MADE IN SHEFFIELD: Gripple is pioneering new jobs with robot power

Gripple Automation project manager Isobel Park. Picture; Chris Etchells
Gripple Automation project manager Isobel Park. Picture; Chris Etchells

Gripple is on track to hit £100 million turnover by 2021 following the astonishing success of its simple wire joining device – and some very shrewd business decisions.

The Sheffield company is led by Hugh Facey, the Willy Wonka of manufacturing, who in 26 years has built a 600-strong business which sometimes seems too good to be true.

Gripple, based in Attercliffe, sets the standard for innovation – as well as dreaming up new products it successfully encourages staff to suggest uses for the original – of which it sells more than 50 million a year.

It leads the way for welfare, as an employee-owned organisation everyone has shares, and therefore a financial stake, in its success.

And it is renowned for taking a punt on long-term projects with a risk of failure, a policy at odds with much of the business world.

But today, Gripple is showing yet another attribute – ethics.

Gripple Automation chairman John Joyce. Picture: Chris Etchells

Gripple Automation chairman John Joyce. Picture: Chris Etchells

Last year the firm poured all its experience and quite a lot of cash into a spin-off company making hi-tech machines that take the manual work out of manufacturing.

Gripple Automation builds systems with robot arms and pistons that nimbly assemble, test and wrap products at lightning speed – with no tea breaks, no off days and at the exactly the same rate at 5pm as at 9am.

The machines also ‘talk’ to each other, can be operated remotely and log vast amounts of data which is analysed to find improvements.

The firm, which started out serving the mother company, now has a queue of external customers. But bosses insist the machines should never cost jobs.

Ed Stubbs, managing director, Gripple Ltd. Picture; Chris Etchells

Ed Stubbs, managing director, Gripple Ltd. Picture; Chris Etchells

It believes a worker whose role has been automated is the perfect person to supervise that robot, set it up, give it tasks and keep it going – and together they form a formidable team.

Isobel Park, project manager, said: “It should be the humans doing the intelligent bit and the robots doing the repetitive bit. It’s more of a partnership than the robots taking over, emotional rather than artificial intelligence.”

This is not just a theory, it has been applied across the Gripple group, which has been growing staff numbers for years.

John Joyce, chairman of Gripple Automation, says they sold a machine to a firm which plans to cut six jobs.

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured is David Preston. Picture: Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured is David Preston. Picture: Chris Etchells

He, said: “That sits heavily with us. In future, I would look for some morals. If we end up taking jobs away we will not do this business.”

‘AUTOMATION KEEPS US COMPETITIVE AND PROTECTS JOBS’

“Automation has allowed us to keep business in the UK and grow, protecting jobs.

“Some 90 per cent of our manufacturing footprint is in Sheffield and we make up to 90 per cent of the products we use ourselves,” says Ed Stubbs, managing director of Gripple Ltd.

“Manual workers have a great deal of knowledge you don’t want to lose. It’s much easier for us to train someone who knows our products to run a machine than bring in someone new.”

Gripple’s vision is to have almost everything made or sourced from South Yorkshire. It has three factories in Attercliffe and shares in two major suppliers in Rotherham.

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured is Steve Woodall. Picture; Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured is Steve Woodall. Picture; Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured are Steve Woodall and Matthew Kay. Picture; Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured are Steve Woodall and Matthew Kay. Picture; Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured in the design office is Aleksa Sopalovic. Picture; Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield - Gripple Automation. Pictured in the design office is Aleksa Sopalovic. Picture; Chris Etchells