Q&A with John Smith
Smith Brothers Contracting Ltd was established in 1999 – in fact, we celebrate our 20th birthday later this month – but the company has been around much longer, with Richard and John Smith having worked as sole traders in the early days. After being named as ‘contractor of the month’ by Electrical Times, founding partner John Smith spoke to the magazine to share his thoughts on what makes our company so successful. In case you missed it, you can catch up below. **
Before they established their own company, brothers John and Richard worked on a wide variety of high voltage projects throughout the UK and overseas. Over time, as they received more and more work, the pair set up Smith Brothers Contracting Ltd. In 2011 they received their ICP accreditation, which opened the doors for competition in the connections market, and the rest – they say – is history.
What do you think has been the key to your success?
We spend a lot of time developing the projects before work starts on site.
Taking that time to understand the intricacies of a project from start-to-finish instils the confidence that we will deliver the client’s vision within their allocated budget and timescale.
Over the years, we have trained and developed a highly skilled team of electrical jointers, wiremen and fitters, not to mention commissioning engineers, back-office staff, estimators and project coordinators – all of whom play an important role in the success of the company.
In order to cement our position as one of the country’s leading high voltage electrical contractors, we’ve worked hard to uphold a series of industry standards. We have an enviable health and safety record thanks to robust training for all personnel and the achievement of numerous independent accreditations. We’re also ISO 9001, 14001 and 18001 certified, but in truth this acts only as a minimum benchmark, with many of our practices exceeding relevant British Standards and codes of practice.
As a result of these factors, we see a significant amount of repeat business, along with a healthy flow of new enquiries.
Tell us about some of the notable clients within the Smith Brothers portfolio
We’re delighted to work with each and every one of our clients. We work with all distribution network operators, and some of the more well-known names and projects we’ve been a part of recently include Lightsource BP, REG Power Management, and United Utilities.
Recently, we were named by Arlington Energy to act as the preferred EPC provider for its forthcoming 1GW UK portfolio of energy storage and gas peaker projects. We have already been given the go ahead on the first two projects, totalling 60MW, with construction underway.
You don’t only look after new connections, but offer proactive, preventative maintenance too – why is this so important?
Smith Brothers’ offers a range of flexible maintenance agreements for all its clients. Maintenance and condition monitoring plays a vitally important role in ensuring the safe, cost-efficient and uninterrupted operation of power distribution systems. It’s also needed to comply with current regulations and legislation, but also to minimise the risks associated with network failure.
Downtime and the risk of damage to equipment can be extremely expensive and, in most cases, avoidable with a regular maintenance regime. The potential for personal injury is also a major factor in ensuring equipment is always maintained to a good standard.
The frequency of maintenance and inspection is variable dependant on the type of equipment, its age and condition, and the frequency of operation. We would recommend time-based preventative maintenance based on intrusive maintenance is carried out initially followed by condition inspections in subsequent years.”
What was your highlight from 2018?
Smith Brothers were appointed as the Independent Connection Provider (ICP) on a project for Saint-Gobain – Europe’s leading flat glass producer - upgrading all the HV system and handling the electrical and civil engineering works to link the facility into the local distribution network.
Following an eight-month turnkey scheme of works – from initial design through to final commissioning – the team was tasked with replacing the previous private-wire system and conducting essential network reinforcements. This entailed the construction of two 66kV outdoor substations – one private and one contestable – along with the required cabling works and installation of two parallel-fed 20MVA transformers along the route between the compounds. The engineers additionally established an 11kV substation and control room, and installed all associated electrical and protective equipment.
What do you think is central to your success?
We are one of only a few, true family companies within our sector and we look after and train our staff in order to ensure they stay with us for a long time.
We are committed to nurturing the skills of our team, who in turn ensure the safe and professional execution of every job.
This ethos doesn’t only apply to current staff. Smith Brothers is keen to encourage new talent and do so via our popular apprenticeship scheme.
We’ve had people from 16 years old, all the way to 50+. Usually, we will hire someone for 12 months and work out where their particular strengths lie – which can sometimes be in areas they may not have considered.
Once they’ve been with us for a year, we’ll place them in a role which plays to their skillset, and provide training in any areas they may wish to develop.
What are your ambitions for the rest of 2019?
Of course, we’d like to continue to grow the business further, and we are also eager to retain several of the large, blue-chip clients we regularly work with.
In addition, we’re keen to continue to expand our engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) offering, as well as further our reputation in Ireland – where we already have an office – once everything is in place with the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).