FB Chain at 35: What has changed since 1985?

35 years ago, Back to the Future was the highest-grossing film in cinemas, Live Aid raised £150 million for famine relief in Ethiopia, the wreck of the Titanic was found, Microsoft launched Windows 1.0…and FB Chain was established in the UK.

On the 14th November we will celebrate 35 years of operation in the UK and could not be prouder of our journey as a business. FB Chain launched in 1985 as an offshoot of Swedish company FB Kedjor, which had been producing industrial chain since the early 1900s, to capitalise on the strong British forklift truck manufacturing sector of the time. We began supplying 50% of Lansing Bagnall’s leaf chain requirements as well as to Coventry Climax, Hamech and Lancer Boss. Eventually these companies were taken under foreign ownership and their manufacturing relocated outside of the UK, but we have only benefited from ownership by the Swedish Addtech group, whose long-term thinking and focus on more than the bottom line have served us well over the years.

We focused tightly on leaf chain, quickly building up our technical capabilities and bespoke production of leaf chain anchors. Focusing on niches is where British manufacturing has been most successful and there are many companies like FB Chain – measuring probe specialist Renishaw, oil well actuation equipment manufacturer Rotork or steam control system supplier Spirax Sarco – who have become global leaders in their respective segments. We do not aim to be the biggest chain company in the world – just the best leaf chain company.

During the early days, we communicated with Sweden and our customers via post and telex machines, which took days or even weeks. Orders were handwritten on carbon paper and walked to the warehouse – and a day out of the office involved stopping at a phone box to pick up messages. During the first lockdown this year, we bounced calls to the office to 15 different locations and issued orders directly to the assembly team while others worked from home. Last Thursday we began the day with a video meeting with a Korean company and ended it with a three-way conversation with design engineers from a large construction machinery company in the UK and eastern USA. Communication today is almost instant and the world feels a lot smaller.

As for our original production of leaf chain anchor bolts and blocks, it was a noisy, dirty and labour-intensive operation. A row of bulky Huron milling machines spat out swarf, which was shovelled into wheelbarrows to be carried away. Each machine had an operator with commands and adjustments made by turning wheels and dials. Today our production is equipped with the latest CNC machines, each with a robotic loading system and programmes created from CAD models. We make most of our parts at night without anyone on site, leaving the daytime free for the manufacturing team to focus on improving and refining what we do. The team is not more or less skilled, just differently so.

While the way we operate and the world around us have changed a lot over the past 35 years, one crucial thing has not. Our beliefs and values have remained constant, allowing our distinct culture to underpin everything we do. Of course, we are here to make money, but we also strive to be the most knowledgeable and capable company in our niche and make a difference to the lives of our customers, staff and local community. This is what has kept us going over the past 35 years and will continue to stand us in good stead for the next 35 at least.

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