Paul Baker, company chairman
BKW service team
supporting a customer
BKW was established in 1928 to supply equipment to the
powerhouses of the Manchester cotton mills. Starting
in the 1940s, the company began to diversify into the
growing UK petrochemical, chemical and pharmaceutical
sectors alongside other process industries. For the last 40
years, the company has specialised in supplying pressure,
temperature and flow instrumentation. Despite their long
history, the business never looks back and is constantly investing
and benchmarking itself against the best instrumentation
companies in the world. Chairman Paul Baker discusses here all
Our business has three main divisions, or, as we refer to them, pillars: partnerships,
manufacturing and service. Our partnerships pillar links our customer and suppliers
together to provide fast, local support. The manufacturing pillar allows us to
tailor and adapt the products we supply to suit the special requirements of our
customers. The service pillar enables us to install, support, maintain and calibrate
the products during the entirety of their life cycle.
While a lot of instrument companies have been closing or downsizing their UK
manufacturing capability, we have been expanding our operations. We doubled
the size of both our offices and factory in 2015, with substantial investment into
new technologies and equipment. A key aspect of our manufacturing facility is that
both the customer and our sales administration have the final say on the sequencing
of work within our own factory ahead of the factory manager. This brings with it
unique challenges that require innovative solutions to ensure lean production and
efficiency, an integral part of which is a multi-skilled workforce. This helps to secure
»Chairman: Paul Baker
»Established in 1928
»Based in Manchester
»Services: Specialists in the
manufacture of process
instrumentation for the
measurement of pressure,
temperature and flow
»No. of employees: 65
»Turnover: £7.5 million
»One of the most modern
instrumentation factories in
the UK
»Significant investment to
make specialist products and
solutions in days, not weeks
BKW Instruments
Highlighting best practice
a loyal customer base, one that knows
they can rely on our support, however
challenging their requirements may be.
Research and development
Four years ago, our business contact
at Salford city council introduced us
to two gentlemen from HMRC. They
explained the R&D corporation tax
relief available to us. This meeting
substantially changed our approach
and investment into further research.
As a result, we have rapidly expanded
our scientific and technological
product development, and, last year,
opened a new engineering innovation
department. In 2018, we recruited a
further two mechanical engineering
graduates to supplement the
In one example of the team’s work,
we utilised our expertise in the
containment of hazardous chemicals
alongside our expertise in working
with tunnel drilling machines. With this
combination of experience, we were
then able to produce a new solution
for subsea pressure measurement
for oil exploration and drilling. The
new product was highly reliable
and provided the kind of critical
environmental containment that is
essential in today’s oil exploration
sector. We are currently working on
other subsea applications and projects
that will function at depths of up to
3,000 metres.
Not all the teams’ projects are quite as
high profile, but, nonetheless, they do
consistently perform to client needs.
We often only have days to solve a
customer’s technical problem, design
a solution and then manufacture the
finished product in our factory. This
R&D initiative is a great example of
co-operation between government
and industry. It has helped to secure
our status as a successful and dynamic
home-grown engineering business.
There are many companies throughout
the EU that can supply instrumentation
products off the shelf to their
customers. Generally, however, where
they all fall short is possessing the
ability to quickly tailor a product to
an application, or solve a challenging
measurement problem in a timely
manner. It is in most cases typical to
wait at least three to five weeks for
an appropriately engineered solution.
At BKW, we have been working to
produce a new trading platform called
QuickBuild that can reduce the design,
manufacture, calibration and supply
time from three to five weeks to just a
few days.
Machining special
solutions quickly
New production equipment
for QuickBuild
expertise and
mean we can
say ‘yes’ to
solving even
the most
challenging of
The first stage of the process was to
treble the size of our IT department
and introduce new digital processes
which could manage the orders
more efficiently through both
the manufacturing and logistics
departments. We then designed and
built new production equipment
and technologies, using our own
engineering expertise to boost our
output flexibility and capacity. Finally,
we have boosted our component and
instrument stocks. In our second year
since launching the QuickBuild service,
we now see 20 per cent of all BKW
business go through this new platform.
This innovation has been well received
by the UK process industries we serve
as it assists them to keep their plants
running efficiently, altogether providing
us with a significant lead over other
suppliers in the marketplace.
Brexit strategy
After the referendum decision, we
were immediately concerned about
the impact our business would see,
recognising that the uncertainty
surrounding Brexit would continue
for many years beyond the vote. We
have since devised what we term
our “Brexit immune strategy” – this
involved looking at all UK customers
and assessing their exposure to Brexit
and European trading.
The outcome of our analysis was a
move away from all clients that were
experiencing European uncertainty,
and a focus instead on companies
that were and would be less affected
by Brexit. While it was a painful move
at first, this strategy has meant we
can fully concentrate on growing
the business without worrying about
British negotiations with Europe.
The removal of this uncertainty
was considered essential for BKW’s
continued development and growth.
Our three-pillar strategy has the
potential to scale up geographically,
but, to expand beyond the UK, we do
need a seamless trading relationship
with Europe. Expanding our business
model further afield is not presently
a financially viable option. A good
resolution with the EU would, in the
short term, mean we could focus less
on our “Brexit immune strategy”.
This would enable us to expand our
business even faster, and also help
to increase our European export
potential. We expect to continue to
increase our R&D investment with the
beneficial corporation tax support from
the government, and look forward to
the challenges that the next 90 years
will bring.
platform cuts
delivery times
from weeks to
days, and is
support to the
UK process
Coded welding of exotic
BKW problem solving in