by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

Northern Hydraulics Ltd, based in Dungannon, was established by Seamus Morris in 1988 to manufacture high quality precision cylinders for use in all types of hydraulic equipment across a range of industries including quarrying, materials handling, waste and recycling, and agriculture. “As a young man I embarked on my Precision Engineer Apprenticeship, passionate about engineering and hoping to gain practical hands on experience in the sector.

I formed Northern Hydraulics in 1988 as a one-man operation with the express aim of producing high quality hydraulic cylinders. Today the company has 80 employees on our custom designed factory site here in Coalisland, in what is a centralised location which gives us access to local air and seaports, lowering the cost of doing business abroad. We have grown in every respect since the early stages of the company, making steady progress along a difficult learning curve and 2018 is an important milestone for us as we celebrate 30 years in business. 

Our vision is to ensure our place as the leading manufacturer of precision hydraulic cylinders both domestically and abroad. About 50% of our business currently takes place in the UK and Ireland, a further 20% in Europe and 30% across the Atlantic in the US. Increasingly we are experiencing a surge in demand from our home market as UK companies are sourcing product from within the UK. We fill more than 125,000 orders each year for precision hydraulic cylinders.

We have always believed in innovation, whether in technology or in operations. For example, we were the first manufacturing company in Mid Ulster to introduce shift working about 20 years ago. In the last five years this has become the norm. Northern Hydraulics also acquired their first robot about 17 years ago and we have worked hard to develop our internal robotics ever since. Our most recent investment is in ‘Lights Out Automation’, which means the robotics work when there is no one in the factory. We want to pick up on the hours we are missing over the weekends and holidays and we hope to see an enormous return on this investment. The technology of today enables us to utilise our high value equipment to its fullest extent and our automated cylinder manufacturing systems let us offer consistently high-quality products at increased production rates.

I believe what also sets us apart is our commitment to excellent customer service. We place great importance on meeting the needs of our customers at every stage of design and production, enabling us to meet and exceed the unique needs of our diverse clientele. This approach continues through our ongoing customer support for small and large enterprises alike. 

We do have concerns about talent availability which may be exacerbated by Brexit. There are a high number of European engineers employed in the NI manufacturing sector but due to the uncertainty of the economic and political climate, the supply has dried up as talented engineers are choosing to return to their home countries to work. There is a real fear around what Brexit will mean for people working in the sector, currently Northern Hydraulics employs 70% local and 30% foreign nationals, but in some manufacturing companies this statistic would be reversed. The uncertainty of what lies ahead could create real problems for manufacturing and indeed many other sectors in Northern Ireland. 

The solution to the challenge of recruitment in the industry, I believe, is to expose young people to the opportunities in the manufacturing sector at a much younger age. Young people today are encouraged through their school to pursue third level education, often without being presented with the vast range of other opportunities, schemes and apprenticeships available to them. This responsibility also lies with the businesses within the sector to better promote themselves, which often we aren’t good at because we don’t know how to sell ourselves in a way that speaks to a younger generation. 

Our team at Northern Hydraulics is our most valuable asset and we are keen to protect and enhance it. After 30 years in business we are still as committed as ever to inspiring leadership, providing multidisciplinary training and a forward-focus on continuous development and innovation. My goal is to create a culture of empowerment in our workforce, where excellence is recognised and rewarded. We plan to do this through our 2020 action plan which focuses on learning and development and building stronger internal communication networks.”


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