Ahead of the game
26 February 2021
Manufacturing Today – Issue 183
Centurion Safety Products has been safeguarding workers for over 140 years with its integrated systems that combine total head protection with total ease
Founded in 1878, Centurion Safety Products (Centurion) was an ambitious start-up created by the entrepreneurs Edward Charles Vickers and Edwin William Knowles, after the pair were granted a patent to make a waterproof replacement for leather, pottery and paper mâché. Initially, the business was known as The Patent Pulp Manufacturing Co., and soon – under the leadership of new boss, Louis Adler – it was using its patented pulping methods to develop, design and produce household articles such as basins, basin bowls, tubs, and trays.
It was then, in 1900, that the company won its first contract with the government to make pith helmets for the army of the day. The publicity gained from this contract resulted in the company also supplying hard hats for use in mines and shipyards. By the 1930s, its ‘Hard Hat’ was worn by thousands of miners across the land, and the company also found itself being a key part of the growing motorcycle industry, with the manufacture of its Centurion motorcycle helmets, which were first made of pulp in two layers, with a riveted harness and cradle.
Come the 1950s, pulp had slowly become obsolete and replaced by polythene. The company survived by upgrading from manufacturing pulp to plastic moulding, and in 1964 it changed its name to Thetford Moulded Products Ltd. By being flexible, innovative and able to react quickly to market forces, it expanded its range of safety products, while also becoming a major supplier of safety helmets to the National Coal Board. Other highlights in the coming years included, the release of its best-selling, jet-style XSC helmet in 1970, the arrival of its first injection moulded, full face helmet in 1973, and the launch of its ‘Sprint’ helmet in 1978.
By 1990, the company had moved into larger premises in order to accommodate growing demand, and in 1997 it officially changed its name to Centurion Safety Products as a means of reflecting the fact that it now concentrated solely on the manufacturing of its Centurion range of personal protective equipment (PPE). This century, the company has also been responsible for the creation of the lightest safety helmet on the market – 2004’s The Concept Helmet – and in 2016 it launched its modern and practical design, The Nexus.
“This is a business that was founded through innovation and disrupting the market, and it has survived and thrived by being a leader, rather than a ‘me-too’ follower,” explains Centurion’s Chief Executive Officer, Nick Hurt. “We are a founder member of the British Safety Industry Federation, and have been a leading participant in EU committees responsible for legislating on head protection equipment for industrial and leisure use.”
Today, Centurion offers a wide range of advanced helmet, bump cap and respiratory protection systems, as well as complementary accessories. Its integrated head protection systems combine total safety with total ease, so wearers are free to focus on the task at hand. Its comprehensive range of safety products covers the needs of workers in a multitude of applications and industries. These include general purpose helmets for the day-to-day grind, innovative bump caps that set the standard in form and function, advanced respiratory protection systems designed to help workers thrive in the most challenging environments, face protection for up close and personal tasks, hearing protection for those potentially deafening environments, and specialized helmet systems for more adept tasks.
Partnerships are also very important to Centurion. “We know we can’t be good at everything, so we work with people who think like us, and augment our skills and the value we bring,” Nick reveals. “One such key partner is Vanilla Electronics Ltd (Vanilla), a provider of technical supply chain solutions. Based just across the road from us, Vanilla started as a family-owned component distributor and now offers a fully outsourced service to its customers who are specialist, high-end technology manufacturers like us. Vanilla helps us consolidate our complex supply chain, leading to operational and financial benefits and longevity in the relationships.
“In what is an increasingly global market, we have chosen to focus each day on designing, developing and manufacturing in a way that pushes and establishes standards that our competitors have to catch up to, while also solving and preempting specific wearer needs and issues,” Nick states. “We feel, however, that this is not enough, and that we also must tell the story of why we do what we do. To achieve that, we have to improve the knowledge and understanding around key safety issues and help the market understand the importance of protecting the head – every part of it.
“In 2017, we started this journey with the development of a unique training facility at our headquarters called Clarity Counts University, and the employment of our Training and Education Specialist, Chris Tidy. Since then, we have developed and established a market leading learning and development program comprising of over 30 bespoke training and education modules covering history, standards and products, in a way that makes the complex simple.”
Centurion’s strategic initiatives are focused on improving knowledge and understanding through training and education, reducing brain injury in the workplace through collaborative partnerships, and enhancing wearer safety through exceeding standards and enhanced levels of protection. “We need to be like our founders and like our past, disrupting and leading the industry in our design, development and manufacturing, but also in our training and education,” Nick continues, “Through continually upgrading transformational education, research and innovation, we aim to make a positive difference to, and impact on, the PPE industry, enabling us to lead and push innovation in PPE safety for years to come.”
The company today has two production facilities, one based in Thetford in the UK, and the other in the Middle East, where it specializes in the manufacture of helmet, respiratory and bump cap systems that can be customized according to individual specifications. This is all backed up with technology-based machinery and tools that allow it to produce quality products that are recognized worldwide. Nick is at pains to stress also that machines without the right people with the right skills and ambitions are just metal. “Our people are not just highly skilled and competent. They also understand the importance of what we do and how we do it,” he enthuses.
A cornerstone to Centurion’s success over the years has also been its willingness to invest in itself, not only in the way of new technology, but also its internal processes and infrastructure. This is well reflected in its recent, ongoing and forthcoming investment in 3D printing technology, an entirely new ERP system, and in its own Innovation Centre.
“For over 140 years, Centurion has always been keen to understand and adopt new technologies,” Nick confirms. “For example, we have been actively using 3D printing technology for rapid prototyping and component development for a number of years. We have also partnered with leading 3D print design and manufacturing companies to expand that technology into our existing product range. We will continue to facilitate the expansion of 3D technology into our mainstream manufacturing processes, and are currently engaged with the University of Warwick in ongoing projects to advance additive manufacturing processes.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to the aforementioned new intelligent ERP system, the company has just recently gone live with this development. “In an age when incumbent status is absolutely no defense against the competition, maintaining a sustained competitive advantage for our customers requires us to provide services that will surprise and delight them,” Nick adds. “Our new intelligent ERP (i-ERP) provides connectivity and access – machine learning and advanced analytics built off a data set that enables us to forecast, track, learn, route, analyze, predict, report, and manage our resources and business processes. Our new i-ERP is the backbone of a digital transformation that will see us fit for today, and lead to us having smarter factories, products and services for the future.”
Last, but by no means least, Nick also details how the company intends to dedicate one of its existing large buildings towards building an Innovation Centre. “Like any other UK manufacturing business, we will only survive and succeed if we have some of the best products in the world. We will bring together our commercial teams and our innovation teams so that neither operate in silos and to ensure that we truly have market leading innovation. In time, I would like to develop the area to include a customer training area, as well as an area where we can showcase our latest products and the innovations that we are working on.
“I am also acutely aware that we are in a real battle to recruit the best and brightest talent. I believe the Innovation Centre will be visible proof of our commitment to ongoing innovation and self-disruption, and can be one of the tools we use to attract the most talented engineers, technicians and marketeers to the business, by providing a modern and world class work environment.”
2020 has been a strong year for Centurion, so, as it moves into 2021 it does so with cautious optimism and a sense of excitement. “There will be challenges, but we will adapt and innovate, and find ways of turning those challenges into opportunities. In the longer term, I believe the sky is the limit for us. We have an exciting new product development pipeline, a committed team with loads of skills and experience, plus a complementary network of partners,” Nick concludes.