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Question time - Micro Pneumatics

Andy Draper, managing director of Micro Pneumatics, looks back on how an unexpected turn of events led to the blinds and shutters industry.

 

How did you get started in the blinds and shutters industry.

It all started about 12 years ago. Prior to this, Micro Pneumatics built sewing machine attachments for the garment industry. Within a single year, the industry had packed its bags and left the UK. This left us with a major problem – not much work. People unfortunately were laid off and we down sized into a smaller factory unit. We also rented some space out to a former customer. This customer had started to make curtains and from this had been asked for blinds. To make blinds manually is a long and boring process, and we were constantly badgered about making a machine for him. So, after many months of our normal work slowing down, we turned our attention to making a vertical blind machine. I only ever thought of this as a one-off machine, something to do!

Over the Christmas of 2002 sketches were done, drawings were produced and in the New Year a machine was built. Reps would visit the factory and comment on our excellent little machine. They would leave telling us how compact it was and the fact it stacked was a huge bonus. Nothing could touch it for features, price and size, and as the reps mentioned it to some of their customers; our neighbour started to have people popping in to see his new machine. They wanted one too, so we made five machines that were sold almost instantly, then five more, then 10. The VB1 was born. That’s how we got started in the blinds and shutters industry.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

Without a doubt it’s my dad. He started the company nearly 50 years ago when he invented the pneumatic needle-positioner for sewing machines, before that he was a compressor salesman. He was a fantastic engineer and designed many products that were the mainstay of the British garment industry. Sadly he died suddenly at only 65 in 1991.

What would you consider your greatest achievement at Micro Pneumatics?

The design and development of the VB1 which has allowed Micro to grow into a new market and given us the opportunity to introduce other machines into our product range.

How has the company itself changed in your time there?

We are still machinery manufacturers but with completely new products and in a completely different industry. So quite a bit!

How would you define the Micro Pneumatics brand?

Quality, innovative products from an approachable company with strong customer service ethics.

What do you feel is the greatest threat to the industry today?

The never ending quest to compete on price and not on quality.

What have you learned from the recession?

Be ready to adapt to a changing market.

Can the market look forward to a less turbulent 2014?

Yes, talking to customers there seems to be more optimism in the air.

What is the best thing about your job?

Having an idea, drawing it all up, building it and seeing it work just the way you imagined it would, then installing it and leaving a happy customer. I love it.

And the worst?

Not having the time to sit down, think about new machines and draw them up. I’m not an organised person, which makes it worse.

What does a typical day at work involve?

My day can consist of a combination of tasks. Quite a large part can be spent on the telephone, talking to customers and suppliers, and going through the emails. Then with a bit of luck I can spend some time doing drawings. If we are doing a development it will be a lot more time spent in the workshop and at the computer drawing the machine. Some days I will be out seeing customers and installing machines although I do a lot less of the installations than I was doing a few years ago.

Is there room in the industry for product innovation?

Yes, without innovation the industry doesn’t move forward. A lot of the blinds business is about fashion, so innovation is an essential part.

Who do you most admire in business and why?

It’s not very original, but Richard Branson has to be up there. He started an empire from nothing and seems a nice person.  I also like Trevor Baylis (the wind-up radio) for having a brilliant idea and just following it through.

How do you enjoy yourself away from work?

There’s so much I enjoy doing, but so little time to do. It’s always nice to spend quality time with the family, my wife and four children to keep me on my toes. I also play football once week. Golf if possible, I’m lucky if it’s three times in a year. I love my motorbike and go away once a year to Europe with friends. I also ride a road bike (pedal power) on a regular basis. You’ll find me on Sundays watching my son Elliot playing football.

What can we expect from Micro Pneumatics in the near future?

Our next project has to be an ultrasonic welding machine for verticals and we will also be looking at adding even more automation to our roller blind tables.

What advice would you give someone entering the industry today?

From a customer’s point of view, I would say give the best possible customer service you can. If you are running late let the customer know, it’s the simple things that matter.

What do you think will be the future big changes for the industry?

I think the industry on the manufacturing side will become more automated. I think this will then lead to the companies that have invested in automation starting to produce blinds for those that haven’t and have decided to concentrate on selling rather than the manufacturing side. This means fewer, but bigger manufacturers but just as many people involved in the industry as a whole.

I think the industry has a bright future as long as product innovation is constantly pushed.

Micro Pneumatics

 

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