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Rising to the challenge

A double-web plate girder in the Jamestown fabrication facility.

Jamestown has had to quickly adapt to numerous new challenges, such as border checks, custom declarations and associated transport issues that have arisen because of Brexit.

Having prepared for new Brexit regulations before the New Year by executing several trial runs to its UK customers, Jamestown says it began 2021 smoothly with a strong order book and is now looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“In this business, we are used to dealing with challenges on an almost daily basis,” says Jamestown UK Business Development Manager Mark Stewart. “But on the back of COVID-19 and then Brexit, who could have foreseen the impact that the steel supply problems would have on each and every company working in this business?”

According to Mr Stewart, customers and suppliers alike have suffered due to almost weekly price increases and the resultant shortage of supply. No one escaped the impact of this significant challenge as businesses failed, major projects were cancelled or suffered significant delays and companies like Jamestown had to reassess how it managed its business going forwards.

Fortunately, Jamestown says its growing order book required that major materials were purchased early in the year, lessening the pressure on its purchasing team.

“That said and looking to the future, Jamestown continues to explore new steel supply sources in order to strengthen our ability to support our customers old and new,” says Jamestown General Manager Niall Fortune.

Throughout the steel sector, recruitment is becoming a constant challenge as the marketplace gets busier, and the required skills are in short supply. Jamestown has continued to build and strengthen its team as Mr Fortune explains: “It is more important than ever before to continue the recruitment process, to get staff with the necessary skills to operate both existing and new equipment as we maintain our valued investment programme.

“With a growing order book and a customer portfolio that is increasingly demanding more complex and bespoke fabricated beams and columns to keep pace with architects’ and designers’ demands for exoskeleton-type structures, showcasing steel in construction, our management team are constantly searching for better methods of manufacture.”

Columns being fabricated for a project in central London.

Complex box girder and plate girder fabrication has been a regular feature at Jamestown throughout the year. It is not uncommon for these bespoke members to be fabricated using material thicknesses of up to 100mm-thick, with complex welded joints often requiring a combination of partial penetration and full penetration welds.

The company says that recent investment in two new automatic welding machines has allowed it to have the necessary capacity to increase production of this type of work, whilst maintaining the throughput of the more standard plate girders and cellular beams.

This has increased the throughput of this type of bespoke work, while maintaining flexibility to enable smaller projects to be fast-tracked and at the same time allowing the management of varying customer deliveries, due to drawing changes and other variations.

Another recent addition to Jamestown’s extensive equipment range is a large milling machine that has enabled it to finish machine end plates and bearing surfaces on heavy columns and beams, thereby guaranteeing that the company can meet the tightest of tolerances and removing a potential subcontract step from what is generally a short lead time.

Despite the challenges that COVID-19, Brexit and the steel supply problems have brought to its door, Jamestown says it has not just risen to the challenge, but gone far beyond in using its skills and expertise to produce some outstanding pieces of work over the past few months.

This has included double and triple web plate girders, many with additional features such as internal stiffening, drilling and finish machining, all of which are a regular feature on Jamestown’s fabrication shop floor.

Items such as trusses, crane grillages, bridge structures and other more complex fabrications often require trial assembly prior to being broken down and delivered to site.

For these trial assembly procedures, Jamestown says its generous shop floor size is invaluable, while substantial laydown areas outside of the main facility are also continually in demand as client’s often want materials stored before or after fabrication.

Summing up, Mr Fortune says: “No one knows what the future holds, and, in this business, we are well accustomed to challenges and changes alike, so how do we prepare for the future?

“Further ongoing investment in our people is a priority. Our customers demand the best, not only in the quality of our products and services, but how we deal with our customers daily. Ger Dollard, Jamestown’s recently appointed Production Process Manager has quickly gained plaudits from our regular customers thus strengthening our Jamestown team.”

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