Thirty years ago, when Arnie was terminating everything, we were obsessively taping The Bill on VHS, Steve Jobs had unveiled his first PC and every under-40 was driving a Mk 4 Ford Escort, a revolution was happening in Midlands manufacturing.
In his garage, Chris Gates was building, piece by piece, his first salt spray cabinet under the Ascott banner – the company he bought and was operating from a blue-carpeted spare bedroom at his family home.
With a typewriter, one PC, a cork notice board and wooden desk – the wardrobe still in the corner – Chris began to fine-tune the company’s corrosion test equipment into the world-leader it is today.
His first cabinet was the S450, a two-metre wide beige and cream behemoth, manufactured using Chris’ experience working in R&D for GEC’s nuclear business and marketing climatic test chambers for Fissons.
Its front panel home to countless dials and buttons, Chris remembers spraying the exterior panels in his back garden. It was the first order in six nail-biting months of operation.
Now, multi award-winning Ascott Analytical Equipment Ltd employs 35 people in a state-of-the-art factory on the Lichfield Industrial Estate in Tamworth.
A global business, it exports to 100 countries around the world to huge markets including India, Japan, China and the US.
And while the chamber concept hasn’t changed – cabinets which push climate testing to the limit – the technology most certainly has.
Patented magnetic, oscillating spray bars mean the corrosive salt spray is contained, reducing environmental impact; the chambers ‘speak’ several languages and there are new models emerging from the Gerard base all the time, all designed to meet the needs of Ascott’s ever-more demanding customer base.
“It’s been an extraordinary journey,” said Chris, who moved the company out of his bedroom and into a 700sq ft industrial unit in Tamworth.
“It took six months for our first order to come in.
“Now, we’re exporting our chambers to some of the biggest automotive, aerospace and coatings customers all around the world through a fantastic network of distributors who help keep us at the forefront of the market.
“It’s been a fantastic journey, and we’re looking forward to the next 30 years.”
In 1989, Chris was determined to make Ascott a specialist manufacturer of corrosion test cabinets.
He bought the business when he son was just three months old following a journey from GEC and repping in London for a medical equipment company, later becoming the UK sales manager for Fissons.
“It was a baptism of fire,” says Chris. “But all the pieces of the jigsaw were coming together, and it felt like the right time to make the move.”
Today, Ascott is one of the leading makers of salt spray and cyclic corrosion cabinets in the world, supplying aerospace giants including Airbus and Rolls Royce; automotive groups like Jaguar Land Rover, Tesla, Nissan and Volvo, and leading coatings companies like PPG and Nipon.
Ascott’s salt spray chambers, blending performance and technical excellence, are designed to meet the most stringent international test standards.
Cyclic corrosion chambers recreate and accelerate a range of corrosive climates, helping customers predict the life-expectancy of components.
Atmosfar cabinets are fitted with extra features to comply with specific automotive test requirements for Ford and Volvo, including a high-level swaying spray bar, vertical high-speed air drying and refrigerated dehumidification.
And the latest CorroFlex and testing rooms, designed to test large assemblies, are being shipped to customers this month.
With a slick, streamlined look, customers can choose the colour of their cabinet to match their corporate branding. It’s this attention to design which has kept the company at the top of its game for so long.
“Our business is totally focused on corrosion test equipment,” says Chris.
“We don’t make anything else, and this provides a degree of expertise that our competition can’t match. We lead the world, technically, and our range embodies customer-led innovation, blending performance with technical excellence.”
Ascott is led by Chris, Chairman, with Adrian Wain as Managing Director. Adrian has been with the company for 10 years, as have many on the shop floor.
Staff turnover is low, thanks to continual product development, training and a collective drive to push into new markets.
Ascott’s success was acknowledged in 2017, when it won regional and national export awards from the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, now Make UK.
Last year, it shared its expertise with 35,000 business leaders in the Government’s Parliamentary Review; opened its state-of-the-art facility and was visited by Chris Pincher MP.
“We’re delighted to have reached this milestone,” said Chris. “It’s testament to the vision and drive of everyone at Ascott who are continually pushing to break into new markets.
“We’re proud to be a truly British manufacturer with a raft of new products coming out this year.
“We never sit still. There are so many future applications for our chambers, from medical equipment to the shelf life of food. There’s a bright future ahead.”
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