On the April 22, 1968, the original licensee, South Wales Switchgear, that was destined to become Eriez Magnetics Europe, received its first order. The customer, John Lee and Son from Grantham, ordered a simple Lifting Magnet. From that simple start emerged a company that can proudly boast technological achievements such as the RevX Eddy Current Separator, the cryogen-free POWERFLUX superconducting magnet (see May issue) and the most powerful Suspended Magnet ever built.
In 1967, Bob Merwin, the CEO of Eriez Manufacturing, based in Erie, USA and son of Eriez’ founder, Orange Merwin, collaborated with Sir Alfred Nicholas, founder and chairman of South Wales Switchgear, in establishing a European licensee. South Wales was the ideal base for the European operation, largely due to the local strong coal mining and engineering industries.
This provided the Eriez group with a platform to develop the opportunities on the European mainland. Two of the licensee’s original engineers, Paul Genner and Jim Ryall, are still working for Eriez Europe today.
Paul Genner, Chief Applications Engineer, recalls the first major order for 26 Vibratory Feeders, four Magnetic Drums and a Suspended Electro Magnet for Anglesey Aluminium: “There were many trials and tribulations with the first order. We all learned a lot in a very short space of time. All the equipment was manufactured in the UK and we worked closely with the customer at site to get everything operating successfully. Over the years, Anglesey Aluminium has become a very good customer and purchased a variety of magnetic separators from us. We all felt this was the start of something special.”
South Wales Switchgear remained the Eriez licensee until 1974, when an affiliated company, Eriez Magnetics UK was established. Fred Downie assumed the mantle of Managing Director and guided the company through a prolonged period of growth fuelled by investment in the British coal industry.
One of the largest orders ever secured by Eriez Europe was in 1978 for 102 Wet Magnetic Drum Separators for the Kudremukh iron ore project in India. The value of the project was over £1.3 million. Manufacture of the Wet Drums took over a year to complete with all staff and shop floor employees involved. Jim Ryall, one of the original engineers from South Wales Switchgear and now a Contracts Engineer with Eriez recalls: “At times, everybody in the company, the managers, staff and the shop floor, were working weekends assembling the Wet Drums to meet the agreed despatch dates. Nobody complained and everyone pitched in. It signified what Eriez was really all about.”
By 1991, Eriez Europe had annual orders of nearly £2.4 million and the decision was made to relocate to larger, more modern premises. Fortunately, the move was only a short distance, remaining in the South Wales region, and the shop floor and staff skill base was retained. This coincided with the appointment of Andy Lewis as Managing Director.
The 90s proved to be an incredible period for the European operation with orders rising to over £8 million by the end of the decade. Eriez Europe became the first magnetic separator manufacturer to attain the BS5750 (ISO9001) standard and developed an expansive range of new and innovative magnetic separators, including the first concentric Eddy Current Separators for recovering non-ferrous metals and large diameter Rare Earth Roll Separators for non-metallic minerals processing. In recognition of the success in developing business overseas, Eriez received an award for Export Achievement in 1996.
At the end of the 90s, Eriez Europe embarked on a spate of acquisitions including Pulse Technology (a producer of metal detectors for the mining and quarrying industry), Prisecter International (a specialist in automated sampling systems) and Birtley cross-belt sampling technology. To facilitate this expansion, Eriez invested in the premises with new sales offices, a high tech laboratory and extended the manufacturing facilities.
Back in 1968, the foremost supplier of magnetic separation equipment in the UK was Boxmag Rapid. In a remarkable turnaround of fortunes, Eriez acquired the Boxmag Rapid business in 2001. Consequently, Eriez was firmly established as the UK’s premier supplier of magnetic separators, metal detectors, vibratory feeders and sampling equipment. This especially applied to the non-metallic minerals and ceramics industries with Eriez supplying several unique high intensity magnetic separation systems.
Responding to specific industry requirements, in particular from companies processing kaolin, Eriez established a superconducting magnet division in the late 90s. This culminated in the development of the world’s first cryogen-free, superconducting POWERFLUX high gradient magnetic separator, of which the first production unit for purifying kaolin was installed in 2001.
This was followed by the design and manufacture of the world’s strongest suspended magnet, the SSE (Suspended Superconducting Magnet). Today, several of these units are being used in China to remove blasting caps from coal before ship loading at the ports.
To facilitate further growth, Eriez invested £140,000 in a new magnetiser in early 2007. This has enabled greater productivity and increased the magnetic strength of magnetic separators such as the Suspended Permanent Overband CP Magnets by as much as 20%.
Since 2000, Eriez Europe has continued to expand with the turnover reaching £13.5 million in 2007. The company now employs over 100 people including specialist engineers, skilled fabricators and welders, and sales people originating from Italy, South Africa and Russia each appointed to specifically develop the ever-growing export business. The European operation is responsible for marketing the group’s products throughout Europe, Russia and North Africa.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the first order, a star in the Hercules Constellation has been named ‘Eriez Ruby’ in recognition of all the talented and skilled employees that have contributed to Eriez’ success since 1968. Andy Lewis, the present Managing Director, envisages a great future for the European operation: “Success is built upon having the right people selling, designing and building quality equipment to provide our customers with what they need. We have always prided ourselves on our customer support, never shying away from occasional problems and promoting a close customer and supplier bond. As a team, we are ready to face the exciting challenges ahead as Eriez Europe continues to grow and we look forward to the next 40 years in the industry.”