Since its formation in 1964, igus GmbH has been developing products made of low-wear, high-performance polymers known as motion plastics. Now a global brand, igus employs over 4000 people in 35 subsidiaries worldwide, specialising in products and innovative materials for energy chains, cables, bearings, 3D printing and automation. Product Manager for igus UK, Dean Aylott, recently celebrated 10 years with the company and is the next PlastikCity Partner to face the HotSeat…
What trends do you think will shape the future of UK plastics? How will igus respond?
Prior to 2020, I think the future of UK plastics was threefold. Despite the Covid-19 damages to the UK economy, I think those points are just as strong and possibly even stronger.
Our customers want technical plastics to solve arduous applications in their equipment, whether they are an OEM or simply trying to increase their maintenance intervals. They want better pricing and faster delivery, which, although difficult, can be achieved even when reshoring. Finally, I think the future of plastics will be pivotal in progress we make to cut climate change. “Not all plastic is bad” should be the message that we as an industry portray.
Single-use plastics are not great, but what about a plastic that removes the need for additional lubricant being dumped onto the planet? What about plastic which can reduce downtime and save overall energy costs? These are good plastics!
At igus, we welcome our customer to challenge us to solve their pricing and delivery issues. If there is a chance to help our customers re-shore, then I want to know about it!
Of course, our business is built on moulding, machining and printing low-friction, wear-resistant materials for the purpose of bearings, and we continue to develop new and improved materials for those specific reasons. I often get told by our customers that we bring out materials for problems that they were unaware they had until now!
How has igus developed during your tenure?
A very well-timed question, as I have recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary at igus and have given this some thought. I have been lucky enough to grow with igus, first in regional sales and then into a Product Management role now with a whole host of products under my umbrella.
As we bring out more and more new products, we have had to change our infrastructure. I couldn’t put a figure on the amount spent in the last 5 years alone as its all thanks to our MD in the UK, Matthew Aldridge. It has transformed our efficiency and professionalism, without detriment to our goals to solve technical problems deliver fantastic parts and great customer service in a timely manner.
If the infrastructure and software improvements were neglected, we would be forever making small mistakes despite best intentions.
The headcount had almost doubled since my start date, and the business growth justifies this.
What do you credit as the key to your success?
I think it’s a mixture of the product and our people.
The products speak for themselves and by us still empowering our external team and enabling them to visit our customers and empathise with their issues we are able to work WITH those customers to use our products to solve their biggest problems.
I also think that the CEO and entrepreneur of igus, Frank Blase and the MD of igus UK, Matthew Aldridge have an amazing ability to see where the markets are going and as we head out of a year where Covid-19 has taken peoples jobs, business and in worst cases, their lives, I’ve found their ability to find calmer waters in rough seas impeccable.
Even in lower levels of the business, we are empowered and take a Marines-like mantra to ‘improvise, adapt and overcome.’
In the near future, we will be looking back on the last 12 months and appreciate that an example of this was a drive to go digital: no more notepads, no more unnecessary printing. Everything was going electronic, and we were using Microsoft teams for various functions before Covid-19. This software has meant that we can visit our customers virtually and provide that same level of understanding and empathy about their engineering problems when we, and often they were home-based.
What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
Not wanting to keep referring to Covid-19, but these times have been pretty gruelling. There are many ways to look back at this time. Firstly, it gave me a routine when my diary before was super fluid. It gave me time at home with my family as opposed to staying away quite so often, but it has also been challenging. Understanding my customers’ needs virtually is fantastic, but I miss the integration and rapport that I build when meeting with customers in the flesh. Internally supporting the team and remaining positive when there were so many unknowns was a personal challenge. I think overall, it has been a solitary experience for most people.
The positives to take from this, though, are that when we are challenged as a company and as individuals – we grow. We have been able to become super-efficient, and many projects have progressed quicker as a result of this experience.
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 studied music technology at University and found myself racing and tuning classic two-strokes before getting a ‘proper job’ at igus. Luckily, I have a BTEC L3 in Mechanical Engineering, which goes some way to back up the experience and understanding that I have but by no means defines me.
Experience is valuable, and I don’t think that you can rush that. We have a saying at igus; ‘it takes 20 years to get 20 years of experience,’ and fortunately, we have some very experienced people.
I would urge apprentices or people that are new to the industry to shadow those that are successful but also be mindful that if you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always get what you’ve always got. Just be constructive in your suggestions.
What hidden talents do you have?
I’m a bit of a jack of all trades – master of none. I was a keen semi-professional drummer but can also play some ‘real’ instruments. I guess I have become fairly successful with dog training and running in more recent years but have set my targets on some multisport and triathlon events for 2021. General hobbies include restoring Lambretta scooters, shooting, 3D printing and cycling.