At Langtec, tubular sells

Langtec is on a roll. The specialist tube maker is celebrating a century of successful trading that has seen its industry-leading products sold around the world.

From its manufacturing operation in Altham it supplies a massive range of industries, from aerospace to communications and welding to pyrotechnics.

The company exports 80 per cent of its electrical and thermal insulating tubes, with the USA its main overseas market.

Today the business is firmly embedded in East Lancashire, supporting a host of community activities. However, it has only been based here for 30 of its 100 years, moving north from Crawley.

And it actually began life in Southwark in south London, buying ceramic tiles from Marseille and selling them all over what was the British Empire.

Managing director Andrew Turner joined the business when it made its move to Lancashire. Originally an accountant he was part of a management buy-out two decades ago.

Andrew, 59, a native of Darwen, is the last of the four members of that buy-out team in the business and has spearheaded its overseas development.

He says: “When I started in the business, we had a niche product and Egypt was our biggest market.

“Things have really changed since then. Around 15 years ago we had the opportunity to work with an agent in Chicago and that opened up the US in a big way.”

Other territories followed and today Langtec exports to around 30 countries and has two Queen’s Awards for its international trade excellence. 

Andrew has Asia Pacific and Japan in his sights as that drive continues. He believes the business has a successful sales strategy based on forging strong links and relationships with agents on the ground in the countries it sells to.

We have products that
are needed around the
world. We are specialists
in what we do

“We’ve one agent in France we have been working with for 20 years now,” he adds. “That’s something I’m really proud of.”

Langtec has a 46-strong workforce making a whole range of tubes out of a variety of composite materials - glass, paper, cotton and mica impregnated with various resin systems used in high-temperature and electrical insulation.

What they produce is used in a wide variety of ways and can be found in military and commercial aircraft as well on shop floors in various manufacturing processes. The Shannon class lifeboats used by the RNLI contain a Langtec-made part.

Andrew says: “We have products that are needed around the world. We are specialists in what we do.

“We’re one of only two companies in Britain that can roll tubes out of mica and only a handful in the world.”

But how did a business that started selling French tiles to the building trade end up as a globally-recognised tube maker?

Andrew explains. “The Second World War impacted dramatically on the original business. The then directors contacted every British Embassy asking for suggestions for products or materials it could deal in.

“The suggestion came back from India that there was an opportunity to use mica as insulation. The company ran with it and as they say the rest is history.”

Langtec’s skill is such that the specialist tube rolling machines it uses are designed and developed in-house and are continually evolving.

Andrew says: “We are the smallest international player; our competitors are some very large businesses with a host of divisions. We just deal in composite tubes.

“What we have is flexibility and agility and the ability to move quickly. We can deliver fast and at a price our customers are happy with and we haven’t got the overheads of our bigger competitors. We are a pretty slick operation.”

Looking beyond Langtec’s centenary, which has been marked with a celebration at Accrington Town Hall, he talks of “more of the same” for the business.

He adds: “What makes Langtec so good is its people. We have people who have been with us for years.

“We are all in it together and come together to make the company what it is. I really love what we do.”

Andrew’s initial involvement with the company wouldn’t have happened had its owner not decided to up sticks from Crawley and its base near Gatwick Airport three decades ago.

Why did the business move to Lancashire? Andrew says: “I’ve no idea why and I never did get to the bottom of it. I’m just happy it did.

“We’re a Lancashire business now and we’re proud of where we are and of what we have achieved.”