Gem Cable Solutions is located in St Albans, was formed in 1986, and originally only operated in the telecoms market. Steve Jack, Managing Director, joined the company in 2000 from an aerospace background and bought the company out in 2004 intending to expand into other markets. The business now designs and manufactures bespoke cables for the nuclear, aerospace, satellite, transport and broadcasting sectors.
Cables are required in all electronic equipment but Gem concentrates on safety-critical applications to the highest industry standards such as AS9100D in the aerospace industry with their engineers qualified to IPC-A-620. Customers are often multinationals and government departments, such as Network Rail, Ministry of Defence, Virgin Media, Airbus, Siemens and many others.
High profile contract examples include all the cabling for the Airbus ExO Mars Rover module destined for Mars; and cabinets with ‘plug and play solutions’ to control the robotic arm at the Fukushima plant that will be cleaning the nuclear reactor. The cables are often designed to perform multifunctional processes to a standard that minimises function failure, making them robust for the environment they will be operating in.
During the height of COVID-19, most of the company personnel were having to work from home, so Steve decided it was an opportunity to build an air quality cleanroom to the highest specifications that had to meet aerospace standards. This allows for design and precision assembly in an air clean environment which had opened up opportunities to further grow the company. Demand for their products and services had accelerated and the workforce began expanding from 18 at the completion of the cleanroom to 30, 18 months later.
With expectations of growing the business to 42 employees by the end of 2022, they needed to improve their management of production processes and meet customer delivery schedules. Steve was introduced to the Get Growing 2 (GG2) programme by a Growth Account Manager (GAM) which he had known for many years, now operating from the Hertfordshire Growth Hub.
He needed to introduce new Material Requirements Planning (MRP) systems that were suitable for manufacturing to automate and optimise production and minimise costs. The funding also supported the use of a consultant to help transfer information on 10,000 products onto the new system, which took months to complete. The second tranche of funding from GG2 was secured to add an external Financial Director to the senior management team to help manage the increasingly complex financial changes to the business.
Steve has been really happy with the service provided by the GG2 team. The long-term association with Account Managers at the Hub has developed into a trusting relationship over the years.
“I am always keen to hear from them [Account Managers] because they provide specialist support. I know that I can’t do everything myself and need experts to provide that extra knowledge, particularly during this rapid growth in the company.”
Gem Cable Solutions has recently added a site in Welwyn Garden City to accommodate the growing business and staffing needs but the rate of growth means even this will not be enough.
“One of the main constraints to our growth is the shortage of skilled labour and I suspect I will have to add a further property in another town because I can’t find the staff with the skills I need from one location.”
In terms of the contribution to sustainability, the adoption of the MRP has meant that Gem Cable Solutions has been able to secure ISO 14001:2015 on environmental management systems. For example, the new systems have identified high spending on packaging, which can now be reduced, helping to contribute to the reduction of the business’ carbon emissions.
As for the future, the company is projected to grow from a turnover of £1.5m in 2021 to at least £3.m in 2022 (with the current level of contracts already secured), and to £5m in the following year. All the time adding staff as and when required. In the long-term, Gem Cable Solutions is keen to add new apprenticeships and graduate schemes to develop the next generation of engineers for the company.
“We need to keep reinventing ourselves to keep up with the development in technology… and even remote communication requires us as specialists to design and manufacture the ‘backend’ systems to allow the growth of remote technology to work.”