As a major manufacturer of commercial refrigeration units, Williams has got its hands full preparing for the forthcoming minimum energy performance standards (MEPS).
This EU legislation means that by July 2016, all professional refrigeration units will have to be labelled with an energy efficiency rating from A to G (A being the best). Therefore, manufacturers such as Williams have to ensure that all models in its ranges are tested in laboratories and rated – plus the firm has to pay for this privilege.
“There’s a lot of work going on right now,” reported Malcom Harling, sales and marketing director. “Obviously all manufacturers want to attain the best grade they can for their products, but that’s quite a tall order.”
And it is important that Williams gets these ratings right, because there could be serious consequences if an appliance is mis-labelled. It looks as if another manufacturer has already fallen foul of the process, with industry rumours claiming that this company had to take back any incorrectly-rated products and return customers’ money.
For Williams, with one of the broadest product ranges on the market, the testing process may take a while, so new launches may be few and far between for the next year or so. Nevertheless, the firm already offers anything from back of house storage and preparation to front of house refrigerated displays, and considers itself a one-stop-shop for all commercial refrigeration requirements.
As it is part of the UK-based AFE Group, it has sister companies comprising Falcon Foodservice Equipment, Mono Bakery Equipment, Millers Vanguard and Serviceline. Therefore it believes altogether the companies can cover all commercial catering equipment requirements.
Williams’ main manufacturing plant is in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, comprising two facilities – one constructing reaching and rolling products and the other for cold rooms, many of which are bespoke. Three other contracting units are dotted around the UK, in Paddock Wood, Doncaster and Edinburgh, which manage cold room projects from site surveys through to installation and commissioning, as well as warehousing other products. Overall around 275 people are employed in the UK.
It is proud of being part of British manufacturing heritage, having been established in 1980. “Manufacturing in the UK means that we can service our market better, as 80% of our sales are in the UK,” commented marketing manager, Martin Laws. “We have no shipping times and our spares and maintenance service has a short lead time.” [[page-break]]
However, the company is very much an international player, with manufacturing plants in China and Australia, with each serving its own geographic market. The firm also has sales agents across the world, including in Dubai, UAE. The Chinese facility was established in 1987 and employs between 250 and 300 people. All three of its main bases are ISO 14001 environmental management system certified, with one of the targets achieved for that being zero to landfill status. This plus all of its energy efficiency and sustainability efforts come under the umbrella of its Greenlogic initiative.
Williams operates through its dealer network and it has its own sales force to back that up. “We invest in our distributors with training and making them aware of new products. We try to make it easy for them to sell Williams,” said Harling.
The grab and go market for cafes, schools and staff canteens has proved a particular growth area for the manufacturer, with its Gem multideck range being released about 2 years ago. “We recognised the boom in coffee shops and released products to suit,” detailed Laws. Harling added: “This market is by far the biggest opportunity for us, and casual dining is positive too. Everywhere there’s a kitchen there’s an opportunity.”
However, its flagship product is the Jade upright reaching refrigeration cabinet, featuring a fully integrated handle. “Our products are high quality and robust, while the components that we use are reliable,” said Laws. “Our wealth of experience enables us to offer that.”
It is also thinking about the dearth of space for commercial kitchens in the UK, particularly in London. Harling explained: “We have mounted refrigeration equipment on wall brackets to save space, as well as situating cold rooms away from the kitchen – sometimes even outside the whole building.”
The company has also introduced slimline Jade refrigerated counters, with a depth of 500mm instead of the standard 659mm. “They don’t have quite as much storage capacity as the standard models but in every other way they will duplicate their performance,” said Harling.
Williams was also quick on the uptake with BIM (building information modelling), ensuring in July 2014 that all its appliances have equivalent digital models, well ahead of the 2016 legislation deadline. “We were the first refrigeration manufacturer to do this,” explained Harling. “Our products can be specified on upcoming public projects. We use the BIM symbols in our Chinese and Australian factories too.
“It was quite an investment to begin with but we are already seeing payback on it. There’s still a bit of confusion surrounding BIM but I think people are getting their heads around it now.”
The firm has also recently invested in new manufacturing equipment, including a Salvagnini sheet metal bending machine and an Amada Punch Machine. Investment in other plant equipment is ongoing in the lead up to the development of MEPS products.