50 years and counting at Hutchinson Engineering

In June 1971, my Dad Creighton Hutchinson made a life-changing decision to leave his employment with a local engineering company and set up his own business on the family farm. Creighton was determined to run his own business from an early age, and this was his opportunity to prove that he could be successful in business. He didn’t pass his 11+ exam, which was a significant factor in proving he could be a success after this early disappointment.

I had been keen to follow in my dad’s footsteps from an early age, working in the business on Saturdays and School holidays. I loved working with Dad, growing up, seeing products being made, and interacting with employees and customers. I understood the importance of having an education and completed my A-Levels, knowing that I would go straight into the family business. I had a passion for selling and began with ride-on lawnmowers, progressing to number plates before finishing my A-Levels. This experience gave me great insight and laid a good foundation for my business life.

The summer of 1997 couldn’t come quick enough for me; I was full of new ideas on how to develop the business. I knew that to grow, the business needed to invest heavily in new equipment. The first investment was a plasma cutter which was a big step forward for the company. The machine was installed as I was sitting my last A level exams! We had a team of five, which included Dad and me.

Initially, I ran every aspect of the machine. However, learning from Dad’s experience, I knew that we needed to employ the right people to grow successfully.

After running the plasma for 18 months, it became apparent that customers required better quality components. I set off to find the next investment. It came in the form of an Amada Laser with an automated storage tower for raw material, meaning it could run unmanned at night and through the weekend. This was a game-changer. The only slight issue was that the machine cost £350k, and our company turnover was £500k – a real-life make-or-break scenario. With some gentle persuasion and many sleepless nights, Dad agreed to the purchase. It was my opportunity to make a significant investment work.

With the support of great employees and customers, the investment went to plan. The scene was set for future investments and expansion.

In 2005 we embarked on a major factory expansion taking the footprint from 10k sq. ft to 60k sq. ft. In the same year, we invested in our first Trumpf 6kw laser – the first in Ireland. This was to be a defining moment for the company. Since that initial investment, we have developed a strong relationship with the Trumpf brand and their agent in Ireland, Lister Machine Tools.

In 2006, following the sudden death of a key employee, I reached out to my brother, Richard, for support. Richard had just finished his degree in Business studies and agreed to help for six months. Richard and I worked extremely well together; with his IT experience and my business knowledge, we began to expand the business successfully.

In 2010 we invested in our first 3D tube and section laser, another critical investment, bringing in new technology and a new capability to the business. This machine helped bolster our existing offering to our customers and helped us attract new business.

In 2013, Hutchinson Aerotech was formed to service the Aerospace sector. Unfortunately, this venture did not go to plan and was closed in 2016. I learned that sometimes you must take a step back to move forward, and this was certainly the case with the Aerotech venture.

In 2015 we embarked on another factory extension as well as a Trumpf 7000 tube laser and our first Trumpf 5030 fibre laser.

We were proud recipients of the 2016 NI Manufacturing company of the year at the Made in Northern Ireland Awards.

A shortage of skilled Fabricators has been a long-standing issue throughout our industry. Our answer was to set up an in-house welding academy. The aim was to take people from various backgrounds, train them and have them certified within 12 weeks. The first wave was a resounding success, and we have run the academy each year.

2017 saw us take our first step into CNC turning with the purchase of a DMG NLX machine. This allowed us to react even quicker to the requirements of our customers in the fabrication side of the business.

With the Covid-19 Pandemic reaching a critical point in March 2020, we decided to close for the safety of our employees – it was the most challenging decision that we have ever had to make. Walking through an empty manufacturing facility, which was usually buzzing, was a surreal experience for me.

Ten days after most of the team had been furloughed, we had an opportunity to assist in the ‘Ventilator Challenge UK”. Keen to play our part in the fight against Covid, we jumped at the opportunity. By the end of April, the small team that we had asked back from furlough had successfully supplied 7500no components to the challenge, ahead of time. The completion of this project was key to giving the wider team confidence that they could operate under new social distancing guidelines.

We decided that we wanted to do more in the fight against Covid. The engineering team designed and made a prototype of stainless steel, foot-operated, hand sanitising station within 10 days. The product was well received in the market, and we began production 3 weeks after the initial prototype. We now had the confidence to design and build products again, just like Dad, back in 1971. This has resulted in the creation of a sister company, H360 products.

Today we have 115 employees who are front and centre of our business. I am incredibly proud that we have achieved Investors in People Gold. I firmly believe in all of our team and encourage them to develop and grow alongside the company. Our longest-standing employee, Allan Bloomfield has been with us for over 40 years, which is a fantastic achievement. Our team, coupled with a modern, well-equipped factory, means we are ready for the next 50 years in business.

Unfortunately, Dad won’t be part of our 50th celebrations as he passed away in May 2021, aged 73. He endured and overcame many challenges throughout his life, the biggest being his Parkinson’s diagnosis at the age of 52.

Dad was always front and centre in the business he set up and loved. He gave many people in the local area an opportunity when others did not. He always saw the best in people. He taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated myself, an invaluable lesson, especially during my early years in the business. Dad was a man of integrity and honesty, and this shone through in every aspect of his life, including his business.

Dad recognised and accepted that he had taken the business as far as he could. He was happy and content with what he had achieved and wanted to hand it over to the next generation to take the business forward. He constantly encouraged and supported us in our decisions. I will always be grateful for Dad’s trust in us to carry the business forward. I respect his hard work and determination, which has given us a fantastic foundation.

As we celebrate our 50th year in business, we are planning our largest investment to date – please watch this space!

Finally, I would like to thank all our employees, loyal customers, suppliers, and especially Dad for making this journey special. Here’s to the next 50!

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