2016 was a momentous year for Norbar. It was a year in which we left our home of the previous 34 years and moved to a larger site across Banbury at Wildmere Road. It was also a year in which our oil and gas orientated distributors continued to struggle to find business leaving us with a gap to fill in our gearbox and engineer to order departments. As it turned out, it would take most of the year to replace that oil and gas business but certainly for our gearbox product process things were looking up considerably by the end of the year. This is how the year shaped up, month by month.
Where is everyone? - Certainly not in their offices placing orders. January was a miserable month for order intake for us and many others that we spoke to and got our year off to a poor start from which we would never fully recover. Away from the order desk, we ran a successful Engineering Careers Evening with 43 visitors during which we met several young people interested in technical careers at Norbar. We also handed over a cheque to Katharine House Hospice, our charity of the year, for £8,668, representing the sum that our staff had raised during 2015.
Our distribution company in Shanghai celebrated their tenth anniversary with glitzy event for their distributors and VIPs from the Chinese hardware industry. This was a great start to a successful year for Norbar Shanghai. Meanwhile, our engineering manager was in the USA demonstrating the capabilities of our new electric torque tool to potential customers in North America. A new distributor in Oman means that we are now represented in all six members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). We also launched a new product, the ClickTronic a torque wrench that combines all of the best features of a mechanical torque wrench with the convenience and ease of use of an electronic display.
March sees us at the Cologne International Hardware Exhibition, a biennial event and for Norbar the biggest exhibition presence that we have. We took a 66m2 stand in the British Pavilion and made good use of this to have a successful show. The exhibition had been reduced from four to three days, something that we regretted but the marketing department of the exhibition reported as a huge success. In the same week we supported our Swedish distributor at the Maintenance Exhibition in Gothenburg. Back at home we had our annual UKAS laboratory audit and our electronics production department was able to claim that they were lead solder free for RoHS compliance purposes.
On 8th April, our Mumbai distribution company inaugurated an expansion to their space, taking on the ground floor of the building that we occupy and almost doubling the available space. The main reason was to facilitate the easy movement of materials in and out of the building but, in taking this space, we secure our future in Navi Mumbai with room for expansion. There is much relief back in Banbury with the signing of heads of terms for the sale of our old site on Beaumont Road. We also ordered a new NTX 2000 machine from DMG-Mori to replace a machine that would not be making the move from Beaumont Road to Wildmere.
We had a successful BSI audit of our Energy Management System against ISO50001. Our sales people were all over the world including USA, UAE, Singapore and South Korea. In Houston, Norbar Torque Tools Inc. staff are managing a stand at the annual OTC exhibition. Preparations for our move to Wildmere Road are in full swing.
On the political front, we urge our employees to vote ‘remain’ in the forthcoming EU referendum. We get 30% of our business from the EU (excluding the UK) and much of that business is too price sensitive to withstand even a modest tariff. Later in the month we are to be disappointed by the result and are left hoping for an exit that that gives tariff free access to the EU. Back to matters that we can control: we take the keys to our new building and the Torque Wrench Assembly department moves from the part of the Wildmere site that they have occupied since 2012 into the new section. The move takes place smoothly over the course of a weekend so most of our customers will see no disruption to service.
We receive the first big order for our electric torque tools and other products from a wind energy company in India. Perhaps we will need that extra space in Navi Mumbai sooner rather than later! We exchange contracts for the sale of the Beaumont Road site with FWP Matthews, a local flour milling company. We are pleased that the site should go to a family business, not unlike Norbar, who will use the building essentially as it is rather than redevelop the site. The Marketing and Sales departments are the first in 2016 to make the move from Beaumont Road to Wildmere Road.
August: UKAS come to assess our new laboratory space at Wildmere Road and our Head of Laboratory becomes the first Norbar employee to complete 50 years of service! During August almost all employees move over to Wildmere so that on 30th we can have our first whole company meeting in the restaurant on the new site. We are united as one company for the first time in four years, which is a great relief. On a totally different note, our support of the campaign to retain the historic Banbury North Signal Box fails and we learn that the building will be demolished. At least an agreement is reached for many interested people, including Norbar staff, to see the Victorian era signal box before it goes.
We are at the Hamburg Wind Energy show with a really great looking stand. Unfortunately, the exhibition is quiet leaving us wondering whether we could spend our marketing budget in a more effective way in two years. Norbar Torque Tools Inc. is at Minexpo in Las Vegas. Closer to home, Cromwell run their annual exhibition The Event which Norbar supports and we are pleased with the result. Our electric tool, EvoTorque is selling well, even one to a famous Italian sports car manufacturer! Our staff restaurant takes a step into the modern world by going cashless. Not everyone approves but not having to handle cash makes the restaurant far more efficient. On the charity front, Chris and Mark complete the 84km Thames Path Challenge to raise money for Katharine House Hospice. Perhaps from a physical point of view they shouldn’t have completed it but their failure is not an option, attitude and an endless supply of stories from Chris got them through.
October sees us product training in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and UAE. We have further success with electric torque tools and other products in India. On the home front, we celebrate the official opening of Norbar Wildmere Road with 80 distributors and over 30 local guests and VIPs. The most heard phrase is: you must be very proud; We are.
November: The exhibition season is in full swing: Paul is supporting our distributor at MACHTEC in Egypt, Owen and Peter are at ADIPEC, Norbar Singapore are running a stand at OSEA in Singapore and we are supporting our distributor at Valve World in Dusseldorf. Directors, Neill and Catherine, get a chance to contribute to a BBC Autumn Statement feature and Catherine successfully endures the pressure of a live air interview. On a more down to earth note, the Norbar Bake Off demonstrates employees culinary skills and raises money for our charity.
December: We launch a live chat on our website and immediately wonder how we ever managed without it. Our fabulous new price list/catalogue is complete and mailed to distributors before Christmas. Our new laboratory manager from Norbar India completes a one month training course in our laboratory having made a very positive impression here. I am sure he is glad to get back to some warm weather!
And so finishes an extraordinary year; one in which we re-locate across town, the country votes to break with the EU and we run an astonishing level of export activity which stands us in a much more positive position from which to enter 2017. In 2017 we need to start getting benefit from our new site to improve efficiency and increase capacity but that is a story for another day!