Having developed over the decades from agricultural blacksmith to industrial gas expert, RITCHIE now offers its customers a complete cylinder handling equipment service and a commitment to continual product improvement.
For some companies, the idea that its products will never finish being designed is the stuff of nightmares. However, for Forfar-based gas bundle specialist RITCHIE, it’s almost a standard way of thinking.
The company’s commitment to continual improvement is such that whenever a product is produced, the team holds a review to evaluate the process. They ask how things could have been done better, how the product could have been delivered at lower cost to the customer and how the manufacturing process could have been streamlined.
The result is that a company founded in 1870 as a blacksmith’s forge, is now amongst the world’s leading providers of Cylinder gas handling equipment & bundles.
RITCHIE’s key skill is designing and manufacturing bespoke and compliant equipment that meets every regulation and standard demanded of it.
While it can offer ‘off the shelf’ bundles, with a capacity of up to 64 cylinders, its focus is not only on the standard product range but also on offering products built to provide a solution to the customer’s specific problem. For instance, many of its products have been built to match the transportation fleets owned by its customers.
Often RITCHIE finds that the needs and capacity of an Asian fleet is different to the needs of European or American ones for instance, and thus builds its bundles to suit.
“Our clients rely on us to solve their problems,” explained Project Engineer, Steve Robertson. “But it’s a two way street; it’s our relationships with these companies that allows us to stay constantly ahead of the game in terms of compliance and continual improvement.”
“For example, RITCHIE could supply bundle frames and manifolds to every client as a standard package, but often this isn’t the sum of their requirement – they may already have a manifold in mind for instance,” continued Steve. “But this is where our flexibility really comes to the fore – our products are adaptable and configurable and so are we.”
The change from agricultural blacksmith to gas industry expert has its origins in the 1970s, when the company became involved in the exploitation of the natural resources in the North Sea. As a result, the first steps towards the company’s current knowledge base were taken in the offshore industry, followed by increased expertise in the on-shore handling sector.
The process was less complex than it might seem at first glance; as a heavy user of industrial gas in its existing business, RITCHIE already had the specialist contacts required. It can now lay claim to having more gas industry experience than any other handling company in the UK.
This understanding manifests itself not only in the company’s design expertise but also in the archives and records built up over the years.
Indeed, while many of the company’s clients have gone through significant internal restructures, or simply been bought out by other businesses, RITCHIE has been stable throughout; losing very little of its intellectual property or archives. As a result, the best place for its clients to find out more about their own historical work is often RITCHIE’s own files.
While every project ends with meticulous record keeping, it begins with value engineering as its keystone; with the objective of saving the customer money. This point of view is complimented by the natural cost savings inherent in having all of RITCHIE’s UK design, manufacturing and galvanising on a single site in Forfar, Scotland.
These, recently expanded, facilities are lean focused units that take advantage of the latest developments in areas such as robotic welding and 3D design and finite element software. The cumulative effect is a fast, efficient and flexible service for the customer.
Part of the value engineering process is ensuring that the various compliance needs of the customer are met as efficiently as possible. Indeed, a key part of the company’s service to its clients is to project manage the concept from design, through testing and approval to the delivery stage.
“Often, a customer will simply approach us with a problem and we will fill in the blanks between that point and a delivered solution, which can include complying with DNV 2.7-1, EN 12079 and TPED.”
“We find that compliance is a key area of understanding that is valued by our client base,” offered Steve.
The Thriving Environment
RITCHIE’s view of the cylinder gas industry is positive – despite the negative economic environment being created on Wall Street.
“The industry has constantly evolved during our time in it,” enthused Tony Walker, Managing Director of RITCHIE. “We have no reason to believe that it will not continue to do so. And for us a constantly changing environment is one in which we can thrive.$quot;
$quot;The increasingly innovative solutions demanded by our clients match our own belief that a design is never quite complete and provide an outlet for our compliance expertise. I’ve been delighted to see how RITCHIE has responded to increasingly tight deadlines for bespoke products recently. Furthermore, as a result of a recent MOD contract, we now have equipment in every continent in the world. I can see no reason why the market place shouldn’t be equally impressed by our progress.”