Keltech: ‘Surround yourself with brilliant people, and the rest takes care of itself’

The Waterford-based maker of integrated metal assemblies supplies six of the world’s ten biggest suppliers of OEMs, and is still expanding thanks to its ‘growth hacking strategy’ and investment in talent

Ray Breen, chief executive, Keltech: ‘2020 will go down as a year in which Keltech truly showed its mettle’. Picture: Patrick Browne

Keltech, the Waterford-based contract manufacturer, is in the process of expanding its premises by 40,000 square feet with the addition of cutting-edge technology and dedicated space for upskilling staff in the latest tools and methodologies.

Scheduled to enter production early next year, the new space will house a state-of-the-art robotic welding centre and 30 new welding bays, a quarter of which will be dedicated full-time to staff training and development.

Founded in 1988 by Ray Breen, its chief executive, Keltech specialises in the supply of integrated metal assemblies, in particular acoustic enclosures, fuel and hydraulic tanks, cabins and overhead guards and telecommunications cabinetry.

From its 160,000 square foot facility in Waterford Industrial Park, the homegrown manufacturer supplies six of the world’s ten largest original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of construction machinery.

The company has implemented a ‘growth hacking’ strategy, quadrupling its customer base over the past five years, according to Seamus Lawlor, its director of business development.

In that time, Keltech has entered several new overseas markets, including Germany, France, Belgium and the US, while also continuing to grow in Ireland and Britain.

“In 2014, Keltech employed 70 people. Despite the challenges posed by Covid, our workforce now stands at 250 people and growing,” Lawlor said.

“In fact, 2020 will go down as a year in which Keltech truly showed its mettle. When the world ground to a halt last year, Keltech remained open as roughly 30 per cent of our customers were classed as essential.”

With capability on-site to turn a basic sheet of steel into a finished painted product, the company pitched in to help the fight against Covid-19.

“I was watching the RTÉ news one evening when a report came on about Aer Lingus flying disposable PPE gear [into Ireland]. The sheer volume of PPE that was required got me thinking that the disposal of all this used PPE was going to be a serious problem,” Lawlor said.

“The next morning, we reached out to the HSE to offer support on the manufacture of medical waste bins and the reply was almost instantaneous.

“Globally, these bins were in huge demand for obvious reasons and their procurement had been a real pain point for all countries in the war against the coronavirus.”

Having never manufactured the product before, and with a short lead time, the task at hand was considerable.

Within just one week, however, Keltech’s engineering team had developed its first working prototype and the first medical waste bin was ready for serial production soon afterwards.

This kind of adaptability and flexibility has been the cornerstone of Keltech’s success over the past 30 years, according to Breen.

“Over a two-week period, we produced and delivered several thousand medical waste bins to hospitals and care centres all over the country,” he said.

Eighteen months on from the start of the pandemic in Ireland, Keltech’s core business has well and truly recovered. “In fact, we are busier than ever before,” Breen said, and this growth comes as no surprise to him.

A fitter by trade, he started Keltech 33 years ago from his garden shed in Kilmurry, Slieverue.

“My strategy has always been simple: surround myself with brilliant people with a strong work ethic, and the rest takes care of itself,” he said.

“The brand continues to go from strength to strength. Our pipeline of potential new business has never been stronger and, with the current investment in our people and plant, we are targeting a further 50 per cent growth as part of our Towards 2025 strategy.”