Dorchester-based industrial automation specialists Loop Technology have experienced year on year large scale growth and consistently high demand to deliver state-of-the-art systems to customers within the high value manufacturing sectors.
At the heart of its growth is Loop’s capability in composites manufacturing, principally within the aerospace industry. Loop has been supporting a number of leading aerospace companies to create and develop systems to keep up with the growing demand for composites. “The aerospace sector has high standards but the machinery wasn’t there to make components at the necessary scale, rate or accuracy,” explains Loop Technology’s director Alun Reece. After a period of intense R&D, Loop’s advancements have paid off, and the company secured a number of patents, with several more nearing completion.
The company was made aware of the Innovate UK Scaleup Programme through an introduction from Dorset Growth Hub towards the end of 2019.
“We had not heard of the programme before but it made real sense to us,” says Samantha. “We were growing so fast that we were running out of expertise. You can grow to a certain level based on common sense but to take it to £25m is a different order of magnitude. How to grow a business is not knowledge that you have naturally – it is something that you have to study.”
The timing was fortuitous and introduced significant improvements to the company’s internal systems and manufacturing processes. “The Scaleup programme helped us to step back and take stock,” says Alun. “We saw where we needed to put structures in place in order to help our future growth. We needed that help; we are experts in engineering, not in growing a business.”
He adds that the peer network of the programme was an important aspect. “Speaking to people who have the same kind of issues, or who have resolved those issues, is a goldmine of information. Meeting people facing similar challenges is a critical part of scaling up.”
The programme also led the Reece’s to contemplate external finance for the first time, in order to fully exploit the potential of their market.
When the Covid pandemic arrived, Loop Technology’s aerospace work effectively stopped overnight. Anticipated projects didn’t come in. Existing projects were paused and then cancelled, or just cancelled straightaway.
The company, run by husband and wife team Alun and Samantha Reece and which started at their home back in 1998, took on their first employee in 2005. Prior to Covid, the business was recruiting left, right and centre, for mechanical and software designers as well as shop floor and office support.
“At the start of the year, the order book looked rosy,” says Alun Reece. “We thought we would be on for another record year.”
Fortunately, orders secured at the end of 2019 have kept Loop busy. “It has been a tough period but we have weathered it.”
The company remains strong and is applying its advanced automation capabilities into other sectors.
“We supply capital equipment, which is a really simple thing to stop buying when money gets tight,” says Alun. “Confidence is not going to come back to any large degree in the aerospace sector soon, so we are looking at how we can best utilise our extensive vision and automation capabilities to ease the pain points within logistics, medical devices and the packaging and labelling sectors.
The lessons learned from the Innovate UK Scaleup Programme remain firmly in place. Loop Technology is going ahead with its search for external funding. “We may be seeing a temporary dip within the aerospace sector at the moment but there will be an upturn in demand at some point” say Samantha “and when it comes, we are ready, with the right processes and structures in place to meet it”.
“We have revised our projection model and pitch deck to reflect the impact of Covid but the market has not gone away,” says Alun. “The future of the industry will be based on even greater use of lightweight composite materials, so the move towards greener air travel is good for us.”
“The Scaleup programme helped us to step back and take stock. We saw where we needed to put structures in place in order to help our future growth. We needed that help; we are experts in engineering, not in growing a business.”
Alun Reece, Technology Director, Loop Technology
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