Teignbridge Propellers – Propelled Towards Success

We learn how a diverse portfolio and plenty of innovation are allowing Teignbridge Propellers to sail turbulent waters.

Teignbridge Propellers is Europe’s leading manufacturer of propellers. Established over 45 years ago this firm undertakes the whole process from vessel assessment, design, engineering and through cutting, making, foundry casting, machining, finishing and inspection.

“It’s all done in one facility in Newton Abbot, our head office and manufacturing outlet,” says Mark Phare, Sales and Marketing Director for the company. “We also have a foundry and machine shop in India and then we have a facility in Dubai, a sales office and warehouse with a propeller machining and shaft machining shop. That facility also specialises in propeller repairs and modifications. We also have offices in Italy and Penang with a range of agents from South America through Europe and into the Middle East and the Far East and out to Australia, New Zealand and China.”

With a truly global reach, Teignbridge is able to serve its customers, thanks to a talented team and state-of-the-art software and techniques.

“One of our key selling points is our technically advanced propeller design team that has a wealth of experience combined with the latest software. This includes CFD and ship simulation software which enables us to look at the whole vessel, not just the propeller in isolation,” Phare says. “It lets us look at the whole boat and, uniquely, look at the wake-field, how the water flows past the hull around the propeller and out past the propeller. Not many companies have that capability. We offer an advanced design, then we also have 3D printing and a 5-axis CAD/CAM pattern mill to produce patterns to a high degree of accuracy.”

This impressive range of capabilities is all rooted in one building, Teignbridge Propellers’ Newton Abbot HQ.  Teignbridge Propellers

“Everything is undertaken in one building. We have the ability to manufacture everything, verify tolerances and make sure it fits together perfectly before being sent overseas,” Phare tells us. “Around eighty per cent of our sales are export, so we need that confidence that it’s easy to unpack and fit onto the boat without setting or fitting at the shipyard.”

Building Knowledge

Building a sound knowledge base, and developing people who can further that knowledge, is a key part of Teignbridge Propellers’ strategy.

“Last year we completed a two-year propeller efficiency research project funded by the Energy Technology Institute, 50% government and industry-funded. Having completed that project the result is a team including a PhD hydrodynamicist and chartered engineer who spent two years looking at propeller efficiency, new designs and innovation,” Phare tells us. “Now they’ve completed it they can take up consultancy work on behalf of customers so they can lend those tools to provide advanced propeller analysis and design optimisation through the whole range, yachts, commercial and military. It’s an extremely strong world-leading position to be in, in terms of the design and technology we can provide our customer.”

Meanwhile, Teignbridge Propellers continues to invest in the company and has recently been building a new office facility which they will be occupying later this year, as well as investing in new machinery and processes.

Many Eggs, Many Baskets

The markets that Teignbridge Propellers serves are, by their very nature, unpredictable ones, and so the business has learned to spread its bets.

Traditionally there’s a lot of movement in each of the markets we’re involved in, whether it’s the production of motor yachts, superyachts, commercial craft, or military craft. Within each section, geographically or by category, they have ups and downs,” Phare points out. “Six or seven years ago oil and gas was very strong and then when the price of oil collapsed that market collapsed. You have to be able to respond and focus on other markets and we’re fortunate in that we have a foot in a broad base of markets spread across the world. Today the leisure market is going through an extremely difficult period, but we can respond by focusing our efforts on other areas that are more robust like military and windfarm vessels.”

Of course, the one issue to really hit the leisure market on all fronts has been the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s affected us in a number of ways,” Phare says. “On our order book, we’re probably looking at around about a 30% reduction in order intake, mostly in the leisure market. A lot of boatbuilders are closed down here and in Europe and overseas. They closed down for six to eight, some of them for twelve weeks and also some stopped paying. We had a reduction in production but also had a lack of payment which affects our cash flow. So we had that aspect to contend with and that seems to be working its way through now at a somewhat reduced level.”

Despite these hits to their income, thanks to the diverse portfolio Teinbridge maintains they’ve been able to stay healthily afloat.

“That accounts for about 25% of our market. So with 25% of our income potentially down 80%, it’s not going to kill us,” Phare explains. “Combined with that there have been slowdowns in commercial and military projects where shipyards haven’t been able to work. But again they seem to have found ways of working and have lifted lockdown restrictions. One market we’re active in is ferry boats and there’s a lot of nervousness there reflected in orders cancelled or postponed for new ferries. Putting that together that’s 30% of our business. However, the 70% that remains is more than sufficient for us to operative profitably even if we’ve had to undertake some restructuring.”

The challenges COVID-19 presents don’t just come down to a loss of sales, however. The virus also introduces practical challenges.

“The other problem was managing production and office support during the crisis. During lockdown over half of our staff was working from home. We have a skeleton crew in the office and those that were working from home worked very successfully so we could continue to provide sales support, which we managed very well and continue to do so,” Phare says. “As far as production goes, we maintained production at the same levels throughout with a series of protocols and supplied PPE to ensure staff can work safely. We introduced distance marking on floors and thorough cleaning routines. It’s a completely new way of working but it’s working very well and we’re maintaining output at pre-lockdown levels.”

Teignbridge expects these precautions to be in place for a while, but they’re optimistic about the market’s ability to recover.

“I think some of the measures we’re taking will be with us for the next 12 months. We think in terms of safe working practices, we don’t see the post-COVID line at the moment,” Phare says. “But we’re going to continue to work with COVID restrictions in place. Regarding the market, there are going to be some markets that will be slow to recover. But there’s also quite a strong feeling that once the economy starts to recover there might be a bounce-back in the motor yacht and superyacht sales as a safe environment for the very wealthy to have holidays with their family that can control the biosecurity of their environment much more than a hotel. So in the superyacht industry, they’re expecting a surge in sales.”

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