Worldaware Award for Small Businesses
The Winner: Russell Design and Engineering
The growing number of entrepreneurs in developing countries gave Brian Williams, of Russell, the idea of introducing manufacturing systems able to make concrete roof tiles in low volumes.
At the time, concrete-tile making was restricted to high-volume plants in industrialised countries. These multi-million pound enterprises produce around 100 tiles a minute. Elsewhere in the world, something more affordable was needed.
By simplifying the technology, Russell Design & Engineering was able to offer a system which produced tiles of the same quality but at a rate of four per minute and an overall cost which could be as low as £30,000.
The first of these plants went to the Caribbean and other orders soon followed, many of them from Africa. In Uganda, Paul Wasswa bought his original plant in 1991. Today his family-run company employs 25 people making 5,000 tiles a day, some of them for export to Tanzania, Kenya and Congo.
Russell Design & Engineering has supplied plants to many countries in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Africa. They enable entrepreneurs and family concerns to set up in business locally, providing jobs and satisfying a growing demand for better houses made of better building materials. As Brian Williams points out, satellite television - reaching even remote corners of the world - has stimulated demand for modern homes with modern roofs.
Russell's low-volume machines do not need highly skilled operators and are easy to maintain. The sand, cement and water they require are available almost everywhere.
The production process is straightforward. In brief, aluminium pallets (moulds) are driven through an extrusion machine. Concrete is compacted on top of them to create tiles. These are left to cure overnight and are separated from the pallets, which can then go back into the machine.
Overseas customers are invited to Russell's factory in Scotland to discuss what they need and receive training. Customer support from inquiry to commissioning of the plant has been vital to Russell's success. It has developed logical and comprehensive information to enable customers to fully understand the concrete tile manufacture in which they have shown interest.
Reynell Barnes, a chemist wanting to start a family business in Kingston, Jamaica, says he was attracted to Russell by the low capital outlay, allowing his company to "dip a toe in the water". Russell helped him with specifications for his factory and trained his production supervisor in Scotland and other workers in Jamaica. The plant was in action within five months of this initial inquiry.
Russell Design & Engineering Ltd, Lochmaben, Lockerbie DG11 1LR
Tel: 01387 811805 Fax: 01387 811854