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Home is where the heart lies

Home is where the heart lies

SHD’s ‘Sleaford business of the year’ award shows that Lincolnshire council is trying to keep young people in the county

Mike Richardson travels to Sleaford, Lincolnshire to meet prepreg material supply specialists, SHD Composites and discover how it feels at home in being one of the few remaining independent companies in the UK’s composite industry.

While we live in an age where company buyouts and acquisitions continue to dominate the composite materials industry, the downside is that they could seriously affect the customers’ choice of supplier by narrowing down the UK’s independent supplier base. Indeed, customers that were once able to dual source now face the prospect of only having the one supplier to turn to.

Whilst the once-independent SME can enjoy some increased financial muscle through its financially stronger parent company, there is also a feeling of profound loss for the many once proud Great British independents that followed their dreams.

Fortunately, some UK companies are still prepared to be flexible and try different approaches. Located in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, SHD Composite Materials offers a wide range of tooling and component prepregs suitable for autoclave, press and oven curing.

Sleaford mods: SHD has invested in a fully-equipped technical centre

“We’ve just entered our seventh year of trading,” begins SHD Composite Materials’ director, Helen Doughty. “We spent the first year establishing our hot melt fabric laminating line and a unidirectional machine, as well as working on our prepreg resin systems. This was only possibly through my husband, Steve’s hard work, drive and dedication built upon 25 years of industry experience. I have a business and finance background, so it’s been a really good fit and we’ve enjoyed a wonderful story of trading over the last six years.

“We’ve invested heavily in our team, and the people we have around us have been absolutely vital to our success. We have a strong company ethos of a family-led company in the way that it’s run and the technical expertise we possess. The fact that skilled people within the industry were prepared to join us when we were a very young company is a great endorsement to SHD, and we’ve continued to invest in them. For us, it’s all about our ethos, the technical support and service and genuinely caring for our customers.”

At the heart of the matter

With the company’s mission statement of being leaders in advanced composite prepreg materials through service, quality and innovation, what really lies at the heart of the success of SHD is a commitment to the continuous development of improved and innovative products. The company says it prides itself in working with its customers to provide the right product for every application. To take this commitment to the next level, SHD has expanded its R&D capability with investment in its fully-equipped Technical Centre, including an autoclave and test equipment to increase its in-house capability and by the recruitment of high calibre technical personnel.

“Research and development is a massive area for us, which means getting good quality products and services all the time through innovation and looking at the different products that are out there,” Doughty continues. “It means thinking out of the box, and our customers appreciate the fact that they can obtain quality products from SHD. And if there is something new or they face certain challenges with materials applications, then that’s something we really thrive on helping them with as well.”

According to the company’s business unit manager, Christine Massey, the feedback from the customers is that SHD’s technical support and the entire support system it offers is quite unusual these days.

Doughty: “Everyone that joins SHD understands the family ethos and mentality,”

“Everyone in our company has a good grounding in composites materials and if you contact anyone in SHD, they will be able to give you the technical support you require – you’ll always have someone on the end of the phone that genuinely wants to help you,” she confirms. “It’s good to talk, and we get a lot of positive feedback from customers because it’s good to have a catch-up. It helps form personal connections, and even though we’ve grown over time, we’ve still not lost sight of what it has taken to get to where we are today.”

As winners of the ‘Sleaford Business of the Year 2016’, SHD continues to work closely with the local community, introducing new people to the industry and inspiring young people to look at the world of manufacturing with a fresh pair of eyes.

“Our award as Sleaford business of the year this year shows that Lincolnshire council is really pushing to acknowledge local business and keep young people in the county,” states Massey. “Historically, youngsters have always assumed that to get a decent career they need to move out of the county, whereas now we are trying to entice them back. Lincolnshire, and especially North Kesteven District Council is trying to persuade all local businesses to all push together to hold open days, so that people can visit various local companies and see what they are doing. Lincolnshire is about so much more than just farming and there are many hidden gems here.”

Keep on keeping on

In order to enhance its R&D and customer support endeavours, SHD has commissioned a fully-equipped test laboratory capable of meeting a range of mechanical, thermal and rheological testing of composite materials.

“R&D is a massive area for us and we have invested heavily in our laboratory testing capabilities,” states Doughty. “We have an autoclave purely for R&D purposes, which means we can do so much more in-house with our products before we bring them to our customers. We’re working with our range of PFA prepregs as well as graphene too. For us the big push is into Europe and we will begin supplying from Slovenia by April 2017.”

The company has recently been accredited with the prestigious AS9100 aerospace quality award, introduced flame retardant epoxy, benzoxazine and PFA resin systems, and is set to expand its range of cosmetic materials with the introduction of the new out of autoclave system.

SHD offers a range of tooling and component prepregs for autoclave, press and oven curing

“We’ve worked to AS9100 standards from day one,” explains Massey. “We began with ISO accreditation and followed on with AS9100. It’s been a natural progression and has actually been a useful tool for our controlled growth.”

A state of independence

It’s clear that as far as SHD is concerned, home is where the heart lies. Indeed, the Doughty family chose to locate in Sleaford because it’s where they grew up.

“Everyone that joins SHD understands the family ethos and mentality,” Doughty concludes. “We’re an independent family company and that’s the way it’s going to stay. We love what we do and this is our key message. Indeed, I think the UK composites industry contains many passionate people and it’s a great place to work. It’s something that I’m confident will ensure that the industry will continue to grow.”

www.shdcomposites.com

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