Starting out life as a cotton wool company in Warrington, Macdonald and Taylor Healthcare has expanded over time into a fully-fledged manufacturer of a range of personal care and hygiene products, as well as PPE for the healthcare, chemical and nuclear sectors.
Demand for PPE at the height of the pandemic sent the business into overdrive, but even before the outbreak of COVID-19, Managing Director James Gartside had been looking to increase the company’s speed of production.
A first meeting in 2019 between James and one of the Hub’s Manufacturing Advisors, Phil Anders, led to a discussion about how Macdonald and Taylor could significantly improve the manufacturing process for one its key products – a ‘no-rinse’ shower cap used in healthcare settings for patients who cannot shower or bathe.
“At the end of the production line, we were manually folding the shower caps before they were packaged up,” James explains. “This meant at times we were having to pull up to five or six people off other jobs, just to stand there and fold the product by hand.
“We wanted to purchase a machine that would automate the process and we had identified a potential solution, but it was completely untested for our application.”
The automated folding machine qualified for 50 per cent grant funding through the Hub’s Manufacturing Growth Fund, helping to reduce the risk for Macdonald and Taylor in taking on the project and ensuring they could redeploy their staff elsewhere in the business as quickly as possible.
The investment would turn out to be even more important than Macdonald and Taylor first realised, Phil says.
“After identifying the impact the new machine would have on the business, it was clear that it was a crucial investment. We were able to turn the project around within a five-month window, which turned out to be vital because it meant the tooling was in place just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK.”
Within just a few weeks of the folding machine being installed, it was already proving its worth as demand for PPE began to skyrocket during the first wave of COVID-19.
“The requirement for our products reached mind-numbing levels in the first few months of 2020,” James recalls. “All of a sudden, my phone was ringing at all hours and we went from making sales worth a few thousand pounds to multi-million pound orders.”
By June 2020, Macdonald and Taylor were delivering 50,000 isolation gowns a week for frontline services. The shortage of PPE also meant that demand increased significantly in industrial sectors, so Macdonald and Taylor became an important source of local supply for operations like the Sellafield nuclear facility as well.
Although the folding machine does not contribute to PPE manufacture directly, its knock-on impact on the business ensured Macdonald and Taylor was able to respond effectively to the PPE crisis, and become more resilient once demand died down again.
As James explains: “The ability to increase our capacity and redeploy workers to other tasks meant we were able to take on more work. We now have a much more balanced factory, which has enabled us to grow.
“We’re back to normal business levels, but thanks to the investment in the folding machine we are still 25-30 per cent up on where we were pre-pandemic, so having ridden the wave and come back down again, our business is stronger than it was before.
“In fact, with the cash we’ve generated we have managed to fund further investments of nearly £350,000 in new machinery to increase our capacity even further. If somebody said to me 18 months ago that I’d have all this new machinery sitting here, I would have said no way because I wouldn’t have known how we could fund it. So we’re in a really good position for the future.”