Established over 30 years ago, the ongoing success of Charleville based BCD Engineering is a lesson in how to adapt and thrive in spite of harsh economic conditions and a battered construction industry.
Late last year, the firm announced the creation of 40 new jobs off the back of a new multi-million euro vaccine plant project in the Asian market; this news came after pharmaceutical and biotechnology project wins in the Irish, UK and Belgium markets.
According to CEO Sean McGowan, the impressive uptake in business experienced at the firm in recent times can be attributed to changes implemented in how BCD operates. “Internally, we’ve carried out many changes to our processes. What we’ve found is that in many mid-sized companies, business is carried out by individuals and is very much reliant on people and their own specific knowledge. We’ve implemented particular processes that ensure our business doesn’t need to be as reliant on individuals. We’ve managed to increase our capacity without adding more people into the mix and because of that, we’ve won more business.” The firm has remained cost competitive, with the majority of work outside Ireland. “70% of our work at the moment is abroad but in saying that, last year we saw a strong uptake in the Irish market, particularly in the food and beverage sector which is very strong.” By ensuring a strong foothold in several markets at any one time, the firm remains busy if any one business or market weakens.
BCD is also unique in that it offers a full package to clients, including design, build, commissioning and installation. “This lets us compete with the larger companies, it’s really important that we can do that. It’s us and us alone that controls the quality of the product and that’s what has made us one of the top three engineering firms in Europe.”
As well as a healthy portfolio of international clients, BCD also maintains strong working relationships with some of the largest Irish players in the market that provide the backbone to its business. Over the past few years, the firm has built up a strong reputation in delivering high purity process systems to these companies in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, food & beverage and chemical industries, both at home and abroad. The firm cites particular expertise in product formulation, clean in place, clean utilities and thermal treatment, with its engineers challenged all the time to develop innovative process, mechanical and automation solutions. These solutions can be constructed as Modular Skids in the firm’s skid workshops which comprises 4000m2 assembly space with dedicated testing utilities and facilities. Alternatively, they can be part assembled, piped and wired on site by our field installation team.
In 2014, the food and beverage sector will account for about 50% of BCD’s business, with the other 50% broken down between business in Europe and Singapore. Sean says the firm has also seen a large uptake in brown spirits and baby powder in the Irish market. “Alongside that, the milk quota has definitely helped business, the dairy business is very strong. At this time of year it’s usually starting to slacken off but we haven’t seen that because of the change in the quota system which is helping Ireland export a lot more.” Silos and very large vessels make up a significant portion of BCD’s business, with the firm doing everything from very small intricate vessels to very large 300,000 litre vessels. “Large vessels are very popular at the moment and like the dairy sector, we don’t see that market changing any time soon.” BCD’s 5000m2 vessel workshop is a market leader in its own right. Dedicated to stainless steel and high alloy materials, it can accommodate the smallest pilot scale process vessels to the largest shop-built brewing fermentors. Once the systems are fully assembled on site, teams of engineers experienced with automation integration, commissioning and testing, take the systems through IQ, OQ and PQ as required to allow a smooth handover with training to the client at the end of the project.
Today, BCD employs just under 250 people. The main office is based in Charleville, Co Cork with sales offices located in the UK, Egypt, Holland, France and Benalux. Turnover of engineers in the industry is an ongoing issue for the firm. “In terms of trying to retain talented employees, we see a repeatable theme whereby graduates with one or two years’ experience want to travel abroad and this has been an issue for us. We’ve focused on acquiring experienced, well educated engineers and there is a talent pool in the local area including Limerick however most of these engineers have been working in different industries. We have been taking them, retraining them and the result is a more experienced loyal engineer who has had the travel bug well and truly satisfied. That policy is reaping its rewards at the moment.” According to Sean, engineers who work at BCD benefit from unparalleled learning, an experience that’s difficult to get at another company. “What we’re seeing now is the slightly older engineer who has been involved in a different industry or been abroad but who’s now coming back, or maybe has been in a different part of the country and wants to be closer to home. That’s the type of engineer we’re employing, very settled and extremely knowledgeable.”
Last year, the firm celebrated 30 years in operation – three decades of steady growth in North Cork. “The long term impact on the local area is evident by the generations of families who have worked in the company,” says Sean. “We have a number of employees whose father and grandfather worked with BCD, highlighting how ingrained BCD is within the local community.” Based on investment in several new processes that has resulted in new international and sector opportunities, the future looks very rosy indeed for BCD. “All companies have come through a tough time, particularly our company. In the past year we’ve managed to turn a good profit and this is down to the way we’ve changed how we do things. We’ve come through tough challenges and it’s made us leaner and better. We’re coming out the other end of it now and I think the people who have survived, changed and adapted will be stronger and better in the future. I think for our company, the future is looking very bright.”