Q&A with Michael Donachie of Tech Projects
Tech Projects is a specialist stainless steel manufacturer based in Felling, Gateshead. It combines its more than 20 years’ experience manufacturing conveyor systems with fabrication capabilities to design and manufacture material handling products and structural access solutions. The company supports customers nationwide but also has a large customer base in the North East, working within the food and drink, manufacturing, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors.
Michael Donachie, General Manager at Tech Projects joined the company in October 2019, after it was acquired by Go2 Engineering in July 2019. He has more than 30 years’ experience in delivering growth plans and strategies at a senior level for manufacturing and engineering companies. In its first quarter of 2021 the company has seen a 40 per cent increase in orders against pre- pandemic figures. Michael talks to us about steering a company through the pandemic and maintaining its growth plans.
How has your business been impacted over the pandemic?
I would say the most impact we felt was during the initial few months of the first lockdown in March 2020. This was largely because we weren’t able to go on client sites as they had either shut down operations or were only accepting contractors on site to complete work which was critical to operations. This meant we had projects that were put on hold until we could complete them.
And then, even in situations where we were allowed on site we still faced challenges. For instance, we were required to complete the install of a mezzanine floor to enable our client to have maintenance access to a bottling line. The client was based in Birmingham and with very few hotels and places to eat open we had to consider the welfare of our staff carefully. This meant we booked single room, self-catering accommodation. And with six members of staff required in Birmingham for the job we sent them in three vehicles to allow for social distancing.
Thankfully these situations only continued for a few months and by summer 2020 I would say we and most our customers were fully operational again.
How have you adapted to the challenges brought about by the pandemic?
As a business and as part of Go2 Engineering Group we adapted swiftly and efficiently to the changes and challenges brought about by the pandemic. We conducted risk assessments to identify where changes were needed. The changes I suspect will be fairly similar to most organisations such as increased cleaning of high touch point areas, introducing one-way systems around our large 20,000 sq ft facility and allowing for social distancing.
We also looked at how we would work when on client site and introduced increased cleaning and hygiene protocols, completed medical surveys for clients and did temperature checks prior to attending their site.
We also fairly quickly, in response to client demand, created new products to address challenges around maintaining hygiene standards and adhering to social distancing regulations. This has included designing and manufacturing a mobile sanitisation unit and also a variety of protection barriers.
Where have you seen most growth across the business?
Our main business growth area has been in conveyors. Since I joined the company I would say the order book for our range of conveyors has grown significantly with more the 60 per cent of our business now coming from this area. We have continued to supply into existing customers, typically in the food and beverage and automotive sector, but more recently have worked with new customers in varied sectors. Such as a manufacturer of polystyrene blocks who approached us for a zero-waste conveyor system and also a company that creates gift hampers who were looking to streamline and automate their production line to enable them to scale up.
We’re also seeing more customers taking advantage of the UK Government’s tax incentive scheme for project investments in facilities or equipment – which all of our work sits under and therefore every project we deliver our customers could qualify to receive tax relief.
Where do you see future growth?
For Tech Projects, I see the company continuing to grow its customer base of those looking for our specialisms in stainless steel conveyors, material handling products and access solutions. Also, following our strategic marketing strategy we’ll be raising our profile and looking to grow customers in areas outside of the North East, in near-by regions such as South Scotland and Yorkshire.
How do you recruit and develop your specialist workforce?
We have recently taken on five new employees, two apprentices, two fabrication/welders and an experienced project engineer. We have used sites such as Indeed, LinkedIn and the member networks we’re a part of to promote vacancies.
We haven’t found too much difficulty in recruiting quality staff as we are fortunate to be able to offer employees more than just a good salary. We value the importance of providing a positive working environment and offer external training and additional working benefits such as having a facility that has state-of-the art machines and tools. This includes our project engineer team who have access to the latest SolidWorks design suite as well as training to ensure they are proficient and getting the most out of the system.
There is also the added benefit of being part of a growing portfolio of engineering and manufacturing companies which offer symbiotic services.
What advice would you give other manufacturers across the North East
Based on our experiences and what we credit to our business success, which has seen the company grow to be stronger now than pre-pandemic. I would highlight a couple of core areas. The first is marketing and following a strategic marketing strategy, the second would be utilise and take up any offer of business support, we have been able to benefit from a bounce back loan and the third would be if you’re a member of a network make sure you’re taking advantage of the support it can give and making the most of its benefits and its ability to connect you to other businesses.
We’re members of the Advanced Manufacturing Forum (AMF), Engineering and Manufacturing Network (EMN) and the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA). Each of which has provided us with advice on HR, health and safety and Covid specific guidance.
How have you applied digital transformation to your business?
The main thing we have done is improve our website. We previously had a site that wasn’t fit for purpose and it had not been updated or had any investment made to it for quite some time. We even had forms that didn’t work and pages that were missing content – not great for building a sales pipeline. Working with Horizon Works and with some inhouse support form Go2 Engineering Group we have been able to update the website to include a section for news and blogs, which are regularly updated. We have added new and recent case studies that demonstrate our capabilities in a number of areas and we have new website copy and have optimised core pages with keywords to support search engine optimisation. And most importantly, our form now works and is bringing through new enquiries.
At our facility we have also invested in a new press brake machine, which has process software connected to our design system which saves time in printing and uploading drawings to the system – now it can happen at the click of a button. The machine also has a camera which can be used for fault finding and fixing – again helping us to save time.
What role does marketing have in engaging with customers and prospects?
I’ll set the scene by saying in February 2020 I engaged Horizon Works to deliver a marketing strategy that would enable my growth plan of expanding our customer base and increase orders on our conveyor systems. I remember the team delivering the results back to me on a Zoom call right at the start of lockdown and I knew then that were in a unique position to be able to plan to be stronger, so that once places began to open back up we would be ready to market to them. I retained the marketing services of Horizon Works who worked with us to create a new brand identity, website and marketing collateral.
So, marketing has played a massive part in the way that we engage with our target audiences. Working with Horizon Works we now have access to collateral such as flyers, banner stands and a functioning website. We’re also building a strong network on LinkedIn and the press coverage we have received has helped us to raise our profile. So often when talking to new prospects they already have some awareness of us and there is interest there – which makes initial discussions easier. We’ve also seen an increase in direct enquiries.
Horizon Works supports Tech Projects with a full marketing suite of activity including content, website and social media management and design. Read our case studies here >