Econ Engineering welcomes you to Harrogate
As the Yorkshire company turns 50, it welcomes Cold Comfort delegates to God’s own country, and takes you on a (well-gritted) trip down memory lane and onto the routes of the future.
Welcome to Harrogate and to this year’s Cold Comfort conference. As a Yorkshire business that is firmly rooted nearby in the neighbouring city of Ripon, Econ Engineering is delighted to be a sponsor of this year’s show, which promises to be bigger and more successful than ever.
This year’s Cold Comfort also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Econ’s foundation and so we are extremely proud to be able to share with you our success story of how Econ has weathered historical storms, adapting to economic and local government fluctuations to become the UK’s largest winter maintenance vehicle manufacturer.
Our success is all down to our tremendous, loyal and hardworking team of employees, many of whom have been with the company for decades. It is very much a tribute to them when Econ receives accolades such as being continually recognised in the Yorkshire Post’s listings of the region’s most successful businesses over the past decade. As we look towards what we hope will be another 50 years as a vibrant and innovative manufacturing business, it is worth noting that right here in Yorkshire we currently produce 80% of the gritters that are operating on UK roads. And with our fleet
of 750 spreaders, we also run the country’s largest hire fleet, putting us at the forefront of Britain’s winter maintenance operations.
Starting the journey
Econ began 50 years ago designing and building hedge-cutting equipment, branching out into road gritters in the early 1970s in order to diversify our product range. By the end of that decade we had outgrown the cramped city-centre site in Ripon that had been an old brewery before we started producing gleaming yellow gritters from it.
In 1980 we moved to a purpose-built new site on the edge of town, selling off the previous factory for residential redevelopment. With 11 acres and a 200,000 square foot factory at the new site we had room for our 170 employees, and space to grow. The 1980s saw a period of business activity that was symptomatic of the times, with growth fuelled by the acquisition and disposal of businesses across the UK. This somewhat scattergun approach came to halt at the end of the decade, when the disposal of some of our lesser performing assets led to the company reverting to its Ripon roots. The current directors joined the business in the early 1990s and sought to refocus the business to its core activity of producing road maintenance vehicles. Econ had been able to make leaps forward in productivity and the focus of our efforts was on the highway maintenance sector, especially salt spreaders, unibodies, hotboxes and roadmenders.
Now, with the very latest 3D technology, a workforce of more than 200, and our own skilled research and development department we are constantly innovating, developing new products and improving our current models. We are driven by the needs of our customers, who are looking for the crucial efficiencies that will enable their pared-down budgets to stretch further. A recent example is a combination vehicle featuring the Econ acetate sprayer, which was part of a recent order of 11 vehicles delivered to Stirling Council. Our high tech sprayer is ideal for treating sensitive areas where rock salt is too corrosive. Drawing on Econ’s technical and engineering expertise, the system dispenses liquid de-icer over one, two or three lanes of road at rates of between 15 and 45ml per square metre. The new Econ 4G control system enables the operator to change between solid dry rock salt spread via the spinner disc, and liquid de-icer sprayed via the central and outer trajectory nozzles, which form part of the liquid dispensing system at the rear of the vehicle.
It is this kind of forward thinking and nimble approach that we believe will be increasingly required in future to keep the UK’s roads safe, and on the move, in winter conditions. That is central to what we do at Econ and it is based on a sincerely held view that that the rigorous and forward-thinking maintenance of Britain’s roads is essential to maximising the country’s productivity. Roads will always be at the heart of our business and with the threat of climate change becoming a reality, more extreme winter weather is an ever-present threat to which we have no choice but to adapt.
As Econ’s investment in our hire fleet continues to grow, we also plan to increase the number of regional depots, bringing our service facilities closer to the customer. We are opening a new, state of the art Scottish service depot in Alloa, near Stirling, later in 2019 and have also earmarked a site in South Wales for a future depot. Technology will be more important than ever to Econ in improving our services. Our next generation of SPARGO controllers will have telemetry that can remotely diagnose faults, order parts and ensure the right equipment is on hand for depots to carry out preventative maintenance in the shortest possible time. Online diagnostics will forewarn of potential servicing issues and prevent unnecessary stoppages or failures at busy times for our customers. Together with its improved graphics capabilities, the next generation of SPARGO will enable spread rates to be remotely updated to further improve operating performance.
Technology will inevitably also be key to our clients’ approach to pre-empting and coping with the winter road conditions created by increasingly severe weather conditions. The National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG) is working to provide councils with the means to better plan and prepare winter maintenance programmes. Improvements in weather forecasting, with domain or route-based forecasting, look set to help more effective treatment decisions be made for smaller portions of the network, giving the scope to treat only certain routes rather than the whole road network.
Dynamic route optimisation, which employs techniques that use route-based forecasting to identify efficient treatment of routes in real-time, based on weather conditions, also looks likely to come to the fore.