Keltech – Finding Their Niche

Keltech has been trading for over 30 years but has excelled by focusing on what it is great at.

Keltech is a contract manufacturing company that has been trading for over 30 years, focusing on a niche, specialised areas including acoustic enclosures, reservoir tanks, cabins & overhead guards and telecommunications enclosures. Today it supplies six of the ten largest OEM construction companies in the world from its 160,000 square foot facility in Waterford, Ireland.

But the company has not always been so specialised. “Pre-2013 we were classed as a general sheet metal fabrication company, we were supplying a commodity in a fiercely competitive environment,” explains Seamus Lawlor, Director of Business Development for the company. “We have flipped that on its head, becoming experts in our chosen field. I believe that to be a huge part of why we are so successful and how we are outpacing the competition.”

He describes this specialisation as a “growth hacking strategy”, inspired by the kinds of strategies Lawlor has seen deployed in the tech start-up sector. The company has developed its people, plant, and overall guiding strategy to become the thought leaders and manufacturing experts that can provide true value to Keltech’s end customer.

“We’ve taken that approach and adapted it to a manufacturing environment and adopted it very successfully,” he says. “We have been very strategic, mapping out everything we’ve done and achieving growth performance indicators. We have a strong management structure and targeted investment.”

Partnering with Keltech gives its clients the freedom and security to expand their business while benefiting from industry-leading expertise, service, and guaranteed levels of quality.

The firm helps its OEM clients to improve machine output, reduce stock levels and remove the need for sub-assembly cells, and improve quality, design, and profits.

Most recently Keltech has undergone a significant expansion.

“We have just completed a 40,000 square foot extension. The section is fully dedicated to welding with an allowance for 30 new welding bays and three state-of-the-art robotic welding centres. In September we will open our brand-new paint shop which is currently under construction. The new powder paint facility will be one of the best in Europe for our type of product,” Lawlor explains.

“The fact is we are extremely niche in what we do and very focused. That we have got so focused allows us to be the experts in those areas,” adds Lawlor. “If you look at fuel and hydraulic tanks, more and more of them need to be made by specialist manufacturers. We have a high level of understanding and expertise. We understand paint performance, and what is required in the field.”

This expertise is essential as the products Keltech manufactures will often form the external skeleton of machines sold by large, well-known brands. You might be looking some something made by Caterpillar or Volvo, but the outer shell of that product, the thing that defines its look, will be manufactured by Keltech.

“There’s a level of trust and understanding among our customers that we are who you can go to,” Lawlor tells us.

Attracting a Special Range of Skills

Occupying a specialist niche is also an effective way of navigating volatile economic and market conditions, and Lawlor tells us there have certainly been plenty of those.

“The market is challenging for everyone at the moment with uncertainty around materials costs and supply, but we have been doing well,” he says. “There are numerous challenges, including lots of uncertainty around the supply chain side of things. A huge component of what we do is steel, so there is a lot of uncertainty because a lot of steel originates in Eastern Europe. Of course, worse things are happening in the world right now outside the supply chain.”

Keltech’s response has been to specialise its focus while spreading out its supply chain risk.

“We keep our risk quite spread and manage it as best we can. We have dual sources, treble sources of materials,” Lawlor says. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have issues, but we do our best.”

As well as raw materials, specialisation also means Keltech has seen an extremely high demand for technical skills across the board. The company goes through a continual improvement of processes, plants, but most importantly, people, training and developing its employees to give Keltech a significant competitive edge.

“Attracting skills and young people into our industry is a challenge,” Lawlor acknowledges. “The trend has been towards third-level education rather than working with your hands and mechanical engineering, but we have created a number of initiatives here. We have been forthright with that, ahead of the competition and creating people capacity and skills.”

But Keltech is going beyond simply trying to recruit a new generation of talent, they want to ensure that generation is more diverse and inclusive than it has been before.

“The industry has been traditionally male-dominated,” Lawlor admits. “We are trying to turn that on its head with a huge push for attracting more women into the area. We are seeing that come to fruition, with women coming to our welding traineeships. The metrics are trending higher all the time, even if we are not at a 50/50 gender split yet. We don’t just want a male-dominated workforce as is traditional in our sector.”

And that new generation of talent will have a bright future ahead of it, as Lawlor attests.

“The future looks quite rosy,” he says. “Of course, the world at this moment in time is an uncertain place. What we need to do is concentrate on the road ahead. The situation with Covid has not too adversely effected the business. In fact I’m proud to say that March 2022 has been our highest ever recorded sales figure for a single month. We have three robotic welders, the expansion that happened in the factory, our strategy, and our goal, ‘Towards 2025’. The plan is to achieve over 50% further growth in turnover by 2025.”

Keltech is well on its way to achieving that with a team of 240 people and sales of over 22 million euros. The company is committed to delivering the service its customer base has come to expect.

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