"I look back and I'm really proud of what's been achieved"
After over 46 years of working at Chem Resist, our longest serving employee Ian Guest (pictured here with Simon and Odelle Hewitt and Seamus Quinn) is retiring on 25th February 2021. We talk to him about some of his memories and achievements since starting in August 1974.
“My working life actually began with 9 years at Resinform, which is where I used to work before I came here, and the move was all down to my mother really.
"My mother was friends with Mrs Armitage and one day they got talking about me and Arthur (Mr Armitage), she used to say he was always at work sorting out problems. At the time I was just about to get married and I needed a better job, so through my mother and Mrs Armitage, I received a message for me to go and meet Mr Armitage.
“I went to see him and he offered me the job of running fabrication for him, which included the use of a van and I accepted. At that stage it was very small, as Mr Armitage was really just starting out selling pipes, fittings and sheet and then customers started asking him if he could make things out of the plastic, which he’d tried but that’s where he’d run into some issues.
“So, in August 1974, Mr Armitage and I began working together, I taught Mr Armitage everything I knew and brought a lot of ideas. Initially we set up a workshop in the garage of a large house, which was called Britannia House. It was just the two of us and Mr Armitage used to come into the workshop and say, “Can we make this? And this?” and he’d give me a drawing which in those days was always on the back of a cig packet.
“I could see that Mr Armitage’s speciality was dealing with customers and making sales, so I suggested we get an apprentice. Our first apprentice Andrew Garforth joined and became known as ‘Old Man Garforth’, he wasn’t old but got the name because of his moustache which made him look much older than he actually was. I’ve always worked with our apprentices and trained new fabricators, passing my knowledge on. I don’t mind telling anyone how to do it, I’ll tell them the right way and a quicker way, I’ve passed my knowledge onto loads of people.
Dave Turver, Production Manager comments, “Ian’s knowledge and experience has been a great help and asset to the company for many years now. His advice for our new members of staff and our apprentices over the years has been extremely valuable, not just for the company but for each individual’s skill set and development.
“Members of our workforce are still asking Ian’s advice to this day, including myself. One recent instance was a job we did for a company in Ethiopia, where we had to load the tanks into sealed containers, something I had not come across before. Ian on the other hand had, we had some archive photos of Ian loading some similar tanks to be shipped abroad. So, I asked Ian for his input on this issue, the loading procedure went perfectly and I learned something new too.”
Ian remembers how manufacturing at Chem Resist has changed, “In 1975, Mr Armitage got an order for a big cylindrical tank, which was 6ft diameter and 6ft high which only just fit in the garage. It was the first time we started putting skins together, because one skin by itself would not work due to the expansion at the base so we had to build it up in layers which was hard work in the garage because of the limited space.
“We needed a bigger workspace, so we moved to Butt End Mills, which was an old blanket mill on the side of the river. More work was coming in and we took on more people and had a fabrication team of 4. That’s when Mr Armitage’s daughter Kate got together with Seamus (Quinn, Chairman at Chem Resist), Mr Armitage came to me and asked if there’d be a place for him, learning from the bottom. So, Seamus joined as a trainee and I taught him the different aspects of the job and how to weld. As time went by, we knew he was more office material so he concentrated on building the technical and administration side of the business.
“The business was getting bigger and we were building bigger tanks which we then struggled to lift and get out the door as we didn’t have lifting gear. We were really busy and Mr Armitage used to often come and say, “Do you fancy a bit of overtime Ian?” He’d cost work up at overtime rates and every time he’d want something quick. We have put silly hours in over the years, working until 12 o’clock at night and Seamus has come and brought everyone fish and chips to help get the jobs out.
“We needed more space again, so the land where we are now at Lock Way was bought. There was nothing here, just the plot of land so the offices and the fabrication workshop were built first. These were really exciting times and we brought the name, ‘Britannia House’ with us.
“Tank fabrication at this time was still all sheet but Seamus wanted to go bigger, which meant either going thicker or using a completely different method. So, we bought an old extruding machine, kind of a mini version of what we have today and we began experimenting. We trialled a few things, Seamus was in his element, one idea gave us perfect results and then Seamus worked with Cambridge University on ways to improve the process.
“We needed another building to accommodate the new manufacturing method, initially using the old machine which we then sent to the Czech Republic and invested in new equipment for here. This meant we could build bigger and bigger tanks and we got more and more people too.”
Ian adds, “I’m looking forward to retiring and spending more time at our caravan at the East Coast, but when I look back and I’m really proud of what’s been achieved. To say we started off in the garage and now there’s a turnover in the millions. We’ve always overcome everything, there’s nothing that we haven’t. My biggest achievement though in my time at Chem Resist are the heat exchangers, Seamus and I designed.”
Seamus explains, “When I joined in 1976 our fabrication workshop had 4 members and ‘big Ian’ was the person with all the practical plastics knowledge.
“We worked together on all the significant projects that Chem Resist took on and in 1994 we were asked to prototype an all-thermoplastic Sulphuric Acid Dilution Unit which used to be built in traditional materials such as lined steel, lead and carbon. Everything was available in plastic except the Heat Exchanger.
“We needed bundles of 400 small tubes that the acid could flow through to be cooled. Ian & I used a new infrared welding technique to weld all these tubes together and Ian developed a technique and built a frame to complete the welding that we use today. It’s a testament to Ian’s skill that 2021 sees our replacement of that first Dilution Unit 27 years later.”
Simon Hewitt, MD at Chem Resist adds, “As an SME specialising in a relatively niche technology, individual contributions are absolutely essential. Over time, skills and experience are developed that you can’t buy, but only come with doing the hard yards on the job. Ian has always done the hard yards and never backed anyway from the challenges we set in order to drive the company forward. If you couple that with reliability and immense loyalty, both of which form part of your personal value system then you have your perfect partner. Ian has been that perfect partner, the “go-to man” for 46 years. Thankfully Ian’s character has never been ‘high and mighty’, and he has always been keen to show how it’s done, and by imparting his knowledge and enthusiasm he has really influenced the progress of the business. For this, I and everyone who has worked here and who does so in the future will be forever grateful.”