KTP: Smiths Engineering LTD - Opening a Door to Innovation
Managing Director: Darwin Smith | Production Manager: Greg Crawford | KTP Associate: Barry Lynam NI Technology Centre and the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Q: The company’s been in existence for 53 years and must have experienced a lot of changes in that time. What’s the main focus now?
DARWIN: We began as a family firm, run with a family ethos, and that’s still what we are. When my father started the company, it was primarily involved with the automotive industry but through the years we’ve grown into other sectors and we now have five divisions. Precision machining, precision fabrications – that’s the big one for us right now. We’re involved in the rail sector, in aerospace and the oil and gas industry. And there is the custodial sector, with the manufacture of security doors, and that’s what Barry’s directly involved in. We’re building the brand, re-emphasising what we can do as a precision manufacturer, developing our reputation and making sure we have a good team. When I started in 2002 we had eight people. Now we have 38. There’s now an international dimension as well. We won our first European tender in 2010 - to supply rolling stock, safety-critical components to the rail sector. That tells people what sort of a company we are, with great engineers and great people on board.
Q: SECURE, catering for the custodial sector, is your newest division. How did this KTP project come about?
DARWIN: We’re heavily involved with Invest NI. They provide a lot of support and through that we’ve developed collaborative networks, including finding ways in which we can utilise resources at Queen’s. As a result we now have a long-standing relationship with the University. We had discussions with people there, including Colm Higgins, whom I’ve known for several years and is now the academic partner on this project, to figure out how we could improve our knowledge base in this sector. But when we started down the KTP road, it was slow progress. It was difficult to find someone with the right attributes at the interview stage but we kept going and luckily we found Barry.
Q: What’s your background, Barry?
BARRY: I started in Queen’s in 2009 studying mechanical engineering, then a Masters. I graduated in 2014 and started looking for jobs and one of the first opportunities I found was this KTP. I’d learned more about KTPs during my final year so I’d been investigating possibilities. Now I’m here and it has exceeded my expectations.
GREG: The KTP has allowed us to put a lot more focus on how we do things. That’s been one of the main benefits. We’re really focusing on manufacturing methods. Barry’s working on ways to do things better and we’ve been able to dedicate him to doing that.
BARRY: Yes, one of the big things is seeing first hand how industry works. I had the theoretical knowledge from my degree but to apply that, to extend my understanding in practical terms – I’ve been doing that from day one.
GREG: The key elements for us are precision and cost and also quality. There are competitors out there and the thing that helps us stand apart is the quality of our product. We’re trying to keep it that way.
DARWIN: I took the long view for this programme. It wasn’t just to have someone for a short time – it was to have someone who would come on board and stay. What Barry has brought to the table is another way of looking at things. He’s even put together an electronic sales order system which is making things more efficient and that was never on the agenda. He’s also developing his leadership skills, how to interact with the team. You don’t get that in a lecture theatre. So we’re learning together. It’s a great relationship.
“KTP is highly recommended. I look forward to completing the current programme and reaping the benefits. I would certainly consider further KTP opportunities.”