Gary Moug reports on the Glasgow firm making waves in the hydraulic problem-solving industry.
TWO years ago, Annabel Allam and Craig Pottie took the bold step of launching AMMS Engineering, specialising in manufacturing, repairing and refurbishing a wide range of hydraulic systems.
The ram repair element of the business has taken off in a big way, not least because of the Glasgow-based firm’s mantra of a quick turnaround time and competitive prices.
After a difficult first year, things have picked up rapidly, highlighted by the fact Annabel and Craig recently took on another engineer to help cope with the growing workload.
Craig explained, “Annabel and I started working together in a hydraulic hose company. I was the depot technical manager while Annabel was basically the HR department.
“We started doing hydraulic ram repairs as a sideline because of my previous experience in that field with other companies. That’s when we noticed there was a definite market for this type of work. We put our heads together and decided to step away from that hose company and start this business up ourselves.”
Annabel added, “The first year was quite a struggle, getting our name out there and customers on board. Since then, we’ve grown month to month. It was a bold move but we did enough research to realise there was a definite need in the market. When Craig was out meeting customers in the previous company we worked for, there was a constant request for the type of work we’re now doing.
“We aim to be more efficient than our competitors as well as being more competitive price-wise. We sell ourselves on having a quick turnaround, which is crucial for people who have machines down and off the road.”
“That’s where my experience comes in,” Craig added. “I used to work in a company where we did very similar things to what we do now. I’ve also worked as a plant fitter in the past so I can appreciate how businesses need the machines back up and working as soon as possible.
“The turning, welding, etc is all done in-house by myself and our other engineer. I served my time in a place where I learned this trade before drifting away from it, doing other stuff, and then came back into it. I gained experience with hoses and met loads of customers who asked ‘Where can I get this?’ and ‘Where can I get that?’ I used to direct them to our competitor before the idea started to grow that we could start a company ourselves doing this.”
Whilst Craig is a vastly experienced engineer, Annabel’s previous jobs were office-based. She’s had to learn the trade from scratch but has developed so quickly that there are now very few jobs outwith her capabilities.
“My background is nothing to do with engineering,” Annabel explained. “I was office-based and for a long time I was a housewife, which taught me multi-tasking! Shortly after we started I watched Craig making something one day. He had a piece of metal and he made a small part for a customer. I was fascinated that he could make something out of essentially a lump of metal and that gave me the spark to start doing more of the practical work.
“I’ve learned over the last two years and I’m now comfortable doing repairs. I’d rather be out in the workshop with my steel toe caps than sat in front of a computer.”
“When we first started, Annabel was all polished nails and trying to avoid getting covered in oil,” Craig recalled. “As she’s progressed, she still likes her nails getting done but she’s not scared to come out and strip rams. She’s progressed really well to be honest. She’s very keen and has an interest in it.”
“It’s been a bit like an apprenticeship really in that I’ve been learning as we go along, to the point that now there’s not a lot I can’t or don’t do,” Annabel said.
“Annabel knows a lot of do’s and don’ts – what to look for, what not to look for,” Craig added. “A lot of our customers will come in and say they’ve got a ram to lift in. Annabel’s straight out there and they’re looking at her as if to say ‘Have you not a guy to do this?’
Annabel is keen to promote the fact that the construction sector isn’t just for men and expresses disappointment that they’ve never had a single job application from a woman. “Why aren’t girls applying for these jobs?” Annabel asked. “It should just be normal but that’s how society still is unfortunately. It doesn’t particularly bother me when people are surprised by what I do. It’s not offensive. I find it relatively funny.
“A couple of months after we started a guy came to the counter and asked to see the gaffer. I walked into my office, then back out again. The customer repeated that he needed to see the gaffer. ‘’You’re seeing the gaffer,’ I replied!”
Craig said, “I’m very open to it because I’m used to being around female mechanics. I’m in the TA as well and we have a lot of girls there. One of my friends in the TA is a female draughtsperson and when I talk to her about my work, she’s genuinely interested.”
AMMS Engineering adopts a “no job is too big or small” approach, which has seen them landed with some majorly challenging projects.
Craig explained, “We took a skip lorry not too long ago. The customer had bent the lifting frame. At the time it was probably one of the biggest and most daunting jobs but we took it on, came up with a plan and successfully did it.”
Annabel added, “Craig’s notorious for saying there’s nothing we can’t do. The skip lorry customer has since come back to us with another job. Craig’s experience is such that he can just look at something and say ‘It can’t be that, so it must be that’. I’m nowhere close to that yet.”
One thing Annabel and Craig have in common is a frustration over the lack of young talent breaking through in the sector. Annabel said, “We’ve had issues finding quality apprentices. It’s important to keep alive the skills that Craig and Colin (the other engineer employed by AMMS) have. If we don’t have apprentices working in companies like ours, those skills will stop when these guys retire, which is shocking.
“Are we going to have bin lorries driving around with Chinese-manufactured rams on the back which are chopped and changed whenever? It is a huge issue. We’ve had an issue with young lads who are at college but not getting the hands-on feel for what the actual jobs are. Colleges are almost making it too clean and perfect. Things like health and safety and paperwork are very important but when they come into an environment like this, which is noisy and dirty, they don’t seem to have much awareness of that type of situation.”
Craig added, “I want to try and address skill shortages and give people a chance. We recently started an engineer, which has been the correct move. He’s brought a bit of experience on different styles of jobs, which allows us to widen our horizons.
“I’m now going to start going out on sales calls and generate business that way. My expertise is on the hydraulics side of things while he’s been a turner. It’s good to have two engineers’ minds on a job too. I can say ‘We’ll do it this way’ and he might suggest something else, which saves time.”
“It frees up more of Craig’s time to do other things like fabrication work and other bits and pieces,” Annabel added. “We want to grow but keep providing the small business service which has got us to this point.”