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Bisley's filing cabinets stand test of time in `paperless office' age.

Byline: ROBERT JONES

THEY can be found in every office, standing like silent sentinels, custodians of a company's secrets.

The ubiquitous filing cabinet in all its various forms has become the most popular and lasting piece of office equipment.

Built to last, they have endured fire, flood and the threat of the paperless office and yet remain an integral part of the commercial environment.

The Reevesland Industrial Estate at Newport is the home of Bisley Office Equipment, the UK's largest maker of filing cabinets and as sleek a manufacturing operation one could find in any industrial sector.

At the factory gates, 40ft flat-backed lorries arrive carrying eight-ton, steel coils which are the products' raw material.

Once unloaded the coils are then assigned to various process lines where the initial cutting and shaping, which is called ``blanking'' in the trade, begins.

Bisley's factory manager, Stewart Dillon, said, ``We can level, check for imperfections and gauge fitness of the coil - preparing it for cutting and pressing - within 20 minutes.

``Then the panel-folding and bending can begin and, through an entirely automated process, can be formed into the required finish.''

Along the way the steel is, of course, subjected to various refinements, like differing types of welding which add brackets and elbow joints to the cabinet's carcass, which comprises three sides - the front is always open - prior to its being coated in a specially designed painting unit.

The next stage is to spray the assembled cabinets to the customer's unique specification and order.

After this, it becomes part of the delivery schedule and undergoes inspection for quality of finish before the final parts are added and the cabinet is complete.

``It is then examined for functionality and packaged with its own unique bar code, which is applied for warehousing purposes,'' Mr Dillon explained.

``Then it's taken away and stored in the warehouse prior to delivery. '' There are, of course, lead times that govern the process but the whole exercise takes no longer than a week.

To emphasise this point Mr Dillon said, ``Most of this week's production makes next week's deliveries.''

He added, ``That doesn't mean to say that if you order something today you get it next week. Although we have lead times placed upon us by suppliers, many of our products are made and dispatched the same day.''

It is this turn-round efficiency that has made Bisley a major play-er on the world stage in production of office furniture.

Bisley's export achievements were recognised in 1992 and again in 1997 when the company received the Queen's Award for Export.

Such achievements, Mr Dillon believes, have been due to the quality of employee the company has at its Newport site, where more than 500 are employed in office furniture manufacturing.

``Since steel cabinet-making started here in July 1989, we have grown progressively over the years, in five distinct stages, expansions to the premises which represent an investment in the region of pounds 50m and coverage of an area of 401,850 square feet.''

Of the 30 lorries that leave the plant each day carrying their loads of office furniture, 20 are destined for the home market and 10 go direct for export, mainly to Germany and the Benelux countries, with a small number finding their way to the US, Australia and Japan.

In addition to its Newport operation, Bisley has a presence in Surrey. Although both are manufacturing sites, Mr Dillon is quick to point out the differences between the two sites.

He said, ``I think it fair to say that if they saw a steel coil in the leafy suburbs of Surrey they would regard it as alien. Here in Newport we have many ex-steelworkers who have skills and a background in metal manufacturing and are readily available.''

To this he adds worker loyalty and a low turnover of staff which have paid dividends for both the company and its employees.

In the overall employment strategy, training plays and important part.

``We invest heavily in our staff and we have no ceiling on training costs,'' he said.

``The identification of future personnel needs forms an integral part of the company's training procedures along with a comprehensive training and development programme.''

Such development is essential if Bisley is to maintain its market share within the UK and abroad while at the same time underpin-ning its drive to develop both new and existing markets.

``Many years ago we were told about the paperless office and that filing cabinets would be a thing of the past,'' he said.

``But we have maintained our output, quality and market share. Now we have to keep training our employees and focus on remaining the UK's number one office equipment manufacturer and a major European player.''

In maintaining its current position, Mr Dillon pays tribute to those bodies like the Welsh Development Agency and Newport County Borough Council who, between them, have been both helpful and good business partners. So different from Surrey where, he said, industry is not welcomed.

But in the 13-year success story there is a note of caution and a passing reference to the present economic state of the country.

``We are not as busy as we would like to be at present,'' he said.

``But we are talking about improvements in our performance. Of being leaner, more productive and more profitable so that we can re-invest in the business and consolidate our position.''

And, if confirmation of this is needed, he added, ``Wales has been a good place for us.

``Our turnover figures are pounds 1m a week, which has been built up since 1989.''

If further assurance was needed, he added, ``And this will continue and confirm our position as a major employer in the area.''

Record growthBISLEY Office Furniture was first established in Woking, Surrey, in 1932 by FC Brown, father of the present Newport RFC benefactor, Tony Brown.

In 1970, Tony Brown bought the company from his family and for the next 10 years saw sales rise steadily.

``In 1980, the company launched its filing cabinets, and sales grew from a base of pounds 3.8m to pounds 24.4m by the end of the decade,'' said factory manager Stewart Dillon.

``No other British furniture manufacturer has shown such sustained growth over this period.''

CAPTION(S):

END PRODUCT: Filing cabinets in the warehouse ready for the home market or export to Europe and even as; SKILLS: An employee machining in the tool room - Bisley prides itself on the training given to staff
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 26, 2003
Words:1082
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