Getting fit for a restart

Aluk has begun a partial reopening of its Chepstow manufacturing plant, as it looks to meet demand from customers working on commercial contracts.

Having created and implemented a new Covid-19 safe working policy, managing director Russell Yates said he is confident that Aluk can support those customers, while ensuring the safety of its own employees.

“Much of the industry is starting to recognise that, until there is an effective treatment for the virus or even a vaccine, we have to identify safe routes back to work which are in line with the government’s restrictions,” he said. “According to government officials speaking at the daily briefings, these are likely to be with us in some form for quite some time yet, and possibly until the end of the year.

“Public Health England has, however, already confirmed that construction sites can continue to operate with adequate PPE and strict social distancing and, while only essential maintenance work is currently allowed in people’s homes, it is possible that we will see some relaxation of those rules in the coming weeks when the current three-week lockdown is reviewed again.

“For us, and I think for many of our customers, we are looking now at a safe and phased return for our staff which may be costly in the short term, but will allow the business to adapt and test the new safe working procedures as we ramp up production in line with the future demand.

“Businesses will also have other pressures that they need to consider when restarting, on top of the safety of their staff, demand levels and cashflow status. The decision for the business to close was as simple as a ‘lights off’ situation, and it would be naïve to think that it is a simple ‘lights on’ return to production. Other challenges will be to adapt to the mix of product that will be demanded. For an industry built on high volume, standard product production, I think it’s likely that there will be a shift to low volume, high mix (non-standard) product once the market starts to move again.

“For us, a phased return is a way to manage and service this change in the best way possible and I think fabricators who can also adapt to that will be the ones that succeed quicker.”

Russell said that Aluk was supporting customers face the current challenges.

For example, fabricators buying from Aluk now have access to a new website that includes practical tips and advice on all aspects of marketing from social media to photography.

Sioned Roberts, Aluk’s marketing director, said: “In any kind of economic downturn, all the advice is to continue investing in marketing. It’s important to maintain awareness of your business and to promote your competitive advantage. These are extraordinary times of course and unlike any downturn we’ve seen before, but customers who focus on their marketing now will undoubtedly do better when the restrictions are lifted than those who do not.”

Aluk currently has a skeleton team working in its plant as it embeds its new Covid-19 policy, which includes new routine protocols, mandatory PPE and full compliance with social distancing guidelines throughout the factory and communal spaces.

The company is providing downloadable workplace posters and social distancing floor stickers for customers to give them some tools ready for when they can restart safely.

Aluk’s finance team are also offering support to customers to help them navigate the financial implications of the crisis.

“There is so much government support available that it can feel a bit overwhelming,” finance director Marc Thomas said. “We’re signposting our customers to the most relevant schemes for them – whether that is furloughing staff, accessing business loans and local authority grants, or deferring VAT payments.

“Just as importantly, we’re also advising them on how to manage cash flow moving forward and any steps they can take to make sure that their businesses and not just their workforces remain fit and well.”