SGA Technologies

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by SGA Technologies's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from SGA Technologies is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
Chris Brown, managing director
Many of the more than 12 million homes and businesses
in the UK that have installed smart gas meters rely on a
product made by SGA Technologies in Saffron Walden,
Essex. Passengers on Airbus and Boeing aircraft, and the brave
seamen who serve in submarines, also depend on the skills of
this high-tech company and its 90 employees. Chris Brown, the
managing director and majority shareholder at SGA, describes
the achievements of his flexible and inventive enterprise – which
celebrates 50 years of existence in 2019 – and the challenges
that it faces.
What we produce
Glass-to-metal sealing is our core competence. These two very different materials
have very different expansion rates when heated, but our expertise enables us
to hermetically pass a conductor from one to the other, thus connecting critical
systems between different chambers.
For example, our seals for smart meters allow the electrical signals that measure
gas usage to pass from the gas chamber itself to the exterior of the device. For
submarines, we produce seals for watertight bulkheads that allow the safe passage
of electrical signals between the vessel’s compartments. Lives depend on our
products, so they must deliver flawless performance and extreme durability in the
harshest of environments. Our products have to operate in temperatures of up to
700 centigrade, and withstand pressures of up to 100,000 psi.
»Managing director: Chris Brown
»Established in 1969
»Based in Saffron Walden,
»Services: Hermetic components
»No. of employees: 90
»Estimated turnover:
»Exports: 20 per cent of output
SGA Technologies
We are able to handle volumes ranging
from a single part to millions of
components per year. We make around
2.5 to 3 million smart meter seals a
year (the industry is currently replacing
22 million gas meters), but on the other
hand, we might make only one seal a
year for an application in a submarine,
an item that could cost up to £7,000.
As well as the manufacturing activities
in our three sites at Saffron Walden, we
design and make all the tooling that we
need. That makes us self-sufficient and
highly flexible. High-volume production
is something that we have recently
worked hard at perfecting, using lean
techniques for manufacturing parts
such as those in the smart meters.
That we can handle such diverse forms
of production – from small bespoke
requirements to industrial-scale
contracts – is something we’re very
proud of. Our equipment includes three
CNC milling machines, eight furnaces,
and capabilities in wire bonding,
soldering, potting and welding. Our
extensive plating facilities support both
internal and sub-contract production.
Our values and ethos
We design products for highly specialised
applications. We therefore communicate
closely with our clients at all times,
during both the design and development
and the manufacturing stages.
We face considerable foreign
competition. Newcomers to the
industry might have a lower cost
base, but their quality and other
standards are also usually lower. We,
by contrast, provide full transparency
to clients in our processes, right down
to the fact that we give them full
traceability to the source materials
we are working with. This makes us
a trusted manufacturer. This may
add a premium to our costs in the
short-term, but when the fewer errors
and inadequacies are taken into
account, it’s a cheaper solution for
Where we are heading
As a result of our unyielding
commitment to quality, we are a
major presence in our industry. We
are growing, and to support this
growth we are reorganising roles,
training new people and continuing
to invest in additional factory space in
Glass-to-metal seals
Lives depend on
our products, so
they must
deliver flawless
and extreme
Highlighting best practice
We’re also looking to build on new
technologies, particularly regarding
renewables, in the areas of automotive
and high-temperature electronics.
We are already working on a couple
of small development programmes
in these areas, and we hope that this
will take us into new high-growth
sub-segments such as packaging for
wide-bandgap power semiconductors
for hybrid electric vehicles, renewables
and new battery technologies.
However, we must always remain
vigilant. Changes in the global market
are a real threat to any UK business,
and a short time ago our largest
customer went into liquidation as a
result of Chinese divestment. From
that difficult episode we learnt how to
look inward, how to embrace change
and how to bring about an efficient
and profitable business. It was a
hard lesson, but we are stronger as a
That experience has put us in good
standing for political tumults such as
Brexit. Now we are better prepared
to identify and deal with customer
fluctuations in the market. I’m keen to
avoid growth coming with too much
risk (not least for my employees),
which is why I am cautious about
spending beyond our means.
It’s worth expanding on the subject of
Brexit. This has been a mixed bag for
us. On the one hand, a quarter of our
shop-floor staff comes from Eastern
Europe, and in this respect we have
benefited considerably from being part
of the European Union. The weakening
pound since the 2016 referendum has
been a disadvantage, in that we’ve
been hit with increased material costs.
On the other hand, we’ve seen more
business coming from abroad as many
countries now see us as cost-effective.
In other words, there are benefits and
costs to Britain’s decision to leave the
European Union, and we do not have
a firm stance on whether or not our
interests are negatively affected by it.
Although the attendant uncertainty
is unwelcome, the general market in
which we operate is buoyant.
As far as we’re concerned, there will
always be markets for us as long as
we continue provide high enough
customer satisfaction. Demand in our
industry is only going to increase, and
we will continue to apply successful
manufacturing techniques and
innovate new ones to meet future
requirements. We are a progressive
company that is doing well in the
current environment, and we have
plans to penetrate new markets.
We are a
company that
is doing well
in the current
Vacuum soldering oven Gas meter seals

This article was sponsored by SGA Technologies. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister