McMenon Engineering is looking forward to a year of growth following a new acquisition and contracts at Sellafield...

For Anand Puthran, the bottom-line of the balance sheet at McMenon Engineering is only one measure of progress.

Just as high on his list of priorities is focusing on making the business a beloved household name, at least in its hometown of Workington, and a place that people want to work and do business with.

Anand, 46, acquired the Workington-based factory, which manufactures flow and temperature measurement instrumentation for industries across the world, from global firm ABB in 2018.

Since then he and chief operations officer Shiby Bernard - who is also his wife - have steered it through the challenges of Brexit, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine and it is now set to take a leap forward thanks to a focus on diversification and acquisitions.

"I'm not sitting here thinking I want to be a £1bn enterprise in five years,” says Anand.

“That would be nice. But I think it is more about the emotional connection people have with the company.

"Can we put a number on that? No, it's about an ambition of being one of the premium organisations in West Cumbria and in the rest of the world.”

The business’ story began in 1947 when Fischer & Porter acquired Maryport-based Solway Flowraters.

The business moved to its current site on the Salterbeck Industrial Estate nine years later and was taken over by ABB in 1999.

These days the temperature and flow meters it makes are exported to over 60 countries and used in sectors including energy, water, renewables, nuclear, chemical processing, food and beverage and others.

Anand, who was named the in-Cumbria Business Awards Business Person of the Year in December, was driven to make the purchase by the potential he saw to grow the business after having worked there as general manager for a year in 2013.

The name McMenon is a homage to Anand’s father - named Menon - with the Mc a nod to the time Anand spent studying and working in Aberdeen.

Although growth has been relatively flat due to the global challenges in recent years, Anand expects to see much more in 2023 following the twin successes of winning multiple contracts at Sellafield and a global product line acquisition.

This year McMenon announced the acquisition of a state-of-the-art product line from ABB Germany, manufacturing a range of variable area flowmeters.

Although it has been producing variable area flow meters for many years, the new line will increase the type and amount it manufactures by a few thousand variations and increase revenues from the product line roughly fourfold.

It will now sell the meters - formerly made by ABB in Germany - as a McMenon product, as well as badging them under the ABB brand.

Production has now begun and Anand expects the new acquisition to increase McMenon’s current workforce of 70 by a third.

"It is an acquisition from a multinational company, which means they are looking at you and thinking 'These guys are good’,” says Anand.

“The fact they have allowed us to badge it on their behalf talks about the Workington workforce quality and what we have done over the last few years.”

Anand says he takes pride in the fact ABB made the deal with them over other potentially larger global partners who could have relocated the product and production line to much more competitive markets.

He says it was McMenon’s quality and heritage and the credibility associated with making the previous acquisition that gave them the edge.

"When I say I'm a UK manufacturer, global clients do respect it,” says Anand.

“But increasingly there is also the challenge that it goes thus far and no further, because pricing in this kind of climate is a huge factor when you have countries in Asia and parts of Europe, who have caught up with the technologies and are making things as good as yours.

“In such a circumstance a lot of manufacturing companies can take confidence from seeing something come this way, back to the UK.”

Anand says although McMenon has traditionally been an instrumentation business, he is focused on diversifying and is keen to expand the “capabilities business”, which offers a variety of fabrication, machining and calibration services.

A major part of this diversification has come in the nuclear industry, where McMenon is collaborating with long-time supplier TIS Cumbria, also based in Workington, as part of the North West Energy Coast Alliance.

Together they have won two machining and fabrication contracts at Sellafield, as part of its Programme and Project Partners Framework.

Anand is keen to diversify further.

"One space I'm very keen to diversify into is clean energy. We have made substantial inroads into the nuclear, water and wind sectors and sold products into various projects,” he says.

“However, I do believe there could be much more. Hydrogen is possibly a natural extension, because we have been in the energy sector for so many years.

"The kind of fabrication which we do here and the machining which we do is high value. It's not a case where somebody gives you a drawing and says 'This is what we want', we actually work through the process and we are in a place where we advise clients how it should be done.

“The nuclear sector obviously has top quality expectations. So if I was to diversify, it would be in industries where you have similar premium expectations.”

He feels the Government could focus more assistance on helping UK manufacturers which have the capability to expand now, rather than just concentrating on developing future technologies.

"You have got to start believing that the UK is a manufacturing destination,” he says.

“We've got to have that belief in ourselves that we are good at manufacturing. Yes, new technologies are great and we've got to look to the future. But what strengths do you have at this moment?”

For example, Anand says of the grants available to help British companies become involved in the supply chain for renewables, many are focused on the development of future technologies, rather than helping manufacturers.

"Most often it is in terms of technology which may or may not work seven years down the line or 10 years down the line. Right now there are people who can be involved if you supported them. Why can't you support something which can make an impact now? That kind of thinking needs to be more common."

For Anand the development of the commercial side of the business goes hand in hand with its social impact in the local area and he would love McMenon to be as recognisable a name in West Cumbria as Fischer & Porter still is.

"My motivation is: How am I going to replace that with McMenon? It doesn't necessarily have to be with the numbers you achieve. It also has to do with the various social values that can be attributed to us.”

The firm’s involvement in the local community comes in the form of activities such as sitting on the board of the Energy Coast UTC, near Workington, as well as outreach work to local schools and colleges.

This has included inviting several female students from a number of local schools to visit the factory for the company’s inaugural Girls in Engineering Day.

"Exposure to these students is important, I think we could really play quite an important role in that," says Anand.

"It is also a personal agenda for me. I would like to support the next generation."

In addition, McMenon has sponsored the Allerdale Girls under-eights football team and supported Workington Swimming Club and a local motocross rider.

It was also involved in the Morgan Sindall-led Creating Careers in Cumbria scheme, which aimed to help people back into work through training and work experience.

The scheme led to McMenon taking on a full-time employee who had attended for work experience.

It also took on four employees as part of the Government’s Kickstart Scheme post-Covid, two of whom have remained with the firm.

A number of charity events are also held throughout the year to support charities including MacMillan Cancer Care and the North West Ambulance Service.

When it comes to women in engineering, Anand says McMenon has its own prime example in the form of Shiby.

"She's actually here running the operations of this company," he says.

"People have embraced her as their own from day one.

"She is a very process oriented, systems-oriented person. I'm more of a creative chap; enterprising and wanting to go and see what more we can do. She is much more about how we get it right and focus on it. That helps to give clarity to people as well.”

As people who are from diverse backgrounds themselves, Anand says it is important for them to encourage this within the workforce.

However, he says diversity goes beyond simply race or sex.

“It's about accepting the differences in people and then working with them because I personally feel that it's those differences that encourage creativity,” he says.

“I don't want mini-me’s in this business. The success which can be achieved in Cumbria by bringing in diverse people from other places is enormous.”

When they are not working the couple, who live in Cockermouth and have a 15-year-old son, enjoy taking city breaks or walking in the Lake District.

"In the summertime we spend a lot of time in Cumbria, the walks here are beautiful," says Anand.

"But we also spend quite a few weekends going out to nearby cities. That's the big advantage of Cumbria. There are five or six great cities within a couple of hours.”

However, one suspects work takes up most of their time.

"The challenge for me is always what more can we do," says Anand.

“I want to get to a stage where McMenon is such a well-known name that people have a real ambition to work with us.

“I would like to put a smile on people's faces when they remember McMenon."