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Independent.ie

Saturday 21 October 2017

John Shirley: Burnside's excellence born from producing quality goods on time

Carlow engineers a functioning success

John Shirley

Over the years I've attended a number of agri shows across Europe. More than once when a stand holder learned that I was from Carlow, I was asked if I knew Paddy Byrne of Burnside Engineering.

"He's a neighbour's child," was my reply.

Next we would examine a hydraulic cylinder ram on the stand-holder's machine. Sure enough; there was the Burnside logo.

The stand holder then gave Burnside and Paddy Byrne a glowing reference.

"An excellent company to do business with, their hydraulic cylinders are world class. If Paddy Byrne says that the goods will be delivered on Wednesday, they will arrive on Wednesday."

There are few machines today that do not have at least one hydraulic cylinder ram. Across Europe, and increasingly across the rest of the world, many of these cylinders are manufactured by the low-profile but high-achieving Carlow-based firm.

The Byrne and Burnside story began back in 1974 when four brothers, Paddy, Jimmy, Tom and Anthony, from a small farm in Graignaspidogue, Co Carlow set up a business making hydraulic cylinder rams.

All were working locally. Paddy, in his late 30s at the time, was technical manager with Armer Salmon in the Irish Sugar Company and the other three were with Keenan Brothers in Bagenalstown.

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The greatest contribution a person can make to his/her community is to provide jobs. This the Byrnes have done big time. At a time of great challenge in the Irish economy the Burnside Group businesses in Tullow, Carlow and Bagenalstown are providing more than 500 jobs and growing at up to 10pc a year. This is more than twice the workforce of Irish Sugar in Carlow in the years before its closure.

In addition, there are another five related micro businesses under the Byrne umbrella, plus work is subcontracted to several other engineering businesses in the Carlow area. As far as I could ascertain, the turnover of the group is heading towards €100m.

In 1998, with another generation of Byrnes getting involved in the business, Burnside assets were split among the bothers and Burnside Autocyl, Burnside Hydrocyl and Burnside Eurocyl were established.

All the companies manufacture hydraulic cylinders. Each has its own customers but they will compete against each other for new business.

Eighty-five percent of their produce is exported. Germany is the biggest market within Europe, but business is expanding to the US and Japan.

Why are the Byrnes surviving and even thriving in this competitive world when so many businesses are not?

I'm no expert in this field but from a visit to the seven-acre site (four acres of which is under cover) at Burnside Autocyl Tullow Ltd, and from speaking to people doing business with the Byrnes, some pointers emerged.

In his quiet, unassuming way, Paddy Byrne, in addition to being an expert mechanically, is a good people person and has vision and flair. In order to communicate better with his customers he learned German, French and Spanish in his 50s and later years.

Rather than going for mass conveyor belt production, Burnside has targeted specialist customers. They will work with each customer in designing hydraulic cylinders which are then produced under contract.

As well as making the product to the highest specification and finish, Burnside has an excellent record of delivering on time.

The factories are organised into production cells, each of which is individually assessed and costed. A bonus arrangement is in place for high performance. Much of the staff training is done within the company but engineering and design graduates are also hired in. Robots are used for the routine mechanical processes in the plant.

This formula has helped Burnside to develop business with some of the world's top names in farm machinery, in forklifts and in the growing outlets for hydraulic cylinders.

The second and third generations of Byrnes are now taking over the business and the signs are that the companies continue to prosper in new hands. In Tullow, Paddy's son Pat is company boss, while daughter Caroline (another linguist) heads up sales.

Paddy Byrne said that the companies were hit badly in 2007. The world was simply overstocked with machinery and demand just flopped for about two years.

Burnside responded by shedding around 30pc of its workforce. Since then all have been rehired and more along with them.

In the early years the Sugar Company was a useful customer for Burnside and Paddy Byrne was also grateful for the moral support of the sugar firm CEO Maurice Sheehy.

So even though Irish Sugar is no longer in existence, at least its legacy lives on in the number of agri engineering businesses that have been established in the Carlow area.

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