Company that plays it cool to keep on growing

WHEN Alan Duttine and Peter Midgley established their business in a tiny workshop, air conditioning was just for the jet set.

But what the two men foresaw – and their competitors didn't – was that complex, life-saving systems would eventually rely on air conditioning to keep them cool, which meant there were global sales opportunities.

Today, Airedale International Air Conditioning, the business they founded in Baildon, near Bradford in 1974, is set to achieve a full year turnover of more than 40m, as it plays a key role in ensuring computer rooms don't overheat.

Clive Parkman, the managing director of the company based in Rawdon, near Leeds, told the Yorkshire Post that Airedale plans to treble in size by 2016 as it wins a larger share of the export market.

After a tough 2009, in which the company briefly introduced a four-day week, Mr Parkman said Airedale was looking for acquisitions and joint venture opportunities.

He added: "Airedale plans to invest in product development and export to mainland Europe, Russia and the Middle East. We hope to have a second shift full time, which could mean another 70 to 100 jobs on the site. Within two to three years, we could have 370 staff on the site."

Airedale has invested in the growing IT market, tapping into its 36 years of experience in cooling computer rooms.

Modern data centres are often the size of football pitches. They store sensitive, sophisticated equipment which must be kept cool in order to work properly.

Many essential services would stop functioning if they overheated. There are currently around 300 staff on the Rawdon site, with 420 employed around the world, including a South African base.

Airedale plans to double sales globally in the next five years by increasing production capacity.

The company has invested heavily in new product development and plans to expand its test centre through an investment of up to 1.5m.

The company was bought for 20m in 2005 by Modine, the US-based thermal management business. Modine bought the company from its founding shareholders, which included Mr Duttine and Mr Midgley.

Airedale is one of the biggest UK manufacturers of precision air conditioning units which are mainly designed for cooling IT equipment. It is also the biggest UK manufacturer of large chillers, which provide cooling to industrial and commercial environments. The company has two divisions – Airedale Service & Maintenance and Airedale Controls.

Airedale operates autonomously in Europe and across its global markets of the Middle East, Far East and China.

Airedale exports around 20 per cent of products to more than 50 countries through a network of business partners. It has manufacturing facilities in the US and South Africa. Full year turnover is expected rise next year from 38m to 42.5m.

Airedale's core products are linked to the construction industry, which was badly hit by the recession, after a buoyant 2008. Recent successes have included a 467,000 contract to supply 31 air conditioning units to the 350m Sentrum Data Centre, in Woking, Surrey. Sentrum designs, builds and manages data centre systems for the multinational corporate market.

Last year, most UK and European manufacturers in the air conditioning industry were 20 to 25 per cent down on turnover and running at a loss.

Although 10 per cent down on volume, Airedale maintained profitability. Recent contract wins have included the first orders through Airedale's South African operation for cooling systems used in connection with the 2010 World Cup stadiums.

In early 2010 Airedale sales engineers pulled in a record-breaking week of orders worth 1m. Airedale's management hope to secure bumper orders in 2011 which emulate the success of the Sentrum contract.

Teams across Airedale developed a special unit in just a few weeks, persuading Sentrum to place the order with Airedale rather than Sentrum's existing Italian supplier.

Mr Parkman said: "We have been extra prudent, particularly during the middle of last year and approached the difficult economic times creatively, preferring to introduce a four-day week so that we retained our staff. Their experience and commitment is vitally important to us in producing the premium products for which we are renowned.

"We have seen competitors struggling because they under-price and cannot reinvest. We have invested heavily in people, products, our facility and business and it is reflected in our performance."

Airedale has hired 11 people to take part on a four-year apprentice scheme. The company works closely with local universities and has a number of placement students, including some who are studying PhDs. It has also carried out an extensive refurbishment of its training school.

Mr Parkman: "We have introduced a lot of change through investment and continuous improvement in the last 12 months. That is going to continue because that is the way to improve and deliver the best results."

US buyout gave firm global reach

Airedale has secured a number of high profile contracts in recent years, including a deal to provide air conditioning units for Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

The company soon outgrew its original home in a Baildon workshop. In 1984, it moved to a former woollen mill on a site in Leeds Road, Rawdon.

Five years ago, the acquisition by Modine, which is based in Racine, Wisconsin, in the US, extended Airedale's global reach. Airedale is particularly keen to develop its controls division and its external controls technology, which helps to reduce customers' carbon footprint.

As part of the development of the company's training school, managing director Clive Parkman plans to sell more external courses to a wider market, which will help new recruits learn about technology and health and safety.