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Wardown Engineering Limited is proud to announce that they have been awarded ISO/TS16949 quality certification at the first time of asking. Managing Director Mark Jabri stated “This is a fantastic achievement for the future of the business and will further enhance our position as a world class production engineering company specialising in tube manipulation”. “Achieving this accreditation which is regarded to be one of the best in automotive manufacturing shows our commitment to our customers in all the industries we serve now & for the future”.

The slow and sorry death of Britain’s motor industry may have spelt the end of many its dependent firms, but at least one Houghton Regis business is bucking the decline in UK manufacturing.

First Vauxhall went, then Rover. But Wardown Engineering is rising phoenix-like from the flames of a burnt-out automatic industry to prove there is life in life in the old sector yet. Managing director Mark Jabri, who took over from long term boss John Murphy who died in April last year, is more than a little upbeat about the firm’s recovery. “We’re probably one of the last remaining manufacturing companies in the Luton and Dunstable Area,” Mark said.“Even though there seems to be a lull in manufacturing, we’re managing to dig ourselves out of that and go out there and win business by showing potential customers that we’re experts at what we do.” The company makes fluid moving systems, tubular assemblies, of all shapes and sizes for various parts of cars and other products. Among those companies benefiting from its expertise are Bentley, Aston Martin, Bugatti and Ford.

Mark, also an engineer who has been with Wardown for 16 years, said the past few months have been particularly good for the company as it secured the contract to supply a ‘very big’ firm in the heat exchange sector. So, big in fact, that the Houghton firm is now looking to take on more staff and apprentices. “We’re looking to double our turn-over by the end of the year.”

“This order gets us a generous portion of the way and so we want to increase staff numbers to 50 from 42. But the really impressive part of Wardown’s resurgence is its success in winning back work from low-cost countries like India and China. The two Asian giants have been the main competiton for high volume work in the past four or five years, Mark said. But problems with continuity and supply meant advantage Wardown. “We’ve always had a good reputation for quality and that’s stood us in good stead,” he said. “We’ve got a reputation of not being the cheapest but for being able to do the things that not a lot of companies can do from a tube-related area.”

“We even export to Eastern Europe, including Poland, because they can’t make these specialist parts themselves. In terms of capability, we’re considered to be in the top three per cent of companies in Europe of what we’re doing, that is tube manipulation.” He added: “It’s not all doom and gloom, as long as you’re prepared to be flexible. You need to be able to guarantee quality of component and on-time delivery to compete with the low-cost economies.” “The reason we’ve been able to do that is because of our technical capability from an engineering perspective.”

If the general decline in industry wasn’t hard enough, the company which started life opposite Wardown Park 40 years ago has also had to come to terms with the loss of its figure head. John Murphy had been with the firm for 30 years and while owner Phillip Baldwin left the day-to-day running to his trusted team, the MD was in many ways the face of Wardown Engineering.

“Mr Murphy was a very big part of this company- we’ve had to deal with a key member passing away and again it’s another phoenix from the ashes,” Mark said. “We’re a small organisation and when that happens, nine times out of ten, the keys are put in the door and the curtains shut, but we haven’t done that. We’ve looked at it as an opportunity to regroup and get out there.”

An engineering company which has been disentangling itself from the struggling Rover supply chain for three years suffered one final knockback when the Midlands motor manufacturer finally called it a day. Wardown Engineering, of Townsend Industrial Estate,Houghton Regis, had to make four of its manufacturing staff redundant this month as last orders from Rover suppliers dried up.

Managing director John Murphy said: “The number of redundancies would have been double had it not been for the good fortune of receiving new contacts on the very day that Rover finally pulled the plug. We have had to make some harsh choices and we are cut up about it. They were good employees and we are very sad about losing them.”

But as he revealed the latest in a long series of cutbacks that have reduced the company from 100 to 50 employees, Mr Murphy, a methods
engineer, was in bullish mood.

The firm established in 1968, is facing up to the challenge of finding replacement business and succeeding, he said.
He explained: “We have been concerned for a long time about Rover, and indeed some other automatic brands and couldn’t see a future with
them. We were wary of taking on any additional work as car component manufacturing dwindled in the UK, so our involvement with them and reliance on them dwindled, mainly because of the zero margin and inability to compete with the low cost economies.” By choice, Wardown has been turning its back on certain kinds of Rover work. As a second-tier Rover supplier, it resisted requests from Rover’s tier one suppliers to enter into ‘cost down’ contracts whereby they demanded continuous year-on-year reductions in price. “Instead we developed a game plan to become even more specialist, at the most sophisticated end of the business,” said Mr. Murphy.

To survive, he said Wardown had to be fiercely competitive, second to none in quality and staffed by fully apprenticed craftsmen and women, some of whom could be developed into project engineers.

“Finding those men and women to carry us forward is our biggest challenge,” he said. “Today’s graduate engineers are leaving university academically qualified but have nil experience in manufacturing methods.”