UK Powertech, the specialist supplier of battery accessories and components for industrial trucks and floor cleaners, is one of the biggest success stories in the UK industrial battery market in the last few years.
UK Powertech is the UK distributor for a number of well known approved component suppliers to the world’s battery industry, including Frötek GmbH, Batterie Fullungs Systeme GmbH (BFS), Rema and Abertax Technologies. It offers a one-stop shop for anyone needing battery components for lead/acid and other industrial batteries, bringing back to the UK the localised supply of battery parts and accessories that began disappearing in the 1990s when the major battery companies started moving their manufacturing abroad, and taking away the headache of sourcing these essential items from different places overseas.
UK Powertech is an established supplier to the UK’s forklift fleets, and works with forklift manufacturers and distributors and the service companies supporting the major operators, speeding up the parts supply chain and cutting the cost of downtime when trucks are out of service awaiting battery parts.
UK Powertech’s original business is supplying connectors to manufacturers of static and traction batteries around the world. Its forklift battery parts supply service began a few years ago and is expanding rapidly, and the focus has widened this year to include battery accessories for floor cleaners. Mark Rigby, founder and Managing Director of Powertech UK, has over 25 years’ experience in the UK and European battery industry, including design and development. He spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – Mark, when did you set up UK Powertech? Where are you based?
I founded UK Powertech in 2000, and continue to own it. We’re based in Manchester, in the heartland of the old UK battery industry, and cover the whole of the UK and Ireland.
WLN – How big is UK Powertech now?
UK Powertech has over 200 live accounts, from sole traders to major corporations, between them ordering over 15,000 components per month, from connectors and watering parts to completely manufactured battery socket harnesses and many ancillary parts which can be used by the service engineer.
WLN – Do you supply customers overseas?
We supply specialist requests from overseas customers for forklift trucks battery parts, and this side of the business is growing. Our main exports are special connectors for battery charging, which we supply to the major international battery manufacturers.
WLN – What’s your role in the business day to day? Do you get personally involved with individual customers?
My main role is primarily product development and researching new markets. However I tend to get involved with customers as well, because we’ve been dealing with many of them for so long, and when a problem arises, I do my bit in finding a solution. As a company our philosophy is to become part of the customer’s team, and build a close relationship and a detailed knowledge of their needs. I work very closely with our people here to plot which way the market is going, and see how we can take advantage of the opportunities.
WLN – Who else is on the management team?
Nigel McAdam has been involved in the battery industry for 30 years and previously worked for Oldham Batteries in Denton, Manchester, starting under the Youth Opportunities Scheme. During his early years at OB Nigel worked in stock controls, cell manufacturing, battery charging and logistics, before becoming part of the purchasing team responsible for raw material, including lead and all other parts, as well as battery manufacture. During Nigel’s time Oldham was taken over by many different companies before being bought by Enersys, the largest industrial battery manufacturer in the world. Nigel joined UK Powertech in 2009, and is an important member of the team and crucial in helping take the business forward.
David Nolan has been working with me since my early years at Northern Electrical Connectors when I took them into the international market as leaders in the design and manufacture of inter cell connectors for all types of batteries, especially the German DIN insulated connectors in the mid 1990’s. David’s strengths are in man management and manufacture, along with material and product knowledge and working as a major team player within an 80 strong workforce. David joined us in 2008.
Both Nigel and David have day-to-day contact with customers and are instrumental to UK Powertech’s future growth.
WLN – What were you doing before this?
From 1978 to 1998 I was involved with Northern Electrical Connectors, who became the first company to manufacture battery connectors for the battery manufacturers in general. Most battery manufacturers – Oldham’s, Chloride Motive Power, Crompton, Tungstone, Chloride and so on – manufactured their own connectors, but then NEC became their manufacturers and also eventually of the German DIN connectors, supplying the bolted connectors for companies like Varta, Hoppecke, Deta and more, until I became the most knowledgeable person in all connector technologies. I became the refiner and designer of the DIN connectors to reduce costs in an ever more competitive market. By 1998 I had not only gained knowledge of the connectors we manufactured, but also the markets and other battery accessories used in the forklift truck battery industry. In 2000 I joined Froetek Kunststofftechnik GmbH as their technical sales consultant.
WLN – How did UK Powertech come about?
When I joined them Froetek manufactured most, if not all battery accessories sold in Germany, but needed help to gain an international market. Alongside Froetek I set up UK Powertech to manufacture special connectors, and it soon became a distribution outlet for Froetek products in the UK. In 2009, as the recession started to bite, it was decided that it was time for UK Powertech to start to pursue the traction battery and forklift truck service industry with Froetek GmbH products here in the UK. Shortly after that I negotiated with three other major suppliers, BFS, Rema and Abertax so we could fill the gap caused by the changes in the battery industry and become the one-stop-shop solution.
WLN – Do you still get involved in the design and development side?
Yes, I enjoy using my knowledge and imagination to solve problems. My main design products over the past ten years have been the charging connectors used by battery manufacturers to link strings of batteries together during the formation process. More recently, I have developed a home Emergency Power Supply – BlackCurrent – to operate the lights and central heating controls during a power cut. Although this isn’t involved with battery accessories, it does involve my knowledge gained from working in the worldwide battery market.
WLN – Can you tell us about the different items you supply on behalf of BFS, Frötek, Rema and Abertax Technologies?
The Froetek products we offer comprise bolted Intercell connectors, insulated bolts and take off’s, Aquafil automatic watering systems, air circulations parts, and the Fillwatch watering system for block batteries. We supply BFS’s Automatic Watering System and all accessories. We offer Abertax’s CLS electrolyte level indicator, and from September we will also supply their BMU Battery Monitoring Units. We offer a full range of Rema DIN plugs and sockets, along with a variety of flat connectors.
WLN – Can you tell us more about the Abertax battery monitoring products you supply?
Abertax’s products have been developed by battery experts, and the CLS electrolyte level indicator are specifically designed to help the operator know when to water batteries. In the higher level Battery Monitoring Units (BMU) there are data logging devices to monitor how batteries have been treated in terms of charging, discharging, temperature and so on, which is valuable to battery manufacturers in the event of problems and warranty claims.
WLN – What is your core business?
We have two sections to our business – the charging connectors, which are mainly for the export market, and equipment for the forklift truck/battery servicing market for the UK. As well as supplying other companies’ products, we have used our knowledge to manufacture special parts to allow servicing of older welded type batteries, enabling cell replacement with the new bolted type cells within the same battery. To do this we manufacture hybrid bolted to welded connectors and all other historical parts for older welded type batteries, which are still around in the market today after several years. With our knowledge of all the connecting technologies and materials as well as manufacturing techniques, we can produce these in house very quickly, which helps to extend the life of the older batteries which are still in service.
WLN – Don’t the battery suppliers already supply these components as a matter of course?
Yes, they do, but collectively we purchase more parts and therefore can offer better sales prices. The accessory manufacturers don’t come to the UK to promote their water systems, connectors and so on, so there’s a gap in the UK market, which we fill.
WLN – Are there any other companies doing what you’re doing?
As far as we are aware, we’re unique in the UK in the fact that we stock ALL battery related parts. Over the years I’ve been involved with Exide, Enersys, Hoppecke and so on, and we know them all pretty well.
WLN – What do you see as the biggest trends in the battery industry?
In technical terms, the industrial battery business is evolving towards maintenance free batteries, but in volume terms we believe we will see these coming in first with smaller trucks and floor cleaners before they are adopted for use in counterbalance trucks, which need more traction power. On the supply side, batteries are an international market, and the UK battery industry no longer exists in terms of local manufacturing, with supply here through a number of smaller companies and a host of little ones.
WLN – What kind of components and accessories do you supply for forklifts?
We offer a complete range of accessories, including Intercell connectors and Take off’s, plug-in sockets and battery watering systems, among them a battery operated watering cart and pressure bottle to feed the system, battery monitoring accessories and the special connectors manufactured in house, as well as offering many other parts which may be used by the service guys such as cable, lugs, heatshrink and so on. These used to come from a myriad of directions and through many hands before reaching their destination, but now customers look to us as a one-stop service. We purchase direct from the manufacturers.
WLN – What about accessories for floor cleaners?
The large floor cleaners use similar battery products to forklift trucks, so it’s easy for us to supply connectors and watering systems from our standard stock.
WLN – What do you see as the most important items in your range?
They are probably the automated battery watering systems from Frötek and BFS. Adequate battery watering and maintenance are critical to effective truck operation: the biggest problem people have with their truck batteries is a result of lack of proper watering. Forklift operators want to get the maximum use from their truck fleet, but you can’t cut corners in battery care. We also provide battery-operated water filling trolleys to go with the automated filling systems.
WLN – Do you carry all these items in stock?
We have 95% of our range in stock. Special parts are manufactured in house and can be produced within two to three days, sometimes sooner.
WLN – How quickly can you deliver in the UK?
We usually deliver standard products within two days, or even next day if required. Tailored products can take a bit longer – three days or sooner.
WLN – Do you take telephone orders 24/7?
We take telephone order during normal working hours Monday to Friday and customers can leave email orders any time. We dispatch orders Monday to Friday, and can arrange deliveries for Saturday morning.
WLN – Can you tailor make special items? What kind of specials do you provide?
We make special cable connectors to order, and special plug and socket harnesses with attached special brackets for Jungheinrich, Linde and Atlet.
WLN – Where do you make them? What is the minimum order quantity you will provide for a special item?
We produce most parts in house. A local specialist makes special brackets for the harness work for us, to our controls. We also buy the watering trolleys from overseas. The ancillary parts are what we already use in our own production, so are available anyway. We are flexible and can work on volume production or a single item. Flexibility is key to supporting this industry.
WLN – On the forklift service side, what size of providers are your customers?
Our customers come in all sizes, from a one-man band to companies with over 100 service engineers.
WLN – How are you geared up to look after the major service providers?
We can supply customers’ orders of all sizes, from a single item to thousands. Storage and distribution aren’t a problem to expand as necessary. We welcome large companies and can offer them a tailored service to help their efficiencies. We can distribute to site, run a KanBan store system or keep designated minimum stock levels as required.
WLN – Can people order parts from you on line?
By the end of June or early July 2012 we will offer parts online and take orders from our website www.ukpowertech.com. We will continue to run our service line.
WLN – Do you get involved alongside the battery manufacturers in installing battery charging rooms?
No, the full extent of our work with the battery manufacturers’ charging rooms is our Quick Connect connectors.
WLN – What are your plans for the rest of 2012?
We’re looking to offer some exciting new battery monitoring technology in partnership with Abertax, and we’re setting up a platform for it. We’re going to be exhibiting at IMHX 2013 alongside Abertax.
WLN – What do you see as the biggest factors impacting on your business?
We have grown each year since we started and have extended our product range. We attribute this to trying new things, giving excellent service and attention to the customer needs. Our diversity means we have several markets and products so recession in one market has been off set by expansion in others. The most important factor is that we all work hard and make a great team, customers included.
WLN – Finally, where do you see UK Powertech going from here?
We are developing our One-Stop-Shop solution for the forklift and battery service market. As a small company we are flexible and always open to making changes within our business to give us an edge over the competition, or to try a new product or idea. We are continually searching for products that will support our sales and our customers.
UK Powertech Ltd
Tel: 0161 343 7606