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How Amann is shaping all of our tomorrows

Group draws on rich heritage as it looks to the future

Dave Sweeton talks to the leaders, movers and shakers across the borough’s business world in our new podcast series ‘Tameside Talks Business’. In the series Dave spotlights The Amann Group, a global player and leader in technology with a collective  turnover of some 230m Euros and a worldwide workforce of 2,600 employees.

The group produces high-quality sewing and embroidery threads used in a vast array of products across the textile industry and construction fields.

Amann’s UK production site is based right here in Tameside, at Guide Mills in Guide Bridge to be precise. Itself one of the oldest textile manufacturing companies in the country, today the site’s expertise is providing sewing threads for the automotive industry. You might be astonished to learn that in 2019, the company produced more than 40 per cent of all the thread used to assemble vehicle airbags - right here on our doorsteps.

In the second of our Tameside Talks Business Podcasts, Dave threads together the remarkable heritage and history behind the group, and the technologically ground-breaking advances it’s product developments provide across the world today.

To find out the fascinating history, it’s remarkable work and plans for the future as one of the key employers in our area, Dave speaks with David Johnston, Managing Director and Toni Pilling, Head of HR from the Amann Group in Guide Bridge.

How long is a piece of string? In The Amann group’s case exactly 170 years following its founding in Bönnigheim, a small village in Germany, in 1854.

Established by Alois Amann and Immanuel Böhringer, string wasn’t actually their concern, but silks, the company manufacturing twined and dyed silks.

At that time silk was a precious material that was difficult to obtain and professionally processing it into silk threads considered a supreme discipline. Amann and Böhringer were pioneers in Europe of an exacting art that had few imitators.

Employing 12 women thread-makers and using donkeys and oxen to power their machines, little could the two have imagined that the Amann Group would grow into the worldwide force it is today.

The Tameside thread of the story can be traced all the way back to the 19th Century too, with the founding of Oxley Threads in Guide Bridge in 1870. Today, the site boasts 154 years of continuous operation, producing a wide variety of sewing threads for different industrial uses.

Across the decades the Amann Group has expanded across Europe and into Asia, including China, Bangladesh, India and Vietnam, with Oxley Threads acquired by the group in 2008, constantly developing and diversifying in the creation of world-leading threads and breaking new ground in sewing thread technologies.

David Johnstone explains: “We have 2,600 employees as a group with a turnover of about 230 million Euros, but here in the UK our focus for the last 20 years has been principally on making sewing threads for the automotive industry. 

“We incorporate the passenger safety systems, airbags, seating and trims, but our area of competency and expertise has been with airbags and in 2019 the company was producing more than 40 per cent of all the thread that was used to assemble airbags.”

David says the group is a proud custodian of its long heritage and industrial legacy, including right here in Tameside, but that still entwines with the modern production processes needed today.

He also explains how that heritage remains inextricably woven into the modern production processes of today, including on the factory floor of a mill that was first built more than a century and-a-half ago.

“We don’t like people to judge us by the exterior of a building that was erected almost 200 years ago,” he says. 

“We want to show what is possible on the inside, using modern management practices, getting good alignment across our lines, the cleanliness and housekeeping which also really make Amann Thread UK a great place to work.” 

He praises the generations of the Oxley family who had the vision and foresight to identify that, as China got into the World Trade Organisation and then Vietnam, you couldn’t competitively produce threads in the UK and so diversifying into the automotive industry was a clever strategy.

“They had identified a niche market and that was a good fit with Amann in 2008 and it worked brilliantly for both parties… Amann wanting to expand their global footprint with an established premier sewing thread manufacturer... that was how we have been competitive in the UK through that level of differentiation and specialism, but also having the productivity, focus and mindset of continuous improvement and lean manufacturing. 

“You look around the UK and you still have over one million cars being produced, so it is something we are very proud of. 

“We make threads for all other applications too - footwear, luxury leather and as a group we bring in threads for embroidery. Whatever application, whether its mattress and bedding, the aero-nautical industry, or furniture, we have a thread for every end use, including smart yarns with conductive capabilities.”

In the podcast David also shares his remarkable and utterly fascinating background in an industry that has taken him literally all around the world and back again over the decades.

This included a brave move to Asia, learning not only a new culture but language too, completely immersing himself in another country and providing him with totally unique skill set as Amann reached out to him to return to the UK.

For the future he adds: “Post Covid, when everything changed in the world… it’s great to be back with an incredible team of people. The ethos that we have and the leadership style and can-do attitude that is so evident in every department - it’s wonderful to be part of the transformation.

“The company has to become more agile, our product base is diversifying,” he says.

“Previously, for the past two decades we have been very much dependent on the passenger safety side with airbag thread, but we are going to diversify now into all the other automotive components with everyone on our customer base from Rolls-Royce to everyone in the UK, so this is a very exciting industry to be part of.

“To see the reinvigoration of the site, to see the product base diversify gives us a much more balanced portfolio and gives us the opportunity to embrace a lot of new technologies.”

As well as the issues of the pandemic, David explains how the business has faced too the challenges of Brexit, the war in Ukraine and subsequent energy crisis, the cost of living crisis,  interest rate rises and double digit inflation. Working together to find solutions and overcome those challenges has led to the business becoming stronger, looking to the future now with great optimism.

As head of HR, Toni explains her crucial role in the development of the most important part of the business - its people, with the Guide Bridge site having a predominantly locally-based workforce of more than 240.

Toni sees her role as assisting in the development of a business where people really want to work, where they look after each other and are well supported.

“We are a very forward-thinking business in terms of ensuring our people have all the right support networks in place,” she explains. 

“We have invested a lot of time and money in the last 12 months on educating managers around mental health issues, and making sure that employees understand how they can help colleagues… the leaders in our business understand… they listen and our people are involved and have a voice.”

With exciting development plans for the future, the group will be looking to expand its workforce locally.

“We employ 242 people at our Guide Bridge site, and we will be actively recruiting in the local area,” reveals Toni.

“Our production team are locally based and we will be reaching out to bring in the expertise to build on the experienced team that we already have.

“We will be looking for production roles… we’ve recently recruited in engineering and we may be looking at support in terms of quality. It can take up to six months to train people to gain the skill set to operate the machinery safely, which is our priority.”

The business is entwined within the local community too. The group is working closely with the local authority around wellbeing, with Be Well Tameside for health checks and Tameside College to explore apprenticeships. It is also engaging with schools to bring different age groups into the workplace to share and educate the next generation about what they do and career opportunities on offer.

“Tameside Council have been fantastic and we continue to partner with them on opportunities to improve and educate employees on what is available,” adds Toni.

“People see a building and have no idea what is happening on the inside... but what is happening is amazing.”

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