At a time when most laundry and drycleaning equipment is imported into the UK, it is easy to overlook the presence of a home-based manufacturer.

The family firm, H J Weir Engineering Company, situated in Chepstow, has been established since the 1950s. With the banner “originators of flatwork handling technology”, the company specialises in the design and manufacture of feeders, folders and related equipment, which it sells both to the UK and internationally.

The company was founded by engineer John Weir who designed the company’s machines. He was responsible for introducing automation to the feeding, folding and stacking processes, a development that has greatly influenced the laundry market.

Other innovations, originally devised by John Weir, include the CakeBuster for separating linen cakes that come out of the press, and the AutoPrep for unravelling tangled linen.

The company is now run by Rob Weir, the founder’s son, and by Rob’s son Ross Weir, who joined the company in 2004 and became a director in 2006.

Ross Weir says that on assuming his current role he had two primary aims, to strengthen the overseas network and to modernise the Weir brand’s image.

The company now enjoys a good international market, being particulary strong in the USA. Work to update the brand included a new website and re-designed brochures.

The company has also changed its approach to the UK market, building stronger and more personal links with customers by selling direct, rather than going through distributors as it had done in the past. For Ross Weir believes that although the company and the Weir brand are well-known internationally, they have a lower profile in the home market and he is working to raise this.

As a specialist manufacturer of feeders and folders, established for around 50 years, H J Weir has direct expertise, and in-depth knowledge that the company sees as its USP.

John Weir’s original innovatory concepts have been further developed to incorporate ever evolving technology and are still the basis of the company’s range.

Nick Lewis, who is currently responsible for design, worked with John Weir for many years.

The company also works closely with its own suppliers to progress further development.

Ready to adapt

This linked expertise allows the company to adapt a design to a customer’s individual work environment and work practices.

If a particular function needs to be incorporated, or the machine needs to work to non-standard parameters, H J Weir will research and devise a way of doing this.

The Weir Intelligent Systems Electronics (WISE) controller is the latest innovation. This advanced control incorporates 32 machine programs, production and diagnostic features, which are accessed via a touchscreen control.

“I would argue that it’s one of the most advanced controls available,” says Ross Weir. It contains everything that the company needs and with secure access at different staff levels from machine operator to production staff and management.

However, despite the company’s strong record in good design and innovation, Ross Weir feels that many potential UK customers are unaware of the advantages available at a relatively short distance from their plants.

Philip White, business development manager, says that because older machines are still out in the field and working reliably, some laundry managers underrate the company’s ability to modernise and innovate.

Ross Weir wants laundry managers to feel they are welcome to visit the company, so they realise the full extent of H J Weir’s capabilities, and all the advantages that stem from dealing directly with a UK-based manufacturing source. “If you have a particular machine requirement, come and see us and see how we can meet your request.”

If part of the solution to meeting a customer’s production goals requires equipment outside the Weir-manufactured range, then washers, dryers, ironers, conveyors and other equipment can also be supplied, via agencies that Weir holds. Naturally though, its prime sales target is the Weir branded and manufactured range.

The benefit of a readily accessible, 24hour aftersales service is just one example of the advantages of dealing with a home-manufactured range that Ross Weir always underlines when discussing a prospective sale.

If customers experience difficulties with a machine and ring during office hours, they can often discuss the problem with the machine’s designer, or any of the other experts on hand.

Calls out of hours will go directly to a field engineer. Weir has two full-time engineers on the road and three others that can be called to help when necessary. All have spent many years building the products before becoming field engineers.

Spares are also readily available. In 95% of cases, the spares will be on site at the HQ and orders placed before 3pm will be delivered next day.

Green credentials

In an energy and resource conscious age, companies need to illustrate both the environmental credentials of the machines and of the manufacturing processes and general operation.

Ross Weir says that in relation to the rest of the laundry line, feeders and folders have minimal consumptions as the only resources they use are electricity and air.

However the company has introduced a variable-speed fan on certain feeders.

Most of the time, the fan will need to operate at maximum speed and power, but if the line is switched from large items, such as duvets or sheets, to small pieces, then power can be reduced to save energy costs.

Such reductions can be pre-set into the program used, so the switch is automatic.

Weir’s purchasing manager, John Luckhurst, is well aware of need for “green” credentials in underlining the company’s efficiency and also helping its image.

Luckhurst is broadening the responsibilities of his health and safety officers to include energy awareness so that inspections will include looking for practices that are wasting energy.

One main supplier has signed up to a “green charter” and Weir will work with the Carbon Trust to reduce its own energy use.

Luckhurst is looking at how other companies are doing this, and is already recording consumptions so that increases are recognised.

As a result of these researches, Rob and Ross Weir will produce a signed commitment to reduce the carbon footprint, which will be formally launched in January 2009.

This “green” move is one that will save costs both for customer and company, and illustrates H J Weir’s commitment to being a thoroughly modern manufacturer and supplier – one that UK customers can find on their home ground.