Celebrating 30 years of giving our all

Last month sees CET celebrating its 30th anniversary. While I haven’t quite been here since it all began, I’ve now been here longer than anyone else. This time of year is usually spent planning for the future, but I thought I might make a little time to take a retrospective look back at what the company has achieved since 1988.

We’ve gone through a few identity changes over the years, NDT Flexitec became CET Flexitec, then CET Group, which became CET Safehouse and then CET Structures. But what’s in a name? The important thing is we’ve maintained the CET ethos of “giving our all” and held to the values represented by CET: commitment, expertise and teamwork.

The company was very much in its infancy when I joined, it’s safe to say that things have definitely changed over the years. When I started in 1991 we employed a handful of technicians, now we have close to 400 employees. When CET started, a lot of people were expected to wear a lot of different hats. We now have teams of specialists delivering services across a broad portfolio. What I remember most about those days was that we all worked hard and played hard, so, I guess not everything has changed!

It’s not only CET that has changed dramatically in the past 30 years, so has the construction industry. It’s become more tightly regulated and has struggled in recent years to attract new talent. The recession at the beginning of the millennium hit the industry hard and it is now feeling the effects of a skills shortage. The thing is, people don’t generally grow up wanting to be materials specialists, professional footballers, yes but not technicians or engineers. It’s also unlikely your careers adviser at school will suggest a future that involves testing soil, doing plate bearings or crushing cubes.

But here’s the thing, Materials Testing is not a good career it’s a great one. I started out as a technician myself, all those years ago. You don’t need a master’s degree in geophysics or structural engineering, you just need to be motivated and willing to work hard. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work for a company like CET that will help you grow as an individual as it grows as a business.

From its humble beginnings, CET has grown to become a centre of excellence for materials testing in the UK. We expanded during the 1990’s; opening the Wolvey facility and acquiring RM Brown Ltd, a company that specialised in site investigations. This was the beginning of our professional services division, which offered geotechnical and environmental services, drainage and subsidence investigations.

Since the turn of the millennium CET has continued to expand, through a combination of organic growth and acquisition. We opened new sites in Scotland, London and Heathrow and we added Construction Testing Solutions and Omega Calibration (now CET Calibration) to the family.

Sustainable growth is an essential part of our future development. However, we are just as focused on improving what we already do. Technology is a great enabler and it has played an important role in our recent service development.

There’s an app for everything, and materials testing is no exception. CETi is a revolutionary service within the industry; providing customers with access to our test management portal via an intuitive web interface.

We have seen a revolution in the use of non-destructive testing methods and the miniaturisation of equipment that allows tests to be carried out in places we never would have thought possible. As the business continues to grow, we will continue to seek ways in which we can use technology to improve outcomes for both customers and employees.

Of course, there is still a lot of manual process involved in what we do. After all, we dig a lot of holes and we crush a lot of cubes. That’s why we’ve also invested in implementing Lean process management principles across the organisation. CET can now offer 5-day turnaround on a wide variety of laboratory based tests and same day reporting on site testing.

Lean is frequently defined in terms of the five S’s: Sort, Set, Shine, Standardise and Sustain. But it’s really rooted in common sense. It’s about process efficiency; whether analysing existing workflows, identifying “pinch-points” or eliminating barriers to performance optimisation.

Having said that, it is important to never lose sight of one thing. At the heart of it, we are a people business. 30 years of success is down to the commitment, expertise and teamwork of everyone that works for CET. Congratulations to everyone that has been a part of the journey so far.