Manufacturing privateers - a future?


Fifty years ago the rallying cry was ‘buy British’ – and it still should be, says Rupert Martin, Group Chairman of Dextra Group plc.

union flagMy qualifications for writing this article do not come from a conventional route but are entirely based on running my own business in the manufacturing of lighting fixtures (luminaires) since the late 70’s. The industry has been astonished by the change from conventional fluorescent products to those utilising LEDs (light emitting diodes) mounted on circuit boards called ‘light engines’. This is the most fundamental change in light sources since the late 1920’s, starting gradually a little over five years ago with the introduction of LEDs. Products using LEDs now comprise over 95% of my company’s production.

The opportunities for flexible, fast moving and aggressive businesses have been enormous but this is not the whole story. Regrettably, it has allowed a flood of unregulated commodity product to arrive from the Far East, at prices that would not cover the cost of raw materials for UK manufactured products.

Constant improvement in efficiency requires regular redesign to take advantage of massive (up to 80%) power saving. To keep ahead of the competition good service, credible warranties, innovative design with technical back up and recycling (WEEE directive requirement) complete the ideal package to beat competition from around the globe.

Clients are becoming more discerning and demanding as LEDs have lost their novelty value and become mainstream where often the sole purpose a client purchases is to reduce overheads by way of energy saving, especially relevant in premises with long running hours.

So how can a UK manufacturer achieve these goals in a country that has lost its engineering expertise and still produce an acceptable profit?

My experience tells me that not one facet is the answer and the same rules were applicable before the LED revolution. Constant reequipping of the correct and latest manufacturing equipment is paramount to produce high volumes efficiently. It is equally important to motivate and keep the best operatives who are proud to work with state of the art machines located in a stimulating environment.

These criteria can be ingrained into the DNA of a company but it takes many years and much tenacity and indeed heart break along the way. Once it is achieved however, and all ‘singing from the same song sheet’ the effect can be incredibly stimulating.

In a company such as my own, we work hard to keep our overheads under control. We are constantly looking for ways to make all phases of the business efficient by challenging the norm.

I often speak to acquaintances in the lighting industry – generally employed by multi nationals who are competitors, and they are amazed at the speed we introduce new products but for us this is normal, although accelerated with the introduction of LEDs with the possibility of differing wattages, colours and controllability.

Dextra Group plc., based in Gillingham, Dorset, considers itself at the cutting edge of luminaire development. Our latest in a long line of investments are dedicated LED PCB production facilities and production of our own packaging equipment.

This allows the design of ground breaking luminaires bringing a new level of flexibility to production and design, supported by our ‘just in time’ manufacturing ethic. Our belief in high service levels with over 37 years’ experience, is an ethic that continues to go forward throughout the group companies and is an ethos that employees embrace.

With seven subsidiary companies, we cover all facets of the lighting industry. Our industry leading service levels enable us to offer bespoke and standard energy efficient lighting products in record breaking times. With our wholly owned distribution facility and our liveried transport fleet we operate a working week delivery policy and can deliver to a very wide and diverse range of outlets across the UK, Ireland and Europe, including site deliveries. Uniquely, end of life products are processed under WEEE regulations.

Our goal is not to be the largest lighting manufacturer in the UK (Dextra Group are currently number 2) but to enhance our position as the most client friendly, profitable and respected privately owned lighting manufacturer in the UK.