Reinvention pays off for Advantage MD Tony Wells


Offsite specialist Advantage is concentrating on delivering high-tech buildings and medical services, as MD Tony Wells explains to Adam Branson

Generally doing the appropriate factor pays off in ways in which couldn’t have been predicted. Such is the case with Advantage, the North East-based offsite manufacturing and building agency. In early 2020, the corporate moved into a brand new HQ constructing on Northumberland Enterprise Park, to the north of Newcastle. The thought was to supply workplace workers with extra space, higher facilities and top-notch digital connectivity.

Advantage managing director Tony Wells remembers a colleague urging that they get the audiovisual know-how proper and that the corporate needs to be doing extra with videoconferencing. “I used to be like, ‘yeah, okay, which may catch on’,” he says.

After which, after all, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, pitching the nation into lockdown. “We had sooner broadband and extra assembly house. We had been mainly simply arrange for it,” says Wells.

“In England and Wales, we didn’t cease working in any respect. We by no means had any pauses”

The identical was true of Advantage’s manufacturing facility down the highway. A few of Advantage’s websites in Scotland had been shut down because of the completely different authorities method north of the border. “However, in England and Wales, we didn’t cease working in any respect,” says Wells. “We by no means had any pauses. There was the odd shopper who was attempting to maintain folks offsite to cease illness unfold, however all of our primary websites stayed open.”

UltraPOD arriving on web site

That, after all, was solely potential as a consequence of the truth that the overwhelming majority – and, certainly, an ever-increasing majority – of labor for Advantage’s initiatives is accomplished offsite. Each the work and staff required on web site are minimal.

“We had been in an excellent scenario as a result of our regular workforce ranges are about 20 per cent of the normal degree, so it naturally helps social distancing,” says Wells. “We did have to regulate some processes, however we simply tweaked it over just a few weeks. Sure, there have been some productiveness reductions within the manufacturing facility, however, all in all, it was fairly manageable.”

Consequently, Advantage has emerged stronger than ever from the pandemic and the corporate’s progress trajectory is nothing if not formidable. In its 2021/22 monetary yr, Advantage forecasts that it will file turnover of about £60m. In 2022/23, it expects the determine to extend to £200m.

Driving pressure

So, aside from its resilience within the face of COVID-19, what’s it about Advantage’s method that underpins such fast progress?

There could be little doubt that Wells is the driving pressure behind the enterprise. He studied electrical and digital engineering at Newcastle College earlier than occurring to work for British Metal on Teesside, simply after the corporate slashed its workforce from 22,000 to 7,500. Wells has beforehand said that his three years at British Metal “formed me as an individual”.

Completed cleanroom for brand new mRNA centre of excellence

A spell at Fujitsu, which had simply opened a brand new manufacturing facility in Newton Aycliffe, adopted earlier than Wells moved to Siemens as services supervisor at its new manufacturing facility in Newcastle. Wells’ love of analysis and improvement (R&D) led him to begin a PhD in semiconductor analysis at Newcastle College – one thing he by no means fairly accomplished.

With all that have below his belt, Wells may have landed a job at one other prestigious firm and just about anyplace on the earth. However he needed to run his personal enterprise and cherished – nonetheless clearly loves – the North East, which led him to take over as managing director at Advantage in August 2002.

At the moment, Advantage was a small pipe-fitting firm, turning over about £2m a yr. Wells says that after simply two weeks on the agency and having studied its accounts intimately, he realised it was inside about 10 weeks of turning into bancrupt. “We needed to make some very fast modifications and misplaced a few third of the workforce,” he says.

“I keep in mind having a dialog with the operations supervisor on the time and he stated that firing a 3rd of the workforce had saved two-thirds. We then reconstructed the enterprise. We mainly repurposed Advantage as a self-delivery [business focused on] mechanical pipework and cleanrooms. Inside the first yr we had been [employing] much more folks than we had been earlier than we began and [were] financially in a a lot better place.”

Successful work

Some outstanding wins had been to observe. Within the early to mid-2000s, Advantage bid for and received work on Diamond Mild Supply, the UK’s nationwide synchrotron, primarily based on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire. By harnessing the ability of electrons to supply shiny mild, at this time scientists can use the synchrotron to review something from fossils to jet engines, viruses and vaccines.

Diamond is now one of the vital superior scientific services on the earth and its pioneering capabilities are serving to to maintain the UK on the forefront of scientific analysis. When Advantage bid for contracts on the venture, nevertheless, it was nonetheless a “tiny, little firm”, based on Wells, turning over about £5m a yr. That it received the contracts and had the wherewithal to ship them efficiently speaks volumes.

Additional high-profile jobs with the likes of retailer Harrods and engineering large Rolls-Royce adopted, however Wells’ pursuit of reinvention by no means faltered.

“We stated, ‘proper, we’re going to do it completely in a different way’, after which we accelerated in direction of an offsite manufactured answer”

“We had been doing all these high-tech kind issues, however nonetheless in a comparatively conventional approach, [albeit] with some offsite manufacturing,” he says. “It was the same old building Groundhog Day, the place folks had been reinventing the wheel for each venture and each venture was completely different.”

Consequently, in 2015, Advantage determined to tear up its marketing strategy as soon as once more. “We needed to base it round offsite manufacturing; we solely needed to be a tier one supplier,” says Wells, including that by that time he was fed up with the same old points that plague specialist contractors, not least late cost and having to cope with variations.

“We needed to go in a very completely different route, though, clearly, whenever you’ve acquired an business and a procurement system that’s geared round [the] establishment, then it’s a harsh scenario,” he says. “However, we stated, ‘proper, we’re going to do it completely in a different way’, after which we accelerated in direction of an offsite manufactured answer.”

The timing proved fortuitous. In 2015, considerations had been first raised about building large Carillion’s debt place. After the corporate skilled monetary difficulties in 2017, it went into obligatory liquidation on 15 January 2018, with liabilities of virtually £7bn. The implosion proved, if [it] had not already been apparent, that largest just isn’t all the time greatest.

“Carillion going bust was extremely useful for us, as a result of earlier than it was ‘larger is greatest’, so we by no means acquired the bigger initiatives,” says Wells. “Individuals realised that, truly, the most important was the truth is [sometimes] the weakest.” Consequently, he provides, Advantage went on to select up some main contracts, and was capable of refine its method and ship past shoppers’ expectations.

Advantage constructed a sterilisation and decontamination centre in Cramlington for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Basis Belief

“We acquired the prospect to do what we do sometimes now, which is to throw away the MEP [mechanical, electrical and plumbing] design and begin once more from scratch, as a result of that’s the basic roadblock to offsite manufacturing,” says Wells. “What we designed was an offsite manufactured product and that went extremely nicely. We delivered that in half the time of the normal [approach].”

He provides: “Individuals may see that offsite manufacturing was sooner, extra dependable, increased high quality and [easier] to take care of. Since then, we’ve quickly transitioned to a product-based answer. The MEP design is a platform from us. If you happen to’ve acquired marketing consultant designers, that’s completely tremendous, however we shall be throwing that away and we’ll provide the similar efficiency spec. You possibly can have no matter structure you want, roughly any constructing form you want, however the infrastructure that goes with it’s a Advantage-manufactured proprietary product.”

The purpose, Wells says, is that the development business desperately wants to enhance productiveness. He notes McKinsey analysis that demonstrates that productiveness in building is roughly the place it was on the finish of the Second World Conflict, whereas it’s 8.5 instances increased in manufacturing. Wells is, after all, removed from alone in making this commentary, however the level is that the corporate is getting on with fixing the problem.

“Productiveness is down, wages in building are down, variety is down,” Wells says. “It’s delinquent and no person needs to take a seat on web site. You find yourself with a load of all-white male folks on web site with muddy boots, which isn’t precisely enticing. And the quantity of higher-educated folks is just about half of what it’s for the nationwide common.”

Banking on biotech

Wells admits there have been some productiveness beneficial properties, similar to in precast concrete, however the scenario in M&E stays dreadful. Advantage has carved out a distinct segment for itself in biotech services, during which Wells says MEP makes up 50-60 per cent of a venture. Consequently, the agency has targeted remorselessly on enhancing productiveness in that house.

Early onsite building strategies utilized in Antarctica

“We take a look at how we make that right into a product,” he says. “We’re vertically built-in. We have now our personal MEP, made in our personal manufacturing facility to our personal design utilizing our personal BIM modelling. Nothing is offshored; it’s all made right here, and all designed right here. Then we wrap a constructing round it. We design the entire thing and you’ll have no matter form you want, and you’ll have no matter cladding you want.”

The concentrate on biotech and biomedical services was fairly deliberate. “If you happen to’re attempting to innovate in a very new route in building, it’s essential go into a spot the place there’s extra margin and fewer competitors,” says Wells. “The plan is that we get to a degree the place we have now such definitively completely different merchandise that why would you not select the primary in that market. After which, from that time, we’ll look to associated industries, like hospitals.”

Which brings us full circle. The plan to refine Advantage’s technique to permit it to innovate whereas on the similar time sustaining margins and rising the enterprise was drawn up upfront of the pandemic. Nonetheless, it was the appropriate factor to do, each for Advantage and the business – and with the present increase in biopharmaceutical manufacturing because of COVID-19, Wells is assured that Advantage will reap the rewards.

Advantage’s milestones

February 2022

Appointed by Piramal Pharma Options to ship a £30m drug-manufacturing facility in Grangemouth.

November 2021

Chosen by Autolus Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical firm, to construct a £66m facility in Stevenage for the event of most cancers remedies.

August 2021

Secures a spot on the £1.6bn NHS Shared Enterprise Providers (NHS SBS) Modular Buildings Framework.

March 2021

Awarded a contract with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Basis Belief to construct a £30m hospital in Berwick.

June 2020

Secures a £6m contract to construct a decontamination centre in south-west London for medical-equipment specialist Steris.


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