The striking cedar-clad exterior of the Labman headquarters at Seamer near Stokesley suggests innovation with an eye for detail, and the inside doesn’t disappoint.
Led by the irrepressible Andrew Whitwell – according to his online profile, he has been MD for 113 years and eight months – the company designs and manufactures custom-made robotic solutions for companies around the world.
Their work covers a remarkable range of sectors, from medical, petrochemical and bio-energy to food & drink, coatings and software solutions. Features include powder feeding; liquid handling; capping and decapping; grinding and milling; weighing; heating and cooling; centrifuging and more.
For more than 30 years, the company has established itself as a market-leader with a positive approach and some innovative solutions. Many of its systems are completely unique and are tailored to each customer’s specific requirements, which may include anything from consumables that allow operators to work more comfortably, to dedicated control software, or a special hand-tool to help remove a tight cap.
The high level of innovation also extends to the Labman staff – who enjoy a climbing wall, pool table and table tennis inside the office and off-road buggies outside, and when their extensive new 10,000 sq ft building is finished – doubling the space they have – one of the meeting rooms will double as a squash court!
So this is not a boss or a company from central casting - but the dynamic approach is paying off and the building extension and £200,000 of Let’s Grow funding are evidence of that. “Yes, things are going well and we are very busy with a welcome mix of customers in the UK and abroad”, Andrew tells me. “The Let’s Grow money will help us create about 30 jobs and speed the whole project up, meaning that perhaps our planned growth for the next five years could come down to three.
“Because we make things practically, anything bureaucratic is not usually in our nature, but we are very grateful for the Let’s Grow money. Let’s face it – we didn’t have £200,000 to help our company grow and now we do!”
Andrew is very much a man who would rather be making things than talking about making them, and he is determined that his love of finding a new solution to a problem will be echoed by his hand-picked team. So they were very involved in the company’s stimulating open-plan space, meaning that the next generation of Labmen and Labwomen have an exciting future ahead of them.
“If we pay in salaries a million and a half each year, the cost of doubling a meeting room into squash court costs £20,000. It’s peanuts when it provides so much enjoyment and we are here for half our lives,” says Andrew. “And in another way it is me being selfish because it means I get free squash partners!”
The layout is important for clients as well, with fully equipped meeting rooms to allow the creative process to begin in a quiet space. As projects move toward the detailed design phase engineers will utilise one of the many SolidWorks CAD seats out in the office and build area. Once manufacture commences the project team have access to two dedicated machine shops and an electronics build area and analysis equipment.
The company’s investment in its 60 staff has already been recognised with the awarding of the Apprenticeship Award at the North East Business Awards final this year.
“We feel very strongly that the education system provides a familiarity with knowledge, but doesn’t really provide competencies and skills, so the only way we can get that is to have people in-house and bring them on ourselves,” said Andrew.
“It is a big part of what we do here and we think that if you have apprentices but you are only using them for the cheap jobs, then that is the wrong attitude. The whole idea should be for them to have aptitude – that’s the crucial thing – and build that into skills, competencies and knowledge.
The company’s philosophy is clear and supportive: “We pride ourselves on our apprenticeship scheme and wholly believe that apprentices hold the key to the success of the future of engineering. We strive to employ young, talented, motivated and enthusiastic individuals who are keen to immerse themselves fully in the Labman work ethic believing that apprentices contribute greatly to the effective running of any business.
They bring an enthusiasm and willingness to learn that cannot always be matched by ‘wiser’ established employees candidates.”
Andrew Whitwell and his team have developed an innovative and forward-thinking company with a global reputation. Now, with the help of Let’s Grow, it can move in to its next exciting phase – complete with squash court....
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