leckey, and quarrying machinery manufacturers in Co. Tyrone, as well as the agriculture sector.
During his time as MD the company has invested heavily in equipment, expanding its original factory in Kilrea and buying state of the art laser cutting machines worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
SJC Hutchinson Engineering was recently named the UK Manufacturing Technologies Association’s Most Dynamic Subcontractor with Mark also being named as IoD Northern Ireland’s Family Business Director of the Year.
“From those early days we realised that having all your eggs in one basket, being too concentrated in one area, was not a sustainable option,” he explains.
“This is a family business and we want it to continue to be sustainable. InNorthern Irelanda lot of businesses are lifestyle businesses and when the owner gets to a certain point where they’ve bought the BMW it plateaus and fades away. I don’t want that to happen, I want to grow something that’s sustainable,” he adds.
“We’ve been strategic in the sectors we’ve targeted and aerotech, our new division, is no different. Aerospace and oil and gas are the two sectors we’re looking to diversify into quite heavily in the next three to five years.”
Having spent 18 months getting the Hutchinson AeroTech team and facility in place (and handing the reins of the Kilrea plant over to brother Richard) Hutchinson believes the company is ready to show the aerospace sector what it can do.
The 10,000 sq ft purpose built site in Antrim represents a huge investment in new technology and R&D, which Invest NI has supported to the tune of almost £700,000.
Its bespoke facility houses a number of leading-edge laser cutting machines including one of only three customised Trumpf Trumatic 6000 in the world and the only one in the UK.
The new Hutchinson AeroTech division is also working with a number of academic institutes and aerospace companies to research the effects of processing aerospace materials using a laser.
Mark has been in discussions with the likes of Bombardier and other big players in England, as well as industry body the ADS. While price is obviously important he says the high quality standards demanded by the aerospace sector play to Hutchinson’s strengths.
“Going into any new industry the question is what can you bring to that industry. We have built up experience of working with laser cutting and we feel that we are experts, dare I say the best at it in the local area,” he says.
“While the aerospace industry is well developed, the particular sheet metal work we’re doing is not something people would traditionally have subcontracted. If we had come into this as a new start it would have been a non-runner. But because we have the backup of a company that’s over 40 years old and we have the support and financial backing, we’ve really been able to fast track our progress in this field.”
Hutchinson envisages up to 25 staff will be on site at Hutchinson AeroTech over the next three years and sees massive potential in the next decade.
Aerospace accounts for around 14 per cent of manufactured exports fromNorthern Irelandand employs over 8,000 people. Mark Hutchinson sees no reason Hutchinson AeroTech can’t become a leader in the machining and supply of stainless steel and titanium processing for the sector.
“As far as my aspirations I can see this business growing over the next three to five years. I believe the majority of our growth could be in the aerospace sector. The sector is worth £1bn in Northern Irelandalone and I would like a part of that.”