Acrastyle Ltd. – Specialising in Bespoke

We learn how Acrastyle has grown from a lighting manufacturer into creating bespoke parts for the power industry.

Acrastyle was established in 1962 and celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, but in those early days, the company was manufacturing and supplying lighting fittings. That would all change in the late ’60s when Morris Chapman, the company’s then owner, won a contract with NORWEB to provide control and relay panels for the energy company.

From there, Acrastyle started supplying control and relay panels to electricity utilities around the country, and beyond.

“In the 80s and 90s the company carried out a lot of export work to Hong Kong, into Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia,” says Stephen Smith, General Manager of Acrastyle. “Even today we have some projects in those areas, although recently our business has been primarily UK orientated. We continued in that form until 1997 when Morris Chapman sold the business to an Indian owner, Mr Ashish Jalan. He bought the business in 1997 and still owns it here in Ulverston.”

Smith started with the company in January 2018, and the following year was appointed General Manager. Smith’s career began at the General Electric Company in Stafford, staying there from 1978 until he left in December 2016, when American General Electric took over the company. Smith had progressed from a Graduate Engineer to Commercial Director in their Systems Project division when he left GEC. Smith had been a customer of Acrastyle before he joined them.

Today, Acrastyle Ltd is owned by Indian firm S&S Power Switchgear Ltd, which is part of the Group, Hamilton & Company. Acrastyle itself predominantly manufactures control and relay panels, whilst also supplying disconnectors to the UK market from its factory in India.

“The disconnectors are shipped from India, and we assemble them and sell them to utilities and contractors in the UK,” Smith says. “We also have a product called ‘neutral earthing resistors’. These are old technology, but in some instances our customers still want them. We also manufacture battery equipment/chargers  disconnectors and neutral earthing resistors and also have a small team that can carry out small electrical interface engineering projects.”

Across all these sectors of work, Acrastyle provides products uniquely tailored to the requirements of its customers. The company works with Northern Ireland Electricity, Scottish Power, Electricity North West, National Grid as well as UK Power Networks and Scottish & Southern.

“What we are very good at is bespoke panel manufacture,” Smith says. “Each of our customers has their own specification of panels that they require. Even within a single utility company, our customer may have six or seven variations for us to deal with, so bespoke manufacturing is a key area for us.”

Acrastyle has its own in-house design team, where it can reliably manufacture equipment to its client’s specifications.

Strengthening the Supply Chain

While serving customers with exacting specifications, materials are crucial, and obtaining the right materials can be a challenge during a time when supply chain disruptions are common.

“Pre-pandemic a typical relay panel would take 12-16 weeks to deliver,” Smith points out. “Now some equipment has increased to six-month deliveries, which has meant that our panels are now taking between 18- and 28- weeks to deliver.”

In the face of these challenges, Acrastyle maintains open channels of communication with its customers, ensuring they stay informed from an early stage if there are delays.

“Our financial year runs from April to March. Previously, if we had an order in December we could typically manufacture and deliver it before the end of March, but a slower supply chain now means that we need an order by the end of October rather than December to meet the end of FY deadline,” Smith explains.

The other supply chain Acrastyle needs to maintain is its supply chain of talent.

At its core, Acrastyle is staffed by a combination of highly experienced project managers and hands-on engineers with first-hand experience of how complex and demanding power system projects can be. These projects can create numerous unpredictable technical, logistical and coordination challenges that put intense pressure on already tight time constraints, over-stretched engineering resources and strained budgets, and Acrastyle’s highly flexible, partnership approach equips them to deal with those challenges.

“We are situated on the Furness peninsula of the South Lakes, so there’s some industry around the area,” Smith points out. “Going back in time, this area was all iron ore and coal fields and in later times the Sellafield Nuclear plant. The BAE shipyard is located nearby in Barrow where they manufacture the Trident submarines.”

Building for the Future

Acrastyle also invests heavily in apprenticeships to grow the next generation of talent and the diversity among them.

“You need young blood,” Smith insists. “The average age in the company as of the last four years has gone from 53 to 43. We have managed to bring the average age of our staff down and increase the number of women in the company. It has been notable recently that our recruitment process has seen an increased number of women applying for jobs.”

As well as finding and developing talent, Acrastyle also has to work hard to retain it, as the company is operating in a highly competitive environment.

“It is difficult because one of the problems we have with human resources is losing people to the shipyards, where they work on Government contracts,” Smith says. “We’ve had people leave and come back, but we try our best to hang onto our people here.”

Looking to the future, Smith is optimistic about Acrastyle’s prospects as the company has created a strong trajectory for growth.

“The future looks very good. We are looking to increase our turnover by £1 million this year,” Smith points out.

“The feedback we are getting from our main customers is that they have a lot of work to carry out with new connections to onshore and offshore wind farms as well as solar farms. We are confident there is still a lot of work here for us to do.”

More like this