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A new start for soft-start pioneer, Fairford

01 February, 2006

A new start for soft-start pioneer, Fairford

Fairford Electronics, the soft-start manufacturer, has been bought by another Devon company, the Crown Graphic Group, which plans to invest in the company and develop new products "to restore Fairford to its rightful position as the world`s leader in motor starting and energy optimisation".

Totnes-based Crown, which makes recording charts and pens, bought Fairford for an undisclosed sum from the Italian company SIEI Peterlongo (which also owned the SIEI drives business before selling it to Gefran in 2003). Crown`s managing director, Julian Tope, says that Fairford has been "pottering along at around breakeven," but he does not regard the venture as a high risk. "What Fairford needs is a new approach and some new products," he says.

Tope admits that Crown`s move into the soft-start market is "a total lateral jump". He explains that his company`s traditional products are gradually being replaced by new recording technologies so, although Crown has been gaining market share from its rivals, it has also been looking to diversify.

Tope came across Fairford because the two companies shared a bank manager and both were being advised by the local Business Link. Although Crown and Fairford operate in different sectors, both export about 80% of their production and both sell business-to-business. Tope is confident that by applying Crown`s business practices to Fairford, and by expanding its portfolio, he will at least double its turnover.

"The time has come to move into newer products with growth potential," says Tope. "Fairford invented the digital soft-starter and has an excellent reputation internationally. We plan to invest in marketing activity and the development of additional products, with a focus on energy saving."

Fairford`s 16 staff will stay at its Kingsbridge site and Tope plans to recruit extra sales and production staff. He says he is committed to UK manufacturing.

About half of Fairford`s business at present comes from brand-labelling for OEMs. Tope plans to maintain this business, but also to expand Fairford`s own-brand offering. The aim is to develop niche products, not to compete in the volume market.

Fairford Electronics was founded in 1979 with the aim of developing a digital optimiser for fixed-speed induction motors, based on a NASA-developed technology for improving motor efficiency by cutting magnetisation losses. By 1982, when Fairford started to sell its first products, the optimiser had become the first digital three-phase soft-starter with automatic energy optimisation.

Fairford`s recent products include a non-optimising range of soft-starts, designed to replace star/delta starters.

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