Getting into the wider pattern

After 11 years with Ricardo, Tony Lowe and his business partner quit their jobs and bought pattern maker NPL

Tony Lowe and joint-managing director Oliver Johnson took over NPL Technologies, a traditional pattern and tool making business, in 1997 when its founder retired.

Although only in their thirties, both engineers had risen to senior positions in the US operation of automotive consultancy Ricardo, but relished the challenge of running their own business. Three years later, they have doubled Nuneaton-based NPL’s turnover and count some of the biggest names in the car industry among their customers.

What made you leave Ricardo to buy NPL Technologies?

I worked at Ricardo for 11 years and Oliver was there for 14. By 1997 we were working so hard for someone else we thought we might as well do it for ourselves.

We also saw the potential to take a well-run business and use our own experience to take it further, because the people working there were very receptive to new ideas.

What does the company do, and who are your main customers?

We make patterns and tools. We create the moulds from which components or vehicle body parts are cast.

Our main customers include major groups such as BMW, Audi, Cosworth and Lotus. We also do business with three of the leading UK-based Formula One teams – Williams, McLaren and Jaguar – for whom we make patterns for carbon-fibre layouts.

How has the business performed since you acquired it and which parts have grown fastest?

Our turnover has almost doubled to £6m and the total number of employees has risen from 60 to approximately 90.

The vehicle body side of the business was small and we have expanded that significantly. We can now undertake confidential styling work for customers. We have also built up the aerospace side of the company.

How have you achieved such growth in three years?

First, we are both mechanical engineers with extensive experience in the automotive industry. This makes NPL Technologies unique in the UK, because pattern makers are traditionally run by owner/managers who might know their own part of the production process very well but do not necessarily understand the wider picture.

When we took over, we found ourselves involved in projects which we had already worked on in the design stage at Ricardo, and we knew what the critical stages of the process were.

We have also invested heavily in new technology such as CAD systems. It is quite true that the extensive contacts we made during our time at Ricardo have helped. I guess it’s the old cliche of who you know.

What is the next move for NPL Technologies?

We have identified the type of customer we want to work with and the service they expect. We will continue to be highly responsive and take the attitude that `nothing is too much trouble’.

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