HotSeat – Chris Howey, Managing Director at Tantec-UK

Tantec-UK is the UK and Ireland representative for Tantec A/S, Danish manufacturers of plasma and corona treatment systems. Tantec has been providing systems globally since 1974. Managing Director Chris Howey has been with Tantec-UK since it officially opened last year. After completing his degree in Chemistry in 2008, he has been working in surface treatment ever since. He is the next PlastikCity Partner to face the HotSeat…

What trends do you think will shape the future of UK plastics? How will Tantec-UK respond?

One of the key changes we have seen has been the use of plastics which may be cheaper, easier to recycle, easier to process or have better properties but which cannot be bonded to.

We have been supplying surface treatment equipment to improve bonding for the plastics industry for decades, often users of PP and PE, but this seems to be growing into new markets where older systems and approaches aren’t always right. Our R&D team have brought out exciting new systems and bespoke systems to meet this increase in demand and change in usage, and I doubt we’re anywhere near the end of change and growth.

How has Tantec-UK developed during your tenure?

Tantec began manufacturing corona systems in the 1970s, starting with simple systems for a budding industry. Since I became involved with the company, we have seen the largest and most complex systems ever delivered, and we are constantly seeing new problems – highlighting the ever-expanding number of end users for plastics and the diversity of companies using these materials.

This shift in customers from a relatively small market to large one has meant we have had to react with an expansion to our factory a few years ago, as well as a significant investment in R&D and a support team to ensure system installations, servicing and break downs are covered properly.

Looking forward, we have exciting plans to bring the technology to more companies in the most cost-effective way. Historically, our successful markets have been automotive and medical devices which have been able to afford such advanced technology – during 2019 we are developing an approach for lower volume companies to use the technology without large capital expenditure.

What do you credit as the key to your success?

Having a global network of companies, Tantec has managed to build a strong name for itself. This is especially true for countries where the equipment has been running since the 70s. It’s not always easy to solve customer problems, but having the right name and products to match certainly helps. Covering the entire range of atmospheric plasma, corona, vacuum plasma, ozone treatment and other technologies means we’re not pushing an agenda for a specific product which allows us to stay neutral and support each customer’s best solution.

What has been the greatest challenge in your career?

The two biggest challenges I faced have been:

  1. Continuing to use the M6
  2. Deciding the right direction for my career – working for such a niche section of the market, surface treatment isn’t something that’s commonly known or taught in schools, but it’s an important technology for manufacturing companies around the world. Finding myself enjoying working within the sector and gaining customers and a strong network has got me where I am today. I did see myself working at JLR or another large and prestigious company, but I am glad I’m here now.

What advice do you wish you’d had on entering the industry and does that differ from the advice you would give to an apprentice joining now?

I believe manufacturing is still a fairly secret industry. If you’re involved with it, it seems to be everything but friends and family in service industries don’t really grasp the importance of our manufacturing sector and its global presence. The advice and knowledge I’d have liked to know from a younger age, and that I’d give to any young apprentice, is to have passion and pride over what we can do here – there are factories in every town, city and corner of the country making world-class products from luxury yachts and cars through to plastic bathroom items and widgets for cans of Guinness. Not everything is “Made in China”, and despite negative media attitudes, there certainly is a future in manufacturing and engineering.

What hidden talents do you have?

Between myself and my little girl, we have become excellent at being able to guess almost any children’s film song from the first second or two. We play the game in the car together, and even though I think she’s even better than I am, I can still name the film of some quite obscure soundtracks.

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