Nuclear Engineering Services is the latest winner of the Express & Star Excellence in Manufacturing Awards. Professor CARL CHINN reports on the firm's success
It may seem an unlikely connection between the making of boilers to the provision of specialist equipment for the remote handling of hazardous material, but at Ettingshall in Wolverhampton that bond is made plain by the success of Nuclear Engineering Services Limited.
The company is based on a site once dominated by John Thompson's, boiler makers to the world.
From the Industrial Revolution to the technological revolution, managers and workers at Ettingshall have made and continue to make their mark on the world we live in.
John Thompson's was founded in the late 1830s by William Thompson but it was under his enterprising son, John, that the company began its transformation into a major industrial organisation.
Keen to grasp hold of the opportunities for growth offered by technological advances, John oversaw the move away from iron to steel. This move was accompanied by an expansion in the company's product range and led to the acquisition of the Windmill Works in Dudley.
John's sons were as successful as he in embracing change and grasping advances in technology — and thus in powering forth the expansion of the firm.
By the 1920s their business comprised four great divisions: John Thompson Wolverhampton Ltd; John Thompson Dudley Ltd; John Thompson Water Tube Boilers Ltd; and John Thompson Motor Pressings Ltd.
By 1929 the group was announcing record turnover and profits, and was employing more than 3,000 people. Seven years later the parent company, John Thompson Engineering, went public and within a few years the whole operation was turned over to war work.
With the coming of peace, the company once more emphasised its adaptability to changing economic conditions as it became a major force in manufacturing concrete mixers, digger buckets and much more for the booming construction industry.
During this exciting period of phenomenal growth, a ground-breaking research and development programme was initiated aimed at the rapidly emerging nuclear industry. From as early as 1946, John Thompson's began carrying out chemical engineering work — especially fabrications for stainless steel vessels — for British atomic energy projects. It was a forward-thinking enterprise that created the John Thompson Nuclear Energy Company.
This investment paid off and led to close working with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in the design and development of special equipment for Capenhurst, and most significantly, for the first fast-breeder reactor at Dounreay.
Within a few years the John Thompson Nuclear Energy Company had become a leader in its field and in 1955 it joined with AEI to set up the Industrial Atomic Energy Group.
By 1962, the AEI-John Thompson and the Nuclear Power Plant Co. consortia had amalgamated to form the Nuclear Power Group. As for the main John Thompson group, a year later it set up John Thompson Charlton to cover the company's own involvement in the construction of plant for both the petroleum and power generation industries.
With the 1960s drawing to a close Britain was generating more electricity from nuclear power than any other country in the world. And yet an investment of £1,000 million had failed to generate a commercial pay off in either cheap power or export sales.
Faced with this problem, the future of the nuclear power industry depended upon the merger of the three heavy engineering firms that were at its heart. They were John Thompson, Clarke Chapman and International Combustion.
In June 1970 the Clarke Chapman-John Thompson Group was formed. The consolidation process was completed by 1978, by which year Clarke Chapman-John Thompson and International Combustion (Holdings) had become part of the Northern Engineering Industries Group.
A restructuring then took place which led to the formation of Thompson Nuclear Engineering, itself part of NEI Thompson Ltd. In 1989 this became part of the iconic British manufacturer Rolls Royce. Then in 2003, its Nuclear Engineering Services was acquired by Nuclear Engineering Holdings Ltd. This relatively new company has become a resounding success.
Nuclear Engineering Services Ltd proudly remains in Spring Road, Ettingshall.
Over 100 years since boiler making began in Ettingshall, Nuclear Engineering Services Ltd continues traditions of quality, excellence and technological innovation.
It is a company of which Wolverhampton is justly proud.