On 21 April it was announced that Jo Bird, a company specialising in the design and manufacture of life saving and fire safety equipment storage, had won The Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation 2018.
The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the UK’s most prestigious business awards to celebrate and encourage business excellence, and five years ago Jo Bird received its first Queen’s Award for International Trade. The company’s second Queen’s Award in Innovation recognises the redesign and manufacture of a high volume/low margin fire safety cabinet. The spur to innovate was a combination of a desire to embrace new technology and increased competition for its smaller cabinets from overseas competitors in the oil and gas industry. The company decided to look at the smaller cabinets as the basis for innovation and ensure that its competitive advantage was not only maintained but improved.
The composite material used for these cabinets is glass fibre reinforced plastics (GRP) manufactured using resin transfer moulding (RTM) to provide products that are high quality, with zero corrosion, lightweight, exhibiting high specific strength and stiffness, maintenance free, together with long-term cost saving. The cabinet range is designed to protect fire safety equipment at risk of prolonged exposure (10-15 years) to harsh environments such as high winds, tropical rain, salt water spray and extremes of heat and cold (-40°C to +50°C). These are reported to be the first cabinets in this market segment to use advanced RTM technology to create a structure based on advanced composites.
“The biggest difficulty we had was with production,” explains Guy Atkins, Managing Director of Jo Bird. “When we started running the process, there were high occurrences of defects and scraps. I enrolled on a mentoring scheme run by the National Composites Centre (NCC) to improve my composites knowledge. We decided to sponsor a University of Bristol Engineering Doctorate (EngD) student to overcome the production issues and to transfer knowledge to the company’s staff.”
As a result of this sponsorship, three years ago graduate engineer Laxman Sivanathan joined the team at Jo Bird and quickly implemented significant changes to reduce the direct costs in the manufacture of the cabinets, as well as integrating product innovations as they occurred.
“I am delighted to have played a key role in helping to win the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Jo Bird and Company Ltd,” says Laxman Sivanathan, Engineering Doctorate in Composites Manufacture. “It is great to see that the practical implementation of my academic research at Jo Bird has contributed towards winning this prestigious award in Innovation. I could not have done without the continuous support from Dr Carwyn Ward at the University of Bristol, Guy Atkins from Jo Bird and my faith, which have been the driving force behind this achievement. I would also like to acknowledge EPSRC for supporting this research.”
“Despite being a small company with around 20 full time staff, we decided that working with the University of Bristol’s Industrial Doctorate Centre (IDC) in Composites Manufacture and sponsoring Laxman Sivanathan would fast-forward the uptake of new technology and materials, accelerate R&D, and increase knowledge transfer to our staff,” Atkins adds. “I am delighted that this has proved to be very successful. We are the internationally recognised leader in the design and manufacture of life saving and fire safety equipment storage. This innovation enhances our reputation as the market leader in quality and in being at the forefront of design in our market. Being successful in winning a second Queen’s Award for Enterprise is a huge achievement and could not have happened without the ambition, determination and hard work of our staff and particularly Laxman Sivanathan.”