STEVE CANT MANAGING DIRECTOR AT EAST ANGLIAN SEALING CO LTD
Steve began his career in the Gaskets and Seals industry in the mid 70s, working in all aspects of the industry from cutting gaskets, moulding rubber parts and studying polymer engineering at Technical College. Working with many major clients over the years, such as Fords, Rolls Royce Aerospace, Bombardier, Paxman Diesels and Unipart, he has the experience that’s taken his company a long way in a short time.
What was the inspiration behind starting East Anglian Sealing?
East Anglian Sealing Co Ltd was set up in 2002 by Steve Cant to service mostly SMEs in all sorts of general industries across the UK. Having been in the Gaskets and Seals manufacturing industry since the mid 70s, he’d identified that as several companies in the industry grew – dealing with larger accounts, their focus changed. Smaller companies were often over-looked or given less attention. By concentrating on these smaller customers with an ethical approach – treating each customer as ‘King’, EAS quickly established a strong base which has been developed year on year. Today each customer, no matter how large or small, is handled in the same way, with one hundred per cent of our attention and commitment.
Which sectors do you work in?
EAS works mostly within the Service and Maintenance sector of the Rail Industry however our experience enables us to work in most engineering sectors. Outside Rail, we are involved in almost every industry across the UK, with exports into Europe, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and the Far East. We supply goods into Pharmaceutical and Food industries through to Nuclear Power and Aerospace industries. We produce the more specialised products into high-end automotive manufacturers as third tier suppliers and produce parts for most heavy duty diesel engines used today. Our capabilities within lots of different industries have ensured constantly increasing business over the last 20 plus years and we continue to develop business by introducing new processes and new product lines.
What types of products and services do you offer?
We work with service and supply companies in the Rail Industry providing spare parts for standard engineering service and refurbishment. Our products include all types of gaskets, seals, rubber mouldings, rubber extrusions, plastic mouldings, floor matting and machined rubber and plastic products. These parts are used on all types of vehicles in the industry – both diesel and electric engines, carriages, bogeys, tankers etc and range from components for seating through to engine, brake and axle parts. Being involved with servicing older products (we also supply some heritage lines) – our experience in the industry helps us in reverse engineering parts where original drawings are no longer available. We produce parts today covering over one hundred years of the UK rail industry – from boiler gaskets for Victorian steam locomotives built in 1910, through to the latest Axle-box seals and gaskets on todays rolling stock – with everything in between!
What are your production capabilities?
Using a selection of production equipment, East Anglian Sealing Co Ltd are able produce any gasket or seal, in almost any material. This includes conventional hydraulic presses, including large head machines which are used for standard cut gasket parts. 700mm square head travelling-head presses cutting at over 23 strokes per minute – (with a 20unit tool that’s up to 28,000 parts per hour!). Smaller presses are used to produce low volume requirements from just one off where tooling is available. CAD operated machinery, capable of producing parts without the need for tooling are continually invested in and today we have laser cutting equipment, water-jet machines, CNC drag knives, CNC oscillating knives and 2D & 3D multi-axis CNC routing and milling machines. We have machines able to cut foam up to 300mm thick and metals up to 200mm thick.
With extrusion equipment able to run both short and long production runs in many different materials, including low smoke emission and fire retardant grades important for the rail (and especially underground) industries. Our moulding facility further widens our product range, manufacturing compression, transfer and injection moulded parts in all types of rubbers and plastics in shot weights from 0.5gm to 50kgs. We also use low-cost tooling to ensure minimal outlay for customers planning new projects and again can produce from one off to multi-millions!
How have the products and services you offer developed over the years?
Working closely with major companies in the sector, we have expanded the range of products we supply into lots of new categories. These products include Gaskets & Seals, Hoses, Pipework, Interior Hardware, Door Equipment, Machined Plastics, Trim, Seating, Fasteners, Machined Components, Valves, Wear Plates, Wiper Equipment, Heating Parts, Filters, Ducting, Axle parts, Lighting Equipment, Draught Seals, Gangway Matting, Treadplates, Trim, Rubber / Metal bonded parts, Tank seals, Leather products, Timber products, Bogie equipment, Powertrain parts, Gangway Diaphragms etc.
What kind of challenges did you face in the early days?
As a new company in 2002 – although with staff having lots of experience with rail companies across the UK, it was difficult to persuade buyers to make the change. By consistent supply of quality product at competitive prices as promised, we built up our reputation to the point where buyers began to ask us ‘if we’d consider’ making different parts outside our original scope. This was exactly what we needed, and grasped the opportunity to show what we could do. We continue to supply the service and repair businesses in the UK and have recently been involved in station and trackside work which we are looking to build on over the next few years.
Has the market grown since the company was established?
The overall market for service spares in the Rail industry has reduced greatly since the introduction of new rolling stock and to remain competitive in the market, we have seen products de-graded to reduce cost and increase profit by some companies. In some instances we had worked toward higher grade materials with specific fire resistance for example, only to see the products reverted to cheaper alternatives with those customers claiming ‘grand-father’ rights – that material being approved in the 1960s to 1990s before stricter regulations came in.
We have refused to follow this route, putting safety above profit and ensuring products we produce as a safety critical supplier meet the standards that should be adhered to in our railways today.
What do you have planned for the year ahead?
We’re looking to expand our customer base in the UK and to also move into more OEM work where we’ve already seen a marked increase in business during the last twelve months. Remanufacturing centres where full refurbishment of products along with general maintenance and repair require replacement seals and gaskets are already ideal customers for our services. We’re particularly interested in working with more electric powered drive systems as users move away from diesels, and will be increasing our capacity to machine specialist materials for companies in that sector. We’re already dealing with some electric vehicle charging equipment manufacturers along with switchgear and transformer businesses and hope to develop work in these areas as the companies grow.
Other areas of the rail industry are also of interest – in particular trackside materials such as GRP walkway systems, erosion control matting and safety matting. EAS are also involved in specialist machined parts for various infrastructure products for stations and will be looking to increase that work in the coming years.
What’s next for EAS?
We are seeing an unprecedented increase in not only the amount of orders won, but also new customers we are attracting. In May and June 2023 alone, our sales DOUBLED and are continuing this trend. In turn, this has meant we have had to increase our capacity, with plans for two new CNC machines and new water-jet cutting equipment – ensuring that we always have at least 30 per cent more capacity than is needed. By using faster, new machinery; taking on extra staff; changing processes and further streamlining our operations we’ve managed to achieve this target to stay ahead of the game!
What are some of the biggest challenges this sector currently faces?
For our sector of the industry it is important that we, and companies similar to us, get access to product information for new rolling stock well before the warranty periods run out. The cost savings that companies like ourselves can offer against OEM spares for all types of engineering parts can be quite substantial and we believe we offer a level of competition in the system that ensures the overall cost performance of the industry. With the cancellation of the Birmingham to Manchester link of HS2, and the billions ‘saved’ by that decision, we are hoping that promised Government investment in other areas of the system will mean an increase in servicing of standard equipment that will benefit more suppliers, and not just those involved in the HS project.
How do you make your business a good place to work?
As a small, family run business, each of our employees are treated as exactly that – ‘a member of the family’. We try to ensure everyone enjoys coming to work each day by creating a relaxed and rewarding environment, where everyone is listened too; respected and valued. We have a ‘you scratch our backs we’ll scratch yours’ motto offering our staff as much flexibility as possible to ensure everyone has a great work/life balance. Our reward for the culture that has been created here is an unrivalled work ethic by each and every individual, meaning the business can continue to grow year on year. Our staff retention levels are a sign that we must be doing something right! To reward everyone’s hard work the canteen freezer is continuously topped up with ice creams during the summer months; along with staff BBQ’s; Christmas dinners and yearly bonuses! We look forward to expanding our ‘work family’ over the next few years as the business continues to grow!