To succeed in today’s increasingly competitive global business landscape, manufacturers need to be able to adapt. They must be ready to observe and react to the shifting needs of customers; be able to serve the requirements of customers in different corners of the globe; be agile enough to change direction at any moment; and keep the environment front of mind in every decision.
For most businesses, their research and development function will be critical in making this a reality, driving innovation through never-ending learning and continuous improvement. At Trelleborg, it’s our Materials Team that equips us with this unique capability and provides our business with the lifeblood to innovate, to maximize new opportunities and continue to move the business forward.
A brief history
In fact, our Materials Team – in some form – has always been a key part of the business. Initially formed of three individual laboratories (physical, chemical and bonding), the team was responsible for establishing the systems, processes and formulations and compounds that would form the foundation of our company and each of our products. It wasn’t until 2003 – when Trelleborg opened its current UK site in Leicester – that the team was brought together into a single Materials Team Laboratory, supporting Trelleborg’s sister plant in Sjobo, Sweden.
For the next six years, the five-strong team would establish the common standards which guide Trelleborg’s worldwide production facilities today, including bonding systems, protective paints and plating finishes and fundamental rubber formulations. With one small, dedicated team responsible for these business-critical functions, Trelleborg was able to scale its operations to support customers across the globe, delivering consistently strong and innovative solutions that never compromise on quality and performance.
The beating heart of today’s business
Today, those standards are enabling the business to find growth in new regions, support emerging supply chains and ensure compliance with necessary regulations.
Take REACH, for instance – one of the EU’s most complex legislation's which requires the registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals. A crucial piece of legislation for any business which manufactures or imports substances in quantities over 1 tonne per annum, Trelleborg’s Materials Team is in charge of keeping the company compliant. But, recognizing the significance of the legislation in minimizing the potential impacts of chemical substances on human health and the environment, the team went one step further.
Rather than simply remain compliant through monitoring operations in the EU, Trelleborg implemented the policy company-wide. So whether chemicals are being used in operations within the EU, or outside, all chemicals used during the production process are REACH-registered. In practice, that means that customers worldwide can be confident that Trelleborg products don’t just align to the company’s own high quality standards, but are produced in-line with recognised industry standards – even in countries where legislation is less strict.
So, when a customer chooses to work with Trelleborg anywhere in the world, they can be sure they’re benefiting from the expertise of a world-class team which delivers consistent quality and performance – anywhere from America to the UK to India, and everywhere in between.
A lasting legacy
Now, for one person on the Materials Team, taking care of the materials, formulations, compounds and processes Trelleborg is built on has been more than just a job – it has been a lifetime’s work. Bill Mortel, who has been an integral part of the Materials Team since the early 1990s and headed it up since 2017, has been at the forefront of every decision which has directly contributed to the high levels of quality and service Trelleborg has become renowned for. That’s almost 30 years of innovation, of exploring the limits of what’s possible, of delivering on the individual needs of customers, of reducing vibration and making life feel better for people the world over.
With Bill now entering retirement, what’s next for the Materials Team?
Well, always dedicated to the success of Trelleborg, Bill’s already helped to implement a succession plan. Over the past 12 years, university students have joined Bill and the team for their years in industry, giving them the rare opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business. In a time when there are no longer any polymer degrees offered in the UK, Trelleborg has been able to breathe new life into the industry by helping to train up talented young people from other degrees, such as chemistry.
One member of the Materials Team, Merryn Hobbs, who undertook her placement year with the team, now works as a Research & Development Technologist at Trelleborg. Embodying the same passion that Bill has demonstrated during his career-long commitment to the industry, Merryn is currently studying for her second MSc – alongside her day job. Studying rubber fire performance including compounds, Merryn is helping to forge Trelleborg’s research and development of cutting-edge rubber compounds. With certain markets around the world requiring rubber solutions which provide effective fire resistance without detracting from their overall performance, innovation in this area is critical for the future growth and performance of the business.
So, just as the Materials Team has been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible since the very start, new generations are now carrying the torch. And with the same commitment to constant learning and innovation, they will help Trelleborg to continue to lead the way in anti-vibration solutions around the world, supporting customers to overcome their vibration-related challenges in an ever-changing and increasingly environmentally-conscious global landscape.