Q and A with Philip Astley of The Expanded Metal Company
27th February 2023
For the last seven years Philip Astley has been leading Hartlepool based manufacturer, The Expanded Metal Company through a period of change and growth.
Philip shared with us his highlights through this period and the benefits of investing in people and partnerships to expand a business.
You joined the Expanded Metal Company as managing director in 2016. What have been your highlights so far?
When I became managing director of the company it required some attention. I recognised that it had serious potential, with decades of experience, and so I wanted to breathe some new life into it.
For those that may not be aware, the company has a rich history. It was founded by the patentee of expanded metal, John French Goulding and has been operating from the same 25,000+ sqm site in Hartlepool since 1889. So, for me, one of the main highlights is seeing the results of the significant investment we have made into the facility and machinery, that continues to allow us to operate from our original home.
The investment programme has included replacing existing lighting with more energy-efficient LED lighting systems and we completed refurbishment programmes on our machines and reinstated maintenance contracts.
I’m also pleased that we have really been able to utilise, to its full potential, the ERP system that has been in place since 2014. We have been able to do a lot with the data that we gather and use it to make process efficiencies across the site.
In addition, I’ve seen fantastic improvements in product sales and the opportunity to innovate following the introduction of a marketing strategy and the development of our ecommerce website.
What does 2023 have in store for the Expanded Metal Company?
Innovation and investment will continue as a core focus. So far this year we have launched to market our new range of modular cages which have been exceptionally well received. The modular cages which are easy to assemble, disassemble and transport, offer applications as security storage for a range of items from bikes and tools to bins.
Further innovation will come following our investment in a new machine in March. It will open up opportunities in new markets to us both domestically and overseas. We’re also looking to employ into our sales team and invest in automation.
Supply chain issues were a major challenge for manufacturers in 2022. How do you see this situation evolving in 2023?
Unfortunately, I think prices will increase again on raw material as mills look towards opportunities to increase demand. There are actions that we take to minimise this which includes investment in supplier relationships. We recognise the importance of this and loyalty goes both ways, so we look to collaborate with our strategic suppliers.
What are the key focus areas and opportunities for the business this year?
The new machine I mentioned is a key area, as is our high security products – which includes our modular cages. Our fine mesh, which we call micromesh, is where we see big opportunities as it has applications in a number of new markets, such as aerospace, chemical processing and wind energy. We also have plans to develop our ecommerce platform and increase our operations in Europe.
It was apprenticeship week earlier this month. How important is your apprenticeship programme to the future of the business?
It is absolutely critical to the business. Since I joined it’s an area we actively engage in and champion. For manufacturing businesses such as ours, it’s important to bring in and train new people to retain and develop skills. It’s how I believe we can continue to innovate. We look forward to welcoming a new cohort of apprentices in roles across the business this September.
You mentioned that The Expanded Metal Company has a heritage in Hartlepool dating back to the 19th century. Where do you see it’s place in the town in 2023 and what do you think it’s brought to the area?
I think it’s brought significant employment to the area and this is something we hope to continue. We’d like to increase our profile in the town, look at ways to be more sustainable and be more involved in social events in the local community to make our people proud.
You’re a Board member of the Engineering and Manufacturing Network (EMN). What do you think the EMN brings to the North East’s engineering and manufacturing community and what does it mean for you to be involved at that level?
I’m extremely proud to be a member and in my role to increase membership in the Teesside region. It’s been known for being a Durham based network but it’s been working hard on raising its profile to be seen as having a wider North East focus. It’s a fantastic network for bringing businesses together. And by growing its membership base, great and unique opportunities can be identified.
What do you see as the key opportunities for the North East manufacturing sector?
Manufacturers in the region are ideally placed to benefit from the continued development in offshore wind, hydrogen and the free port.
And I think there is a big opportunity to support the significant infrastructure in the region with a North East supply chain. And this should be supported by the EMN and other networks in the region such as Make UK, NOF and NEPIC sharing tenders between members.
The Expanded Metal Company is an innovator in the design and manufacture of metal mesh which has a range of benefits and applications, this includes its ExMesh™ range of security products.