The Managing Director of equipment specialist Felcon has been with one company for over 35 years, growing it year on year, so when he talks about his take on supply chains, business, and custom solutions, his word should be valued highly
The current Managing Director of cleanroom and lab equipment specialist Felcon has a long and exciting relationship with the business. Joining the company in 1986, Ian Mutton stayed with the company, building his skills, until being part of the buyout in 1992 that officially named Felcon, Felcon. All in all that is an impressive 35 years with the company.
Over the course of the company's growth since 1992, Mutton has fulfilled multiple roles. These have included Production Director, Global Sales Director, Managing Director and Chairman. "My self and three colleagues started Felcon in 1992, all those three have now retired," he recounts.
However, like many in the cleanroom field, Mutton's journey into the sector was not direct. "I left school at 16 years of age in 1976 and took the first job I found advertised locally and started work assembling catheters for a medical company," Mutton explains. "By complete chance, I was assembling catheters in a cleanroom and did not realise at that time it was in fact a cleanroom (albeit a relatively low-grade cleanroom)"
By complete chance I was assembling catheters in a cleanroom
Mutton goes on to explain that at that company he was fortunate to undertake an indentured apprenticeship during which he obtained an HNC in mechanical engineering and an HNC in microelectronics part time. "This enabled me to become a research and development engineer, developing medical products such as operating tables for operating theatres," says Mutton.
What came next is what Mutton describes as the turning point of his career. "Some 10 years later in 1986 my working career became totally linked to the cleanroom industry, when I joined the Felcon Group of Companies as a Project Design Engineer," he says.
"I have learnt in business that companies are either going backwards or forwards. They never stand still," Mutton reflects. Felcon seems to be firmly in the forwards category, purchasing Goldsmith Medical in 1999 to expand endoscopy offerings, and then the more recent formation of FelMed for endoscopy storage.
Throughout the many different sectors that Mutton works with, from containment to earth science, from hospitals to fibre optics, his passion seems to infiltrate all areas. But he is by no means a one-man band. "I have a fantastic team working for me ranging from engineering, HR, financial, sales and production," he says. "My team undertake the day to day business with me working closely with them as required."
While Mutton is active in many roles at the company, he has his favourite jobs. "My personal favourite part of the job is Sales and Marketing; but with a significant engineering slant," he explains.
Mutton is very interested in talking about the trends that affect his sector, and how the company responds to these varying conditions.
"At different times, the markets which are most important to Felcon depend upon various things," Mutton says. "At some point for example the fibre optic industry was very important and then certain countries which are traditionally strong in that sector (India being one) required support. This is typical for many industries at different times i.e. microelectronics, pharmaceutical etc."
This is where Mutton really stresses the importance of the global reach of the UK-based company. Landmark projects over Felcon's history have included multimillion-pound projects in India, Norway, and even Uzbekistan. As well as smaller projects in countries from France to Singapore and Malaysia.
Felcon supplied custom transfer hatches for the Oxford vaccine
These projects can vary vastly, and Felcon's exact product range has varied immensely over the last 30 years, but Mutton says what is most important to him is the reputation that the company has built for high-quality specialist technology for cleanroom and allied industries.
The specialist nature of Felcon's offering means that customisation is often an essential part of the process. Within the wider cleanroom industry there is a balance of 'prebabricated, one-size-fits-all' and 'custom solution' approaches. Both have an essential roles to play, but Felcon's focus is designing a solution to fit the exact needs of the customer. "The majority of Felcon products are 'built to specification' and its customers very much appreciate that the products is not 'off the shelf'," Mutton says.
With such a global footprint, Mutton has had to work especially hard over the last 18 months. Supply chain difficulties and extreme demand have been hallmarks of the coronavirus pandemic, and this takes a lot of active management to handle. "Felcon has been fortunate regarding the pandemic insomuch that whilst working as a manufacturer during the toughest of times has been a challenge to say the least, Felcon product itself has been 'pandemic neutral'," Mutton says of the company's response. "Felcon works within most areas of industry and whilst some areas have been affected, some have had no effect at all."
At the heart of the global emergency, Felcon took an important role to aid the setup of a COVID-19 vaccine facility. "I am proud to say however that Felcon supplied 10 custom build sterilisation pharmaceutical-grade active air Transfer Hatches during 2020 for the Oxford facility manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine," Mutton explains.
Part of the company's service that Mutton says is a critical part of its success is its relationship with the customer and the wider project. Mutton says that they work expensively with cleanroom builders and main contractors to ensure the end user (customer) ultimately receives and packaged product. This preparedness is something that ensures a more streamlined supply chain. However, it wasn't just the pandemic that threw up challenges, the concurrent Brexit complicated matters further. "The main supply chain issues for Felcon has been the delay in product entering (and exiting) the UK from Europe insomuch that getting some product through customs has been a very lengthy process," Mutton said. "Something that traditionally would have taken a few days is now taking a few months."
Not to be discouraged, Mutton said Felcon overcame this by "planning ahead" and finding alternative supply sources.
In line with the company's forward-moving innovation, Mutton explains that he and his team are constantly on the lookout for new trends and technologies to implement with their product offering. "Felcon Equipment is becoming more "intelligent". This includes the use of HMI's (Human Machine Interfaces) in place of traditional switches," he enthuses. "It also includes the ability for a Felcon tool to "speak" or interact with for example a local building management system or remote system over the internet."
It was really interesting to hear that Mutton has been part of a very proactive sustainability push, a trend that is going to be vital to running a company in the coming years. "Felcon tools also include features to reduce energy consumption too, such as "night set back" and highly intelligent fan/blowers," Mutton explains.
Companies are either going backwards or forwards, they never stand still
But keeping an eye out is not just for trends and business opportunities, it is also to make sure their current offering stays in line with the current regulations. "Some Felcon tools utilise aggressive chemicals. The Health and Safety protocols have increased (quite correctly) over the last 30 years for Operator Safety, including automated chemical supply and drainage and fire detection suppression systems," Mutton says when describing things he has dealt with in his time at Felcon. "Now, all relevant engineers undertake training safety protocols to enable them to work 'on site'"
Passion and expertise are two things that Ian Mutton has in spades and hopefully, this enthusiasm will carry Felcon well into the future.