The last time I visited Edwards was around 8 years ago, when big changes were in the air and the direction of change was not entirely clear to the workforce. I encountered a vast area of empty floor space, possibly as large as a football pitch, with offices along one side, and the obvious marks of machinery which had recently been moved. That very week in 2011 all the machines which used to produce precisely engineered goods had been stripped out and sent off to the Czech Republic where production costs would be much cheaper.
On Monday this week I visited again and finally got my bearings and realised that I was in the same space, now transformed and converted into modern office spaces, a spacious canteen and separate areas for research and development containing complex machinery. All the space has been carefully designed and remodelled to cater for futuristic hi tech engineering in the modern digital age.
In the last ten years Edwards has re-grouped its workforce, previously on three sites in Crawley, Shoreham and Burgess Hill, into one global HQ on the Victoria Business Park. It has manufacturing bases in at least six countries, including Germany, Korea, The Czech Republic, Japan and China, as well as two in Britain at Eastbourne and Clevedon.
Edwards, owned by a venture capital group until 2013, has re-invented itself and is now part of a much larger business, Atlas Copco Compressors. The acquisition was completed in January 2014 and Edwards is now the Vacuum Solutions division of that global company, which employs around 33,000 people. In Burgess Hill Edwards employs around 400 staff, and another 7000 or so work for the company in other parts of the world.
Founded in South London by a physicist, FD Edwards, in 1919, the company has gone from strength to strength in providing equipment and services, in particular vacuum pumps and abatement solutions across many industries including scientific, industrial, process and research and development. It is a brilliant example of high level manufacturing based in Britain, and we are fortunate to have it as an employer in Burgess Hill.
My thanks to Viv Pettman who welcomed me and set up the visit, and to Peter Lamb, who showed me round and explained to me all the developments and the processes involved. As always, it was a pleasure to chat with them about issues ranging from employee involvement to the effects of Brexit. They seem to have created an excellent working environment for the headquarters in Burgess Hill, and they are always supportive of the BHBPA.