The future is ITL – Q&A with Business Development Manager, Tom Ackrill

ITL Group celebrate 40 years in business in 2017, growing over the decades to become the go-to design and manufacturing partners for leading companies developing life-saving medical technology, diagnostic devices and analytical instruments.

As Tom Ackrill, ITL Group’s Business Development Manager, explains, the right decisions made since 1977 have created a perfect opportunity for ITL to fly the flag for UK plc, with overseas expansion putting the company in a great position for future growth.

How is 2017 shaping up?

I’m very happy. We’ve seem growth in all markets and have a healthy order book. With excellent prospects overseas, especially in the US, it’s a great place to be in our 40th year of business.

What sets you apart?

We differentiate a lot in that we’re not just a design company; we’re not just a service company; we’re not just consultants; we’re not just manufacturers. We do the whole thing in one place.

Secret of ITL’s success?

It’s the varied knowledge. We’re not one of those companies that does one specific thing, we can do everything. That’s not big headed, it’s the fact we’ve been here for so long.

How is ITL seen in the Med Tech sector?

We’re seen as a safe pair of hands; consistently reliable and effective; delivering to price and time. That’s where our success has come. We’re low risk and we get the job done.

Describe a typical ITL client?

Our clients range from one man start-ups to universities like Kings College, UCL, Harvard and the School of Medicine right up to companies like Bosch and Thermo-Fischer.

How does ITL stay relevant?

Whilst we’ve seen it all and done it all, we aren’t just resting on our laurels; we’re constantly going after the new, the clever, and the innovative.

Highlights of 40 years in business?

Our company timeline shows many of the products we’ve produced; world firsts in a lot of instances – from the first integrated DNA workstation to wearable heart monitors and ground-breaking cancer imaging projects.

How does being sub-contract support innovation?

If you went on to the shop floor now you’d go from small handheld hygiene monitors and point of care diagnostics to large bench tool instruments and surgical instruments. We don’t become entrenched in one part of the market. It allows us to continually learn and adapt.

What about Brexit?

The whole situation has actually done well for us. For ITL, the falling pound has made us more competitive in the US. It’s allowed us to trade with China and bring manufacturing to the UK. So far it has been a good thing for us and I hope it stays that way.

ITL and President Trump’s America First focus?

If President Trump gets his way and manufacturing offshore loses it’s appeal we’ve already got a foothold in the States that’s ready. That Made in the US badge is probably going to be pretty valuable going forward.

How to break into the China market?

Being off shore, we’re seen by many Chinese companies as this safe pair of hands. They can use us for their development work without fear of their ideas and IPs being copied. This is a really interesting market for us.

Importance of Ashford to ITL?

We can be in London within half an hour and we’re close to universities developing great technologies. Incubator hubs, like Discovery Park, are all so close to us too. For some companies that first phone call is simply because we’re up the road.

What makes ITL a good employer?

Even at 40 years of age, with 100 staff on this site alone, being with ITL is like working for a family business – albeit an increasingly internationally focused one. It’s very much, if you put in and do your bit and help out and get involved you will get rewarded.

How does ITL maintain its expertise?

Apprenticeships are a massive, massive thing for us. It’s a vital part of that internal knowledge transfer that ITL needs between engineers, that have been here up to 40 years, and those coming through.

What advice would you give the next generation?

When I was at school the expectation was very much - go to university, get a degree, go and do something in science. The truth is that a degree is not the be all and end all. For some careers it helps, but really it’s the experience that counts. Our best engineers are often those who have got an apprenticeship, learned on the job and moved up through the ranks.

What next for the MedTech sector?

There is more and more demand now for quick rapid, cost effective detection methods. This includes point of care, hand held devices. Our provenance was always in this area so the fact the market is coming full circle puts ITL in a great position.

Thinking small?

The age of enormous, great hulking bits of kit has had its day. People want small, they want rapid. There might be other challenges; the engineering is more complicated - the work involved in minituarisation is a project in itself - but if you look at the projects of 30/40 years ago compared to now, we’re on a very different path now.

Future focus?

The priority for ITL Group, as it has always been, is to find those new innovations; find those companies looking to push the envelope; get to know them; understand their needs and show them what we can do.

What is ITL’s USP?

You don’t need to do this on your own; you don’t have to hire a fleet of your own engineers that haven’t done it before. You can use us and our experience for as much or as little as you want as and when you need us.

ITL at 80?

Looking to the next 40 years, I see ITL continuing to grow with the same reputation for quality, reliability and consistency that can look after clients, wherever they are in the world with any project of any complexity and of any size. We’ll always sit at the cutting edge, but remember where we came from.

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