AEMT - Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades

25 July 2018
Mobile Lab Can Test Varnishes And Resins On Site
Manufacturers of Resins, Varnishes, Compounds and Insulations; AEV Ltd has created a mobile laboratory so that it can take its test and analysis services to the customers’ doors. It is an interesting story of adapting to changing market needs, improving customer services and using innovation to kick-start a whole new business opportunity, as Key Account and Distribution Manager Chris Birks and newly mobile Technical Support Engineer, Joe Turnick tell the Journal.
Joe Turnick of AEV with his new works van.
The emergence of the internet has led many, many companies to rethink the way they connect with customers and supply them with physical goods. As a result, there has probably been more change to business in the past ten years than in the previous 50.

A critical element for success in such an era of change is to constantly check and monitor every aspect of business to make sure that everything is progressing, and nothing is being left behind. Chris Birks says that while companies in the consumer sectors are in very different businesses to AEV they can provide useful pointers as to what will be happening in the industrial arena in the near future.

“We manufacture our own Resins, Varnishes and Compounds which are used as insulating and encapsulating materials for the Electrical and Electronic industries. We buy in raw materials and specialist products from UK suppliers and increasingly from overseas manufacturers for our production process. In the last 10 years AEV have developed new products which now account for over 75% of our Group Sales. All our products while generally very stable can, over extended periods of use and storage, degrade due to things like the slow evaporation of the solvents, or ill-advised work practises. This causes thickening, which can lead to changes to curing characteristics, impregnation and long-term performance levels. Similarly, the longer they are stored in the work place, the more likely they are to be contaminated with impurities, no matter how carefully they are managed.  

In the past, like many manufacturers, we ran a direct sales force but then switched to a third party distribution route to market. On the face of it, this was successful and the contribution to the bottom line was self-evident. However, my colleagues and I were aware that the arrangement meant we lost the regular face-to-face contact with many of our customers and the opportunities this created for feedback and intelligence gathering on resin/varnish tank maintenance.”

At this time AEV started encouraging its customers to regularly mail in samples of the varnishes and resins they held in stock for analysis and testing. However it soon became evident that many customers were not sending in samples often enough – and a significantly large proportion were not sending them in at all.   

Mohammed and the mountain 

“We were becoming concerned about these issues and started to look for ways to address them, either individually or all together. One day when driving behind a supermarket’s home delivery van, I thought of it as a modern incarnation of the mountain going to Mohammed and began to wonder if this was a model we could adopt for our analysis services.”

Chris knew that no one in the UK was offering a mobile testing service and, not wanting to rush headlong into things, AEV started doing some research into overseas companies. After a while AEV concluded that there were no such operations anywhere in Europe, America or the rest of the AEV Groups’ global market. “We checked amongst our 46 Global Distributors, and over 75 export customers and found that once again the AEV Group had come up with a first”

He then started working on the idea with his senior colleagues, wondering if it was possible to design and build a mobile laboratory that would work and, if so, how much would it cost? This led on to questions like:  how many people would it need to man it effectively, how many visits could they do over a month, what would the limitations be and what were the benefits that were likely to accrue? Those were the in-house questions; just as important were the market questions: how many potential customers were there? Would they welcome such a service, or be overtly suspicious? Did they even have alternative ways to test their stocks?

Designing a mobile laboratory actually proved relatively easy. It pretty much had to be based on a commercially available van. These come in a limited number of sizes so it was mainly a matter of seeing what equipment would be suitable to be fitted inside the chosen vehicle. The van will also be used by AEV Process Technology for the routine maintenance and management support of the UK’s Vacuum Pressure Impregnation (VPI) plants. But that’s another story!

Chris explains that, “fairly quickly we were able to identify what the mobile lab should have, namely an analysis station that incorporated scales, a viscosity flow cup, a specific gravity cup, a filter or other means of checking for contamination, plus other equipment to aid these analyses. 

“We considered including a curing oven but decided against it because cure tests can take a long time (often several hours) and there were practical restrictions and safety concerns as well. Instead, we went for storage racks so that we could bring samples back to our main lab at our global HQ in Birkenhead.”

Given the sort of tests that the mobile laboratory was going to do, Chris estimated that to start with, each visit would last for about an hour and a half. This suggested that, allowing for travel time, between three and six customers could be seen per day. This would be for three and a half to four days a week, with Fridays reserved for further testing in the Birkenhead laboratory.

Looking at AEV’s extensive customer base and a second database of potential customers, it was realised that there was plenty of apparent demand. Thus it was decided to light the blue touch paper, commission the mobile unit, and start promoting the new service.

Manning up

The next step was likely to be critical for mission success. Could they find the right sort of person to run the service? They had to be technically competent, personable, have a bit of commercial savvy and, all told, be suitable as a roving ambassador for AEV. 

“Fortunately, we had just such a person in mind,” says Chris. “We had a young man, Joe Turnick, who was finishing his four year apprenticeship with us, during which he was always enthusiastic and hard working. As well as being a fully qualified lab technician, he has excellent people skills and a desire to get on in his career. It was great that we were able to offer him an exciting challenge.”

“I joined AEV in 2013, soon after leaving school and settled in straightaway.” Joe explains, “I had always liked the science subjects so was delighted to work in a lab and learn the rigours of scientific procedures and techniques for analysis.

“AEV is an international group of companies and very progressive in every respect, so job security and career prospects were great. I quickly realised that I had found a long-term home.”

As his training progressed Joe became a trusted member of the Technical Team and he began to be sent out to visit customers, and to do presentations in schools on promoting modern apprentices. This allowed him to master key skills in communication and representing the company.

“Looking back, I now realise that these visits were an important part of my professional development and that the management team were putting a lot of trust in me. I really enjoyed meeting new people and getting over ideas about our company’s abilities and services, while also picking up feedback to take away with me.”

Joe finds it hard to hide the excitement he felt when he was asked if he would like to set up and run the new mobile testing service. “This represented the company putting a huge amount of faith in me and also gave me the almost unbelievable opportunity to develop and build a whole new business segment for AEV.”

Joe hit the road with his new, and unique, wheels in early June 2018 and has had a smile on his face ever since.

“Arriving at my first ever call was a bit daunting, but I knew I could do a capable job quickly and efficiently. So I concentrated on being polite and sharing a joke or two. Next thing I knew I was handing over the results and being rewarded with a cuppa before moving on. I was on Cloud 9 as I drove away and could not wait to get to my next call.”

In the following weeks, Joe logged many such calls and began to see patterns emerge. Most first-time calls can be a bit fraught because the clients do not know what to expect, but Joe’s quiet confidence and obvious capability soon wins them over. In fact, the clients’ parting words are usually to book another appointment for six or eight weeks’ time. 

“Monday to Thursday I am travelling the country and meeting clients. I also look forward to dropping in on firms that do not currently use AEV products, which we will also test free of charge. In doing their analyses, we hope they will either ask me to call back in future, or even place an order with us”.

“Fridays back at headquarters are great too. I tend to spend the mornings working the lab ovens, doing gel tests and measuring cure times. Then I schedule a meeting with Chris and the sales and marketing team, telling them what I have learned, working out how we can better serve individual clients and how we can spread the word of our new mobile lab services to an ever-widening circle of customers.”

Joe says that in many respects he is a normal young man who spends his weekends supporting Everton, playing a bit of five-a-side and fishing. “Where I differ from some people is that by Sunday evening I am all hyped up and planning another exciting week at work.”


In this story: AEV Ltd
Marion Street, Birkenhead, CH41 6LT, UK
0151 647 3322
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