Hull steelwork fabricator EPS Pipeworks looking to expand
A HULL steelwork fabrication and pipework specialist is poised for growth following an upturn in enquiries.
EPS Pipeworks was founded in 1988 by John Murphy.
Recognising the need for a more specialist service to the refrigeration industry, John established the business with just himself, a van and another employee.
A growing customer base and repeat referrals fuelled the company's growth and this prompted its relocated to a purpose-built factory in West Dock Avenue.
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Now, following a tough trading period which has shown few firms mercy, EPS Pipeworks is looking to consolidate and grow, with new markets presenting ripe opportunities for the firm's future.
Operations manager Lee Murphy said: "The past 12 months have seen a slight reduction in orders, especially from the supermarket and breweries, who have been slow to start new projects.
"This year has been a different story, with the pipeline now a lot fuller with possible opportunities and we are working hard to proactively go after work.
"This has been achieved by the launch of a new promotional brochure and website, not to mention initial forays into markets outside of our core refrigeration pipework expertise.
"We have taken on four new site personnel in the past month and are currently in the process of recruiting a project manager and a new apprentice in September."
EPS Pipeworks offers a range of integrated services, including pipework fabrication, installation and commissioning, structural steel fabrication and engineering design. With about 20 employees – a figure which increases during busy periods – the company predominantly works on large distribution sites with refrigeration warehouse, as well as in the gas and oil sectors.
However, after working with Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) to consolidate its operations and make its manufacturing processes leaner and cleaner, the company has its sites set on new markets, including nuclear and renewables.
Mr Murphy said: "We are working to position the company in line with the Humber's 'energy estuary'.
"There are already a wealth of these industries around the Humber and we have doing a lot of work around the area to network and prepare for the future.
"I am relatively new to the area, having only moved here about 18 months ago, but it is clear there is a lot of momentum locally to create an energy estuary. There is so much going on and like most firms, we are keen to give ourselves the best opportunity to bid for more work."
Mr Murphy said, while the company was looking at new markets, it was determined to maintain existing working relationships with other local firms and not lose its specialist expertise in its core services.
"We are one of the UK's leading companies operating in the refrigeration pipework sector, he added.
"People come back to us time and again, so while there is plenty of opportunity in new markets, at present we are focusing on growth through consolidation.
"This has been achieved through working with MAS, which has offered us support and guidance.
"Many people spend so much time running their company, they don't have the opportunity to step back and look at how to position it for the future, but MAS helps look at ways to achieve growth and can help access funding in order to do so."
MAS is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and works with manufacturers to help shape strategy, create products, reduce waste and review supply chains.
EPS Pipeworks was one of the East Yorkshire companies that took part in the latest MAS Barometer, which provides an overview of economic conditions and issues faced by manufacturing SMEs between October last year to January.
The Hull company's fortunes echo the overall results which suggest manufacturing SMEs in Yorkshire and the Humber are optimistic for growth this year.
Some 40 per cent of companies questioned said they have seen an increase in their order books over the past six months, with a massive 62 per cent expecting sales turnover to grow between now and June.
The number of firms expecting to take on staff is 40 per cent – up 9 per cent – while 44 per cent are planning to invest in new premises and machinery.
Tellingly, 55 per cent of manufacturers cited the availability of specific skills as a barrier to growth, while 33 per cent of management teams admit they do not have enough capacity to "work on" their businesses.
Mr Murphy said: "In terms of skills, there are difficulties in finding experienced welders and fitters with refrigeration knowledge. There are also longer- term issues to consider, as there's not enough young pipefitters coming through the ranks to take the place of the older generation.
Martin Coats, area director for MAS in the East, said: "Our companies are sending out a powerful message and highlighting their determination to explore new opportunities this year following a year of global consolidation in 2012.
"What our findings show is that there is still work to do and we need to ensure that the recent progress is just the start and that we continue to develop apprentices and graduates that have the right level and types of skills required by manufacturers."
Nigel Jump, chief economist at Strategic Economics, said many manufacturers had expressed a desire to invest and hire, but deferred expansion "in the face of low productivity and uncertain markets last year".
He said: "In testing macro conditions, managing cash flow, seeking orders, matching competitors and handling disproportionate regulation are all cited as constraints.
"But, the barometer also indicates a potential for recovery. SME manufacturers are hoping to increase turnover, staff numbers and investment in the first half of this year and hope these aims will be supported by the banks, the Government and other agencies."