As the manufacturing sector continues to improve, Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill speaks to Ebac's Pamela Petty about its plans to return washing machine making back to the UK
WHEN Indesit returned production of its Hotpoint machines to its Italian roots more than seven years ago, the UK's manufacturing sector was left with a major void.
The switch meant there wasn't a single British-based maker of the everyday kitchen appliance.
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But that barren landscape will change when family-run Ebac, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, starts production later this year.
The company aims to start making machines from September, with production line equipment due to be installed in the summer.
The UK imports about four million washing machines every year, but Ebac, which launched its £7m venture with £1m support from the Government's Regional Growth Fund, hopes to make more than 100,000 appliances in the North-East.
The firm already manufactures water coolers, dehumidifiers and heat pumps, and employs about 200 workers.
However, it expects to double its workforce and increase turnover markedly through its new stature as a white goods specialist, bolstered by a previous deal to buy the brands and products of Icetech Freezers.
Pamela Petty, the company's managing director, is positive its new division will be a success.
She said: “The washing machine market is very competitive, but we are confident we can do well.
“When we started doing our research on costs of and what we thought we could sell them for, it astounded me there wasn't any made here.
“I immediately thought there had to be a reason why production had left the UK, but it made commercial sense for Indesit to go back to Italy.
“It wasn't that washing machine production isn't viable here, and there is no glaring reason why we can't make and sell washing machines profitably in the UK.
“It's a technological shift for us, we are the leader in two niche markets but are moving into a totally opposite area.
“However, we are driven to be the best out there.
“Our machines will be different and we are working on the details that make all the difference for the consumer.”
Mrs Petty said the firm has pencilled in September as a date to start production.
She said: “There are two big hurdles to overcome, including time for all the standards and efficiency tests.
“We've not been through it before, so you it leaves you feeling a little bit like how long is a piece of string?
“The other thing is getting them on the retailers' shelves.
“We started highlighting our dehumidifiers in magazines and then the retailers came in for their piece of the cake.
“We've got to find a way of squeezing our way in there, but I'm confident we will.”
Mrs Petty said the company was also ramping up work on domestic freezers after its Icetech deal.
Ebac acquired Icetech's Norfrost name and the company's equipment, designs and copyright agreements after production stopped at its Scottish factory in 2012, when it became a victim of the collapse of electrical chain Comet.
It expects to start production in pipe maker Radius Products' former Newton Aycliffe factory later this year, and aims to build up to the previous output of 80,000 Norfrost chest freezers a year.
She added: “We started thinking now we were on the appliance journey, what if we could snap that business up too?
“Compared to the washing machines, their production is more closely aligned to what we already do, and will help us, alongside the washing machines, grow to about three times our present size in the next four years.”