Chris Woolley: Engineering the future

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Solid experience, good contacts and a “can do” attitude have combined to give engineering company boss Chris Woolley an unexpected break – into the world of education!

The Managing Director of IMPS (UK) Ltd in North Hykeham, whose company is best known for repairing, maintaining and supplying parts for diesel engines, and supplying generators, has just built a fully-functioning ship’s engine in a Scottish College.

Chris, whose team has also serviced hundreds of ships’ engines around the world, was thrilled to be at the heart of a ground breaking project to supply and install a MAK designed and built 20 tonne engine in the City of Glasgow College’s Riverside Campus.

Engineers from the Whisby Way factory spent five months working on what is claimed to be the most modern working engine room in a college in the UK, which UK Chamber of Shipping Chief Executive Officer Guy Platten described as an inspiration.

“It was an irresistible opportunity for us to deliver such an unusual order for a UK client, when about 90% of our work is for export markets, especially Africa, Asia and the Far East,” said Chris.

“One of our directors Simon Houselander, joined IMPS (UK) Ltd a couple of years ago. His previous company had received an initial inquiry from the college five years earlier, but nothing happened at that time.

“Then two of the nautical college’s lecturers tracked us down and said they wanted to source a working engine room, which would operate and sound like the real thing, and offer their students real-time experience.”

Glasgow has a sister college in Angola and especially wanted a MAK engine. There are not many around of this model in the second hand market, but we were able to supply them with one,” said Chris.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Firm has the know-how

“They selected us for our specialist knowledge and our remit was to design a ship’s engine room where students could learn how to stop and start large engines, understand load sharing and synchronisation – the load being absorbed by a load bank located on the roof of the college – take engine room logs and also learn how to maintain such equipment.”

In the new engine room, which is used by UK and overseas students, there is the facility to transfer fuel between tanks (transfer bunkers as it’s known in the shipping industry).

Students can use working purifiers to purify the engine oil, use a compressor to start the main engine and a bilge pumping system to pump waste water/oil from the bilges – cast into the floor – into sludge tanks.

The engine room has a steel floor and a mezzanine deck at one end that houses the engine exhausts and service tanks for fuel and water, mimicking what would be found on board a ship.

“All the equipment within the engine room is controlled by a bespoke control panel, designed and manufactured at our works. Our control panel has the facility to capture live data from the engines and transmit this data to the classrooms, giving the students the ability to analyse how the engines are performing. It also gives the lecturers the ability to mimic faults that the students have to find,” said Chris.

“We had a blank canvas to start with and we designed, manufactured, supplied or procured every component in the engine room, meeting the many challenges as we went along.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Giving something back

“Some of the guys who worked on the project have been with me a long time (they worked for Chris’ former business Industrial & Marine Power Services). They were really excited about this project, keen to give something back and threw themselves into it, determined to do us and the college proud,” said Chris.

The ship’s engine was officially switched on by UK Chamber of Shipping Chief Executive Officer Guy Platten at a ceremony and visited by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the opening of the College.

“So far this prestigious order has been worth £750,000 to IMPS (UK) Ltd, although there is more work to do, which could amount of a further £150,000,” said Chris.

“There are only a handful of nautical colleges around the UK, but this job presented us with a great opportunity and I’m delighted to say that we have since been approached by a second nautical training college.”

IMPS (UK), which is in its fifth year of trading, employs eight people, including its directors. The business is on course for a turnover of between £3.5 million and £4 million at the end of 2016.

Traditionally known for its ability to repair, maintain and supply spares for diesel engines, as well as supply generators, much of its work involves the power generation sector and power stations and factories in Africa Far East and Asia, where it may have a UK engineer on site, as well as local sub-contract labour.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Bespoke solutions

The company supplies both OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts and those it produces itself. These include parts for engine which may be obsolete.

“We supply non-genuine parts, which are cheaper because we manufacture them ourselves. We are good at bespoke manufacturing, which includes one-off orders,” said Chris.

“When people struggle to buy obsolete parts they can come to us, we scan the broken or worn part, reverse engineer and produce it.”

The company’s more unusual jobs have involved making replacement parts for small and large locomotive compressors, produced by Lincoln’s once-famous manufacturer Clayton Dewandre.

The city’s former Ruston & Hornsby also produced thousands of engines for worldwide destinations and IMPS (UK) Ltd is a first port of call when owners are looking for replacement pistons and cylinder heads.

Control panels and control systems produced for power stations can also be tailored for other uses, such as the ship’s engine room in the Glasgow College.

IMPS (UK) Ltd is built upon expertise and experience gained over a period of 26 years. Its ‘predecessor’ was the award-winning Industrial & Marine Power Services, which hit troubled waters in late 2011 – forcing the company into administration.

“It was a frustrating time. Back then we had liquidity problems because of our difficulty in collecting overseas debts. We were owed about one million pounds and we owed our trade suppliers £643,000 and HMRC £300,000,” said Chris.

“At the same time our prospects were good and the orders were continuing to flow in, but the Clydesdale Bank froze our account. A specialist recovery firm was ordered to sell the business and that move generated many expressions of interest.

“We didn’t want to let it go and, in the end, I and my fellow directors bought it out of administration for £500,000, which gave birth to today’s company IMPS (UK) Ltd.

“Since then we have concentrated on orders which offer us good profitability and, of course, we are also open to approaches for bespoke jobs, such as the ship’s engine room commission.”

This feature interview was first published in issue 74 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.