Oxford-based Intertronics is one of the great success stories in the adhesives business. Here, founder Peter Swanson answers a few of our questions: be prepared for some interesting surprises
When was Intertronics established, and what was the reason for the launching of the business?
Peter Swanson: I established the company, straight out of university, over 40 years ago. I had a mathematics and law degree, but didn’t want to practice law, and I didn’t want to continue on with further education. I had a hankering for being my own boss, so I just started a business.
What was the first product in the Intertronics portfolio?
I started out selling replacement soldering iron tips. In those days, there were electronics manufacturing companies in the UK with hundreds of operators doing manual soldering. The tips wore out, and I was able to offer a competitive third party product. My customers were making TVs, VCRs and pagers.
Has the direction of the business taken any unexpected turns?
We built up the business reasonably well, having started with no money and no experience. By the year 2000, we had a good product portfolio targeted at printed circuit board assembly, and our customers had developed into manufacturers of mobile phones and large CEMs who did volume assembly. But soon that market changed substantially, as all our major customers moved from the UK to Eastern Europe and China; this shift was replicated in most of Western Europe and the USA, and it was both swift and unpredicted.
This predicated a rejig of our strategy - we focussed hard on our adhesives products, did some rebranding, and looked to other market segments in order to get back on a growth path. Electronics in all its breadth is still our largest market, but medical device manufacturing is now a strong second. We have presence in many technology manufacturing companies, including aerospace, automotive, energy and optics.
The adhesives market seems well served: how did Intertronics manage to gain a foothold in the first place, and to become what it is today?
We ran an internal roundtable on this, and published a paper entitled What Makes a Good Adhesives Partner? from the output. A partnership is a relationship where the partner adds value, as opposed to transactionally supplying materials or equipment. It is inherently long term — more about achieving customer results than selling products. Our people, culture and attitude are central to establishing a partnership. To be able to collaborate effectively and get results, partnerships must be founded on shared understanding and trust. Fundamentally, our company values underpin the whole relationship. Our Intertronics values are to grow, by taking advantage of learning opportunities, to collaborate openly to earn trust and effect measurable results, to empower our people to listen, take ownership and deliver positive outcomes, and to respond quickly.
Does Intertronics provide any facilities to help with customer evaluations and tests?
Our Technology Centre in Kidlington is a popular destination for our customers. The laboratory area is custom-designed for hands-on demonstrations and trials of our range of materials - and dispensing, curing, mixing, surface preparation, and other equipment. The discussion area with AV facilities enables effective knowledge transfer in a comfortable environment with plenty of tea and coffee on-hand. We even have a place for you to charge your car. Visiting a partner’s facility can mean the customer doesn’t have to spend hours looking through a full product range on the website or browsing brochures. Our visitors often leave inspired, for example, thinking about how they could apply the technology in different way, or with a different product than they first expected.
What do you say to an engineer who asks why they should deal with you rather than a multinational?
Engineers often come to us because they aren’t happy with the responsiveness they are getting from a multinational. We are very passionate about what we do, and that shows. Every new application which comes in is a fascinating puzzle, with many variables to consider. Providing the optimal material and process to a customer is very rewarding: on an intellectual level, on a commercial level and on an emotional level. There is not much better than knowing you have been an enabling part of a new technology which can go on to give great societal benefits. It’s the why we do what we do that drives us and gives us credibility.
Do you see the use of adhesives as a complement to mechanical fastening or a replacement for it?
The advantages of bonding over mechanical fastening have been well documented, including stress distribution, weight reduction, and process automation. Future challenges to bonding include stricter regulatory regimes for chemicals. But in our world, many applications just don’t have the size or geometry to allow mechanical fastening. The use of liquid adhesives, sealants or gaskets is very open to robot application. Our customers are finding the ability to apply and cure these materials on one piece of automation is a very compelling benefit.
So what is the outlook for Intertronics?
Our business plan is based on continued double digit growth. Our customers are in innovative or growth sectors, so we will continue to be innovative and grow with them. To do this, we have to listen intently to them - we take every opportunity to learn about our world, our customers, and our staff, and keep our knowledge current. We focus on supplying products that offer repeatability, quality, and consistency from partners who share our values. My job is to keep employing and mentoring great people who want to participate in the vision for our business.