A lifetime in laminates

CIMOct18Feature - attwater1
CIMOct18Feature - attwater1

Preston-based industrial laminates specialist, Attwater & Sons may be five generations into its journey as one of the leading names within its industry, but the company only ever looks forward. Mike Richardson reports as the company celebrates its 150th anniversary in the business.

Preston-based industrial laminates specialist, Attwater & Sons may be five generations into its journey as one of the leading names within its industry, but the company only ever looks forward. Mike Richardson reports as the company celebrates its 150th anniversary in the business.


As managing director and great-great-great grandson of the company founder, Richard Attwater is truly a man for all seasons. Having tried his hand at every job within the company, he’s worked his way up from sweeping the floor in the warehouse as a 10-year-old for pocket money - and the rest as they say, is history.

And as the company celebrates its 150th anniversary, the feeling of history is palpable as you walk around Attwater & Sons facility. The company is the longest established manufacturer of industrial laminate in the UK. Established in 1868 by Richard Henry Attwater, it is still in the Attwater family to this day with Richard at the helm.

With a team that includes some of the UK's most highly-respected technical experts, creating products that have been used in countless applications, Attwater says it is more than just a supplier – it’s a partner in everything from development to production.

“We are very proud of the fact that we are 150 years old, and as a manufacturer, there’s not many of us still around,” Richard begins. “We focus on the importance of our staff and ensure they are celebrating 150 years too, because it’s our staff that have brought us this far - without them we wouldn’t be here.”

Attwater sponsored a Preston North End football team match at the Deepdale Stadium ground earlier this year

Attwater has many avid football supporting employees working in the company, so the company decided to sponsor a Preston North End football team match earlier this year.

“Some of our employees went out onto the pitch and had photos taken with the team. It was a great day and we invited as many customers and suppliers as we could to join us at the ground for the day. Everyone, without hesitation came forward and thanked us for a great time and we were proud to have the Attwater brand name advertised in the stands up above the pitch.

“We’re a family-run company and this ethos runs all the way throughout our workforce. We’re proud of the fact we enjoy a very low turnover of staff – we’ve a lot of people working here who’ve been here for over 25 years, including many members from the same families.”

The revolution starts now

Asked what has been the single biggest thing that has changed within the company throughout its 150-year history, Richard rather surprisingly says it’s been the switch from steam power to electrification.

“The Lancashire cotton mills had been at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and by the start of the 20th Century, they had changed from steam to electrical power. In the pre-Second World war era, industrial plastics like Bakelite and other thermoset plastics innovations were introduced. We try to ascertain what the market wants and find a solution to fill that niche. If there is one thing that is always certain in life, it’s change.”

Richard Attwater, managing director of Attwater & Sons

Attwater says its motto ‘progress through innovation’ applies just as much to what it does for its customers’ businesses as it does for its own. The company believes it's why it is still a market leader today.

“We talk to our customers to find out what they are looking for and solve any problems they have. Our products have come from that backdrop where customers have said they have a particular technical issue and need a solution with particular thermal and/or mechanical properties. We’ll work with them to find something that will do the job.

“We’ve always employed competent, technical people in our labs, who have provided some amazing innovations in terms of utilising products that were probably already available. They’ve formulated them with different materials and combined them with composite materials that fits the bill and helps solves the customers’ problems in the most economical way possible.”

Attwater recently achieved accreditation to Aerospace AS9100 Rev D, with the crucial change being that the new standard doesn't just focus on the traditional quality requirements, but ensures a better integration with other management tools and business activities - ideal for Attwater, where quality has always been central to the way it works.

According to sales director, Rachael Kennedy the company already perform AS9100 practices, so it was simply a case of ticking all the boxes.

“We found gaining accreditation fairly straightforward,” she affirms. “AS9100 Rev D is more about the leadership, and this forms part of the buy-in from all our directors – which is something we’re already doing anyway. We have a competent quality management team who are up to date with everything in terms of satisfying current and future requirements of the standards.”

A rock of ages

When I first arrived on the doorstep of Attwater’s facility, my first thought was: when are they going to move into new premises? Now I’ve seen its production equipment and the fact that it is almost hewn into the very foundations of the rock that the company is built upon – why move anyway?

“If we can make the product to the required standards, then simply moving to a shiny new facility is just vanity really. Attwater moved into their premises - an old cotton mill - in 1902! We’ve more space than we need, and as we’re dealing less with volume, and more with component quality, we’re finding that any space limitations are disappearing. I think it is great that we’re a manufacturer working in the centre of Preston.”

Attwater & Sons was established in 1868 by Richard Henry Attwater

Many of Attwater’s innovations make working life easier for its army of loyal customers, and this has been enabled by the trusted reputation the company has built up over decades of solid work in the industry. Richard is keen to emphasise that Attwater strives to build a teamwork ethic with its customers by finding out what they want and talking to them like real people. The same rules apply with its supplier relationships too by keeping them involved throughout the chain.

“Customers, manufacturers and suppliers all have to work closely together,” he concludes. “Involve your customers in the process as much as possible and ensure that what they are asking for is what they want - because a lot of the time it isn’t. For me, it’s about building relationships and trust with customers – it’s very important and it’s stood us in good stead. If we’re honest with the customer, whilst it can cause ripples, when it’s all done and dusted, the customer will look at you with more respect. We want to be known as the guys who know what they are talking about.”

As a family business with roots in the past, Attwater has been able to survive and thrive for so long because it is constantly moving with the times and forever working hard to meet the ever-changing demands of the laminates manufacturing industry. Long may it continue!




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