From Kazakhstan to Korea, clever chemistry developed and engineered by Gloucester-based Advanced Insulation is being applied to new products which are keeping oil and gas pipelines, ships and oilrigs protected from the heat, cold — and attack by sledgehammer (of which more later).
Nothing can stop a new business thriving if it hits the market at the right time, with the right products driven by decisive leadership, even during a global recession.
The men who’ve steered Advanced Insulation from zero to superhero in less than ten years (annual turnover is now £58 million), are managing director Andrew Bennion and technical director, Simon Shepherd. Andrew and Simon met at Alderley Plc, another globally successful Gloucestershire company in the oil and gas sector headed up by Simon’s father Tony.
I met Andrew at Advanced Insulation’s factory at Quedgeley, Gloucester to find out more about the man behind the business.
Andrew graduated from Birmingham University as a chemical engineer. He took his first job at Monsanto’s Aspirin plant, North Wales so he could slalom canoe on the River Dee in his spare time. A move to the Laporte chemical company in Widnes saw him running several of the company’s sulphuric acid and effluent treatment plants. This sounds unenviable, but I clearly don’t appreciate the scientific achievements behind the processes. He also ran its power distribution plant and worked on processing edible oils and copier paper.
He moved to Alderley Plc and into general management. Here he completed an MBA at Henley Business School and became Alderley’s group finance director. In 2008 he and Simon completed a management buyout of the company subsidiary Alderley Materials and named the new company Advanced Insulation.
Investing to grow
The new company’s growth strategy was based on a commitment to research and development. “We’ve always invested around 10% of turnover in R&D,” explains Andrew. That’s a lot, and unusual for an industrial company where annual R&D investment usually averages around 2-3% of turnover.
Advanced Insulation’s core products are based on phenolic chemical compounds. A breakthrough in the company’s development came through collaboration with multinational energy company Statoil. Advanced Insulation adapted its formula for application on subsea structures at the oil producer’s North Sea Kristin plant. This opened up a rich new seam of business.
New grades of phenolic products were developed to meet the increasingly technical demands of the oil and gas sectors. Advanced Insulation then developed a new range of industrial insulation and protection jackets for large and complicated-shaped equipment such as valves. These removable fire protection covers are as efficient as bonded insulation materials.
Manufacturing across the globe
While the design and engineering of compounds and products is done largely at Advanced Insulation’s factory in Gloucester, the application of insulating material happens at the client’s site, and takes a great deal of skill.
“We do a lot of training because every skilled engineer must perform at their best in front of the client,” explains Andrew.
The manufacture of fire protection covers is also best done close to the end user, so the company established a manufacturing facility in Dubai. The facility now has around 75 employees and Advanced Insulation has since opened jacket manufacturing facilities in Kazakhstan, Korea, Brazil and closer to home, Nottingham (which supplies the company’s North Sea business).
Technology drives oil and gas development
It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry is having a tough time, so can Advanced Insulation’s success continue? “We believe the oil and gas market will come back,” says Andrew.
“Traditionally we focussed on upstream oil and gas because there were so many opportunities. Now we are diversifying into other areas such as sustainable energy, where our technology can be adapted to fit.”
And don’t write off the oil and gas industry yet, he warns. “There is less capital expenditure in oil and gas at the moment but we’ve lived through a number of cycles, though this is the longest. As technology evolves, oil fields can be developed in more hostile environments. Many of these fields are operating in extreme temperatures: hotter or sub-zero, so our new product innovations are ideal.”
Advanced Insulation’s MS400 innovation has won many awards. Half the weight of other insulation products, it can be applied to the underdeck of an oilrig. “Weight is a massive issue on oilrigs and MS400 is much more robust than a standard system of fibrous insulation held on by a stainless steel shell,” says Andrew. “Our product is bonded using the same glue used on A380 wings.”
Advanced Insulation’s MS400 innovation was so radical that one client, not believing its properties, took a sledgehammer to it.
That didn’t work. He had to resort to a hammer and chisel on the bonded product before he could chip anything off.
Where there’s a need, there’s a solution
Advanced Insulation’s growth through innovation is complemented by strategic acquisitions. In 2014 the company acquired Plymouth-based Manuplas, which develops polymers for the marine, offshore, renewable and leisure markets.
The following year the company purchased Nottingham-based Covertherm to manufacture insulating jackets for use in the North Sea.
From £3 million turnover in 2009 to £58 million in 2017, what continues to motivate him? “I get huge satisfaction when a decision goes well. When I see our success, I see the individuals involved and how they’ve developed and taken ownership of projects.”
Andrew has an unshakeable belief that if his sales team can identify a need, Advanced Insulation can provide the solution. “We are best at adapting core chemistries to solve new and existing problems.”
Advanced Insulation is going to need a bigger awards cabinet. Added to its Queen’s Awards for Innovation and International Trade, it’s won many awards from respected engineering and manufacturing support organisations and was ranked 30th in the seventh annual Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200. Track 200 ranks Britain’s mid-market private companies with the fastest-growing international sales.
Quick Facts on Advanced Insulation
Advanced Insulation is one of the region’s fastest growing companies. It designs and engineers insulation and fire protection products and systems. The company has worked primarily in the offshore oil and gas subsea sector, but is expanding fast into sectors such as marine and wind energy. Operating globally, the company has recently secured its first contract in China.
Head Office: Gloucester
Group Revenue: £58 million
4 Facts on Andrew Bennion
1. Studied chemical engineering at university (little known fact: so did Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, and Bob Gore, the inventor of Gore-Tex)
2. Former slalom canoeist. Now a cyclist
3. Has competed in the world’s largest cycle race, the Argus Cycle Tour, in South Africa
4. Has no excuse for being late for work. He lives 10 minutes away from Advanced Insulation HQ, Gloucester
The facility was opened by Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc. The student-centric venue aims to build a community of innovation across the University, inspiring and supporting Oxford’s 23,000 students to develop their entrepreneurial skills or create and scale commercial ventures.
The Oxford Foundry will embrace students across all academic disciplines from engineering, medicine, history, philosophy and more. It will be a place for students from different backgrounds to experiment, learn from one another, and generate ideas and initiatives that address business and societal issues: whether their ambition is to launch their own start-up or to develop an entrepreneurial mind-set to drive innovation from within an organisation. Students will be encouraged to play a major role in designing and leading activities.
As a world-leading university, Oxford University has produced more founders of Unicorn businesses ($1 billion upwards) than any other in Europe, and has a strong history of students launching and establishing successful start-up companies. The Oxford Foundry will support the institution to continue to translate its academic research into innovative solutions with commercial and societal impact, on an international scale.
Building on the success and popularity of the Oxford Launchpad at Saїd Business School, which is home to the Entrepreneurship Centre and Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the Oxford Foundry was initiated and developed by Oxford Saїd for the benefit of the whole of the University.
The Oxford Foundry is housed in a renovated Victorian ice factory in central Oxford and is spread over two floors. It offers co-working space, presentation areas, and a café at ground level - enabling entrepreneurially-minded people to meet, collaborate, create new ventures, or build the skills to bring innovation into their careers. Upstairs, there is an incubator space for accelerating new ventures.
Ana Bakshi, Director of the Oxford Foundry said: “Entrepreneurship is of increasing importance to students. As a generation, millennials desire to be more socially responsible, innovative and to make an impact. Whether starting their own ventures or aspiring to lead in organisations, the Oxford Foundry will develop students’ entrepreneurial skills, understanding and self-efficacy. The aim is to create future leaders whatever career they pursue.’
The Oxford Foundry has been made possible by the generous support of the some major donors: Reid Hoffman, Co-founder of LinkedIn, the Amersi Foundation, EY, Barclays, Meltwater Fairhair.ai, and DeTao Education Group. An Advisory Board, chaired by Brent Hoberman, will bring expertise, insight and advice to the Foundry community.
Reid Hoffman comments: ‘I am a firm believer that to solve big issues and challenges, we need more entrepreneurial thinking and development, and what better place than within education. The Oxford Foundry will act as a hub to support and develop entrepreneurship within Oxford and bring students together from lots of different backgrounds and academic areas to experiment and prototype new ideas. This will create amazing, transformative ventures that will make a real impact, and ultimately make the world a better place.’
Peter Tufano, Peter Moores Dean, Saïd Business School, concludes: ‘The Oxford Foundry will be a hub for innovation and idea-generation. By inspiring and developing new generations of Oxford student entrepreneurs we can hopefully transform their lives and our collective future.’
Ecotricity is to revise its existing planning application for its Eco Park development by junction 13 of the M5, scrapping its business park plans, and expects to submit its changes to the council before the end of the year.
The current proposal was submitted back in January 2016, and with no end date still in sight Ecotricity has decided to adapt the application to focus solely on facilities for Forest Green Rovers football club – as part of this the Zaha Hadid Architects designed wooden stadium will move to the north side of the A419, on the site of the currently proposed Green Technology Hub, and there will be no development on the south side.
This means there will be no Business Park in the revised plan, where facilities for up to 4,000 jobs would have been created, generating a £300m a year boost to the local economy.
The revised plans will be accompanied by updated environmental reports, looking at key issues including traffic, noise, lighting, biodiversity and landscape.
Dale Vince, Founder of Ecotricity, said: “We’ve taken this decision because of the on-going delays with the planning process for the original concept. It’s a pragmatic decision recognising that Eco Park as proposed was just a bit too much for the council to get their heads round right now. The stadium is the most important part in the short term – the thing we need the most, and the easiest thing for planners to approve, so we’re removing the obstacles, which ironically we thought were the major benefits to the District, the 4,000 job green tech business park.
“Eco Park has just been earmarked by the council for employment use as part of the local plan review. The message we’re getting is that we need to come back in a few years’ time. We may do that.”
Business Secretary Greg Clark has announced the universities which will lead pioneering research into the next generation of battery technology.
Business Secretary Greg Clark has announced the consortium of UK universities that will form the Faraday Battery Institute, a new £65 million research institute responsible for building the UK’s status as a global leader in battery research and technology.
The Institute will bring together the expertise and insight from its 7 founding partner universities, industry partners and other academic institutions to accelerate fundamental research to develop battery technologies. Ensuring the UK is well placed to take advantage of the future economic opportunities from emerging technology.
The universities forming the institute are:
· University of Warwick
· University of Oxford
· Imperial College London
· Newcastle University
· University College London
· University of Cambridge
· University of Southampton
Announcing this major investment in the UK’s research base Greg Clark said:
“Through the Faraday Research Challenge we are cementing our position as the ‘go-to’ destination for battery technology so we can exploit the global transition to a low carbon economy.
“The Faraday Battery Institute will have a critical role in fostering innovative research collaboration between our world-leading universities and world-beating businesses to make this technology more accessible and more affordable.
“We have huge expertise in this area already and the Faraday Battery Institute collaboration between our 7 founding universities provides a truly unique opportunity for us to bring together our expertise and an effort in this area behind a common set of strategic goals to ensure the UK exploits the jobs and business opportunities.”
With £65 million of funding through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Institute will invest an initial £13.7 million to set up a headquarters.
EPSRC Chief Executive Professor Philip Nelson said:
Climate change and moving towards low carbon economies mean the demand for clean energy production and effective energy storage, in the UK and globally, is rising.
The Faraday Institute will bring leading academics in the field of battery development together to explore novel approaches that will meet these challenges and accelerate the development of new products and techniques
EPSRC is pleased to be helping establish the Institute, and the drive to keep the UK a prosperous and productive nation.
The Business Secretary confirmed in July that the government would be making an investment of £246 million, over 4 years, in the Faraday Research Challenge to ensure the UK builds on its strengths and leads the world in the design, development and manufacture of electric batteries.
The Faraday Research Challenge is divided into 3 streams - research, innovation and scale-up which is designed to drive a step-change in transforming the UK’s world-leading research into market-ready technologies that ensures economic success for the UK.
The Faraday Research Challenge is just 1 of 6 areas that the government, together with business and academia, identified through its flagship Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) as being one of the UK’s core industrial challenges and opportunities, where research and innovation can help unlock markets and industries of the future in which the UK can become world-leading.
As part of cementing the UK as a global leader in autonomous and battery vehicles, the government will unveil shortly the winners of its first £55 million Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) testing infrastructure competition.
This follows the government opening its £100 million CAV test bed competition in April, inviting proposals for how to create a cluster of excellence in driverless car testing, along the M40 corridor between Coventry and London, to accelerate the development of this technology, grow intellectual capital and attract overseas investment in the UK.
A ground breaking ceremony at Gloucester Business Park has marked the start of construction of a new 100,000 sq ft, state-of-art manufacturing facility for TBS Engineering, a world leader in automation for the battery industry.
The ceremony was attended by the project teams from Arlington, owners of Gloucester Business Park and TBS, together with Winvic the contractors on the development, to officially mark the commencement of construction.
The facility, includes 80,000 sq ft of manufacturing space together with 20,000 sq ft of office accommodation and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2018. When completed it will serve as TBS’s new global headquarters, and provide employment for 170 people.
Dan Williams, Development Director of Arlington said: “We are thrilled to be partnering with TBS on the development of this exciting new HQ and look forward to working with them for years to come. This development comes hot on the heels of us completing the new HQ office for Horizon Nuclear Power and is testament to the skills of our delivery team and the opportunity at Gloucester Business Park to deliver new business space for all sorts of companies. It is also the first major announcement for Arlington following its corporate acquisition by TPG, and demonstrates the new owner’s commitment to the strategy of developing out the significant landbank held by the business.”
David Longney, TBS Engineering Group Managing Director, added: “Our investment in the new facility, is testament to the expertise, talent and engineering capabilities available to us in Gloucestershire. It is this local resource that has enabled us to stay at the forefront of our industry. Over the last fifty years TBS has led the world in the manufacture of lead acid battery equipment. At the heart of this growth, is our commitment to innovation and engineering and this new facility will support our continued expansion, research and development and position as a global leader.
Gloucester Business Park is home to a large business community of over 70 companies, includes extensive onsite amenities and is located at Junction 11a of the M5 and A417 dual carriageway.
TBS Engineering were represented by Cushman & Wakefield and Arlington by Alder King and Strutt & Parker.
Former managing director of Gloucester-based Barnwood Shopfitting, Chris Gabb, celebrated his retirement by picking up an award recognising his outstanding contribution to the shopfitting industry.
Chris’s achievement in the National Association of Shopfitters (NAS) Design Partnership Awards 2017 has rounded off a long and distinguished career with Barnwood that began in 1971.
During that time he supported more than 90 apprentices, many of whom are still in the business today and have gone on to senior positions. This is testament to the importance of the trade apprenticeship and the support it is given by the leadership in the business.
After an apprenticeship with a local joinery company, Gloucester-born Chris joined a national building company, who were undertaking a major redevelopment project in the city, giving him valuable site experience.
After joining Barnwood, he assisted in all aspects of the high quality bespoke bank and building society fit-outs, taking part in all aspects of the operation from estimating to site management.
He took over control of the joinery business after former director, Bert Davies, retired, developing and widening the scope of works into the retail area and complete fit-out works.
Chris’s input, initiative and forward thinking developed the company to become a major part of the Barnwood Group, resulting in Barnwood Shopfitting being established within the group.
During Chris’s stewardship of the company, he has led controlled expansion of the business to become a major successful player in the shopfitting sector, currently turning over more than £25 million per year, with an enviable list of blue chip customers.
But it’s not all about personal successes. Chris’s down to earth and practical approach has developed a culture within the business of helping customers and staff, which continues today.
He worked closely to understand the clients’ needs and shaped the business to support these, regularly making the impossible possible. Helping others has been important to Chris and he has always been a strong advocate of the trade apprenticeship.
Barnwood Shopfitting joined the NAS in 1974, and have been long-standing members and supporters, with Chris being elected to the council of the NAS on 7th February 2001. Since then Chris has served the association in many roles, most latterly as treasurer, before his retirement from the NAS last year.
Barnwood Group is one of Gloucestershire’s longest established companies, employing more than 230 staff with a turnover of £90 million. The group includes three divisions: Construction, Shopfitting and General Works, and is responsible for such prestigious projects as the new John Lewis store at Terminal 2 and the Perfectionists Café-a restaurant created by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal for air travellers.
Leading alternative network provider, CityFibre , has partnered with Cheltenham-based ICT company, Bamboo Technology Group Ltd, to unleash the power of full-fibre beneath Cheltenham and Gloucester’s streets, giving businesses access to next-generation digital infrastructure and ultrafast internet speeds.
Local businesses will soon be able to harness the benefits of full-fibre connectivity after CityFibre unveiled new, alternative digital networks in both Cheltenham and Gloucester.
The move by CityFibre responds to growing demand for ultrafast connectivity in the region. A recent survey conducted by the company and Bamboo, revealed that over 60 per cent of businesses are languishing with an internet connection below 50Mbps.
With the modern full-fibre infrastructure introduced by CityFibre in place, businesses across the area will now have affordable access to almost unlimited bandwidth, with 500Mbps and 1Gbps internet services. This, in turn, will bolster further digital growth across the region as well as providing a boost to local business, driving investment and inspiring new start-ups.
CityFibre is now calling for local businesses to register their interest to discover more about the Cheltenham and Gloucester networks, their capabilities and how they can support their digital ambitions. Connections to the network can be secured through Cheltenham-based telecoms and ICT service provider, Bamboo.
With the core network in place, many businesses will be able to access the network and benefit from ultrafast speeds very soon. And due to ambitious growth plans, more businesses will be able to benefit as the network expands in Gloucester and Cheltenham and surrounding areas such as Staverton and Quedgeley .
Nick Gray, City Development Manager at CityFibre, explained: “Poor connectivity has been an issue for businesses across Gloucester and Cheltenham for a number of years and there’s a recognised need to invest to meet the demands of the digital age, where slow and unreliable connectivity can be a real barrier to local businesses.
“We’ve successfully rolled out full-fibre infrastructure across the UK, including Bristol in 2016, and our expansion into two new areas will help the region reach its digital potential. Our investment in Gloucester and Cheltenham will stand to give businesses and services a modern foundation for growth, investment and innovation and a proven toolkit for increased efficiency, productivity and competitiveness. Together, these elements form the building blocks of a thriving regional economy and sustainable growth and position both areas alongside some of the most connected locations in the UK and the world. We’re looking forward to working alongside Bamboo in Cheltenham and Gloucester, as their experience, local insight and diverse range of solutions will be invaluable to aiding businesses take full advantage of the new infrastructure.”
Lorrin White, Managing Director of Bamboo added: “We’re excited to offer businesses across the area truly affordable, ultrafast fibre connectivity for the first time. With over 85% of businesses we spoke to expressing an interest in affordable 500Mbps, there is clearly a growing appetite and need for the service.”
“We have a wealth of industry in this area, and sectors like science and technology have made huge leaps in the region in recent years. We must have the infrastructure to allow these industries to continue to thrive. The gigabit network will make a real difference to Gloucester and Cheltenham’s digital landscape and we’re looking forward to working with CityFibre to support businesses across the area. We encourage more to get in touch and find out how they can join the network.”
ZPG Plc, which owns and operates some of the UK’s most well known digital brands including Zoopla, uSwitch, PrimeLocation and Hometrack, is buying money.co.uk, one of the UK’s leading financial services comparison websites, for £80 million on a cash-free, debt-free basis, plus a performance-based earn-out of up to £60 million.
Established in 2008, Money.co.uk is one of the UK’s leading financial services comparison websites, allowing consumers to compare thousands of deals from over 600 providers across more than 60 product categories including mortgages, loans, credit cards, bank accounts and insurance. The business has a strong brand position with over 2 million visits per month to its website.
Money generated revenues of over £24 million in 2016.
The acquisition is a core part of ZPG’s strategy to offer the widest range of relevant products across its platforms and is an ideal fit, with both businesses focussed on empowering consumers to make better-informed property and home-related decisions.
Following completion, Money will continue to operate as a standalone brand and platform, headed up by Founder & CEO, Chris Morling.
Alex Chesterman, Founder & CEO of ZPG said: “We are delighted to announce this transaction. Adding Money, one of the UK’s leading financial services comparison websites, to our existing brand portfolio will further enhance our product capabilities and consumer engagement across both our comparison and property platforms. Broadening our financial services offering has long been a key part of our strategy and I look forward to welcoming Chris and his team to the ZPG family.”
Chris Morling, Founder & CEO of Money added : “I am very proud of what we have achieved over the last nine years. We have developed a strong brand and loyal following and are looking forward to the next phase of our growth. ZPG has led the way as an innovative digital consumer champion and we are looking forward to helping even more consumers make better-informed decisions as part of ZPG.”