Atec Engineering Solutions a defence manufacturer
Ambitious engineering solutions specialist Atec is gaining ground in the UK defence market with Challenger tank projects and now a multi-million-pound order for work on development of a new infantry vehicle.
The contract over eight years is one of the biggest for the firm, based in Worsley, Manchester, whose bespoke services cover a wide technical span, primarily for safety critical environments in the defence, nuclear and oil and gas sectors.
“We’re one of the few UK-based engineers with capabilities that include obsolescence and antiquated part repair, design, manufacture and complete maintenance and overhaul,” explains managing director John Bowden.
“We support larger businesses and third-party equipment, always start with a ‘yes’ and tailor our knowledge to our customers’ exact specifications.
“Our cyber security approval is the highest and we build and repair our products using a portfolio of reliable suppliers. Where we can, we extend life rather than waste.”
Apprenticeships true believer: Atec co-owner and MD John Bowden
Recent international upheavals such as the war in Ukraine have increased governments’ focus and investment on defence.
For Atec that means more opportunities in the UK market especially with land-based vehicles and it is forecasting a £7million turnover in 2025.
Originally part of aircraft veteran Hawker Siddeley, two management buyouts – the latest in 2021 – saw mechanical and electrical engineer Bowden plus fellow directors Stephen Atherton and Mark Poole take over with former owner Andrea Hough remaining a stakeholder.
The company’s most successful product to date has been its digital engine control unit found on the Chinook helicopter.
“However our people and our culture are the most important,” says Bowden who heads a team of 42 that includes five apprentices.
New and future capabilities: John Bowden, right, at the defence industry exhibition DVD
An apprentice once like Hough, Atec has a deep commitment to skills training, he explains.
“We decided to reintroduce apprentices nine years ago, and take on two new starters every year.
Our target is to employ more than 50 people and we create a continuous improvement environment where everyone can thrive in their job and develop.
“We support this by getting out into our local community, colleges, charities and most of all schools, actively engaging with 10 and 11-year-olds – a key time for them – and getting girls interested, showing how manufacturing can be just as much a career for them too.”
Instead of furloughing during lockdown, Atec used the time to increase training and accelerate digitisation, “a gamble that has paid off,” adds Bowden who also flags the “good trade support” the company has received from its bank RBS, part of the NatWest group.
Atec Engineering Solutions manufacturing facility in Manchester
“It all helps as we contend with price volatility and rises of 30 percent,” he points out. “Once things go up they don’t come down.
“As a business operating in the manufacturing sector, we are currently challenged with the extended lead times of parts required to manufacture and support our products.
“It is well publicised that there is a “chip shortage” but the reality is that there has been an impact, post Covid of unavailability of a wide range of components and many of these parts are now on extended manufacturing lead times of 12 months plus.
“Coupled with a volatile market of material pricing and short validity of pricing being suppled, this is causing challenges in both bidding for new work and the risk it entails, as well as completing the manufacture of products in a timely manner.
No waste: repairing a PCB for a frigate’s chilled water unit
“At Atec we use experience of the market to take a risk-based approach to pricing and look to secure strategic stock of parts to prevent the impact of lead times, in delivering on our customer needs.”
Atec’s digital technology shop floor project was backed with funding from Made Smarter, a business and government network harnessing the power of industrial digital innovation, and a new digital lead position has been created within the business.
A staunch supporter of manufacturing organisation Make UK, “this gives us a voice into government and within Make UK Defence we have direct access to prime contractors within the defence industry,” says Bowden.
“We gain a wider awareness of what’s going on in the industry and it allows us to be part of different groups, events and is a great networking opportunity. Overall it allows us to pull together a good picture of what the manufacturing industry is like in the UK.”
Increased productivity: engineer with bespoke digital shop floor app
Development of a clean room now enables the business to take on precision projects such as building gyroscopes, steering instruments for the aerospace industry.
Another new area on the horizon is developing smaller-scale, modular nuclear reactors.
For Bowden the MBO has been a personal journey fulfilling his commitment “to protect people”, he says.
“We aim to be the UK’s go-to engineer and manufacturer that’s a viable business for the generations to come.”