MADE IN SHEFFIELD: Abbey forging ahead with £14m expansion plans

Machinist Carl Otter turning forged blanks. Pic Dean Atkins.
Machinist Carl Otter turning forged blanks. Pic Dean Atkins.

A Sheffield forgings company is set to spend £14m on new premises – despite the biggest slump in the oil and gas sector for a generation.

Abbey Forged Products is planning its largest ever investment – on a press building set to create up to 55 jobs – for when business comes back.

Forgeman Danny Waters in action at Abbey Forged Products.

Forgeman Danny Waters in action at Abbey Forged Products.

The firm is based deep in Beeley Wood, Oughtibridge, beside the River Don, on a site where forging dates from 1749.

If approved, the new forge on Claywheels Lane could be the first in the country powered by renewable energy. It will be close to the planned Beeley Wood Sustainable Industries Park, set to include an anaerobic digestion plant, which could supply up to 60 per cent of gas, and a biomass power station.

For managing director Jackie Neal it is another chance to “go for it”.

She said: “We have never stopped investing in the company. The oil and gas sector is cyclical, we have had a massive reduction in turnover, you just have to try to be lean. Historically, we have saved for rainy days such as these.”

Managing director Jackie Neal.

Managing director Jackie Neal.

The firm has grown from 25 in 2004 to 210 today. A £2.5m extension to the forge is under construction and will come on stream in February.

Abbey makes parts for oil rigs and has branched out into the nuclear and defence sectors in recent times.

It boasts a huge stock of ingots and billets of stainless steel alloys of various grades, ready to be sawed, forged, heat treated, machined and despatched in as little as seven days.

Jackie says the firm’s metalworking skills are a source of pride.

“There’s a big buzz watching the forgemen, it’s such a skill – all of us involved here love it. The quality and skills of this bespoke work are why we’re still competitive with China.”

The firm was founded in 1869 by Henry Burkinshaw and run by four generations until it was bought by the Neal family in 2004.

Jackie acknowledges she is one of the very few female forge bosses in the country.

“I don’t know of any others. I’m different to a man in that I don’t come with an ego and treat people on an equal basis.

Abbey Forged Products is on a wooded site beside the River Don at the end of Beeley Wood Lane.

Abbey Forged Products is on a wooded site beside the River Don at the end of Beeley Wood Lane.

“The guys on the shop floor know they can speak to me as easily as their supervisor.

“I get a feel for how they are working and if they’ve got a beef about anything.

“And they are more likely to be able to speak to me about any kind of emotional issues or family matters.”

A ROLE MODEL FOR WOMEN - AND ANYONE FACING A CHALLENGE

“I’m born and bred Sheffield manufacturing and very proud to be part of a long history that’s synonymous with metals,” says Jackie Neal, boss of Abbey Forged Products.

Made in Sheffield member-ship is a big part of that.

Sean Morley, NDT technician, with a boss forging.

Sean Morley, NDT technician, with a boss forging.

Son-in-law Scott Green, group projects manager, added: “We do feel part of a heritage and proud to be carrying it on.”

But as the only female forgings boss she knows, does Jackie think she’s a role model for women?

“I hope I can inspire, not just those coming into manufacturing, but anyone.

“I believe there’s very little you can’t do, it’s about application.

“Believe in yourself and go for it.”

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A forged ring ready to be machined.

A forged ring ready to be machined.

Forged flanges destined for undersea use.

Forged flanges destined for undersea use.

Group projects manager Scott Green in the stock aisle surrounded by ingots and billets of stainless steel alloys of various grades.

Group projects manager Scott Green in the stock aisle surrounded by ingots and billets of stainless steel alloys of various grades.

Stock at Abbey Forged Products.

Stock at Abbey Forged Products.