A small Somerset business is receiving its second Queen’s Award in the space of five years. Jo Bird, a company specialising in the design and manufacture of storage cabinets to protect vital lifesaving and fire safety equipment, received official notification to say it has won The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation.
The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the UK’s most prestigious business awards to celebrate and encourage business excellence. The news was particularly welcome at Jo Bird’s HQ in Highbridge, Somerset as it is five years to the day that the company received its first Queen’s Award for International Trade. The company exports its products across the globe to over 30 different countries.
Today’s Queen’s Award in Innovation recognises the redesign and manufacture of a high volume/lower margin fire safety cabinet. Jo Bird has employed the latest technology to develop a product that saves lives by protecting essential fire and safety equipment in hazardous environments. In doing so the company has also achieved the remarkable feat of doubling productivity.
The spur to innovate was a combination of a desire to embrace new technology and increased competition for its smaller cabinets from overseas competitors in the oil and gas industry. The company decided to look at the smaller cabinets as the basis for innovation, and ensure that its competitive advantage was not only maintained but improved.
The composite material used for these products is Glass Reinforced Plastics (GRP) manufactured using resin transfer moulding (RTM) to provide products that are high quality, with zero corrosion, lightweight, exhibiting high specific strength and stiffness, maintenance free, together with long term cost saving.
The cabinet range is designed to protect fire safety equipment at risk of prolonged exposure (10-15 years) to harsh environments such as high winds, tropical rain, salt water spray and extremes of heat and cold (-40C to +50C). These are the first cabinets in this market segment to use advanced RTM technology to create a structure based on advanced composites.
As MD Guy Atkins explains, the development process wasn’t always plain sailing, “The biggest difficulty we had was with production. When we started running the process, there were high occurrences of defects and scraps. I enrolled on a mentoring scheme run by the National Composites Centre to improve my composites knowledge.
“We decided to sponsor an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) student through the University of Bristol to overcome the production issues and to transfer knowledge to the company’s staff.”
As a result of this sponsorship, three years ago graduate engineer Laxman Sivanathan joined the team at Jo Bird and quickly implemented significant changes to reduce the direct costs in the manufacture of the cabinets, as well as integrating product innovations as they occurred.
Commenting on the decision by the company to sponsor an Engineering Doctorate, Guy Atkins said, “Despite being a small company with around 20 full time staff, we decided that working with Bristol University’s Industrial Doctorate Centre (IDC) in Composites Manufacture and sponsoring Laxman Sivanathan would fast-forward the uptake of new technology and materials, accelerate R&D, and increase knowledge transfer to our staff. I am delighted that this has proved to be very successful.”
Guy continues: “We are the internationally recognised leader in the design and manufacture of life saving and fire safety equipment storage. This innovation enhances our reputation as the market leader in quality and in being at the forefront of design in our market. Being successful in winning a second Queen’s Award for Enterprise is a huge achievement and could not have happened without the ambition, determination and hard work of our staff and particularly Laxman Sivanathan.”