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Kentec turns 30! The story behind the scenes

1985, the year the first British mobile phone call was made, we were all obsessed with Rubik’s cubes and Marty Mcfly travelled back to 1955 in a time travelling Delorean. Before you start getting all nostalgic and digging out your neon leg warmers and jumping in your time machines, think back to what you were actually doing on a cold morning of November 1st in 1985.  Doc and Marty, Ray King and Robert Jefferys were sitting in a freezing cold ex chicken shed at a farm in Staplehurst, Kent. This is where Kentec Electronics was born and where some of the early panels were built and Ray and Robert were the only employees.

An extract from the original business plan demonstrates that the original aims were realised quite faithfully:

  • “The new company is being formed to primarily design, manufacture and market electronic control equipment.
  • It is known that there is a need not only for “off the shelf” standard products but there is a shortage of companies manufacturing quality special equipment to meet the needs of individual customer’s requirements.
  • The company will initially employ approximately eight people including directors
  • It is envisaged that the company will venture into store enamelling and silk screening. This will require at least two further employees”

Roll forward to spring 1986 where Unit 25 in Dartford Trade Park was available. It seemed like a gamble at the time for a company with limited means but Kentec went for it. It was little more than a warehouse and an office but we still exist here today. 1986 is also the year Kentec’s longest serving employee Damon Clark joined as a panel builder and today he builds panels within the Specials department of Kentec. Kentec only employed seven people when Damon first joined but today we employ over 170! As you can imagine, Damon has seen plenty with his 29 years at Kentec and he recalls the time when the factory was empty, they had the ability to play football in there but the game was short lived as fellow employee Vinny Cassamassa went to kick the ball and ended up kicking his shoe through the ceiling. He also remembers how Ray organised 5- a side tournaments on the grass opposite our unit which was all good fun for Kentec staff.

A few years went by and Kentec continued to grow by employing more staff and growing their customer base. Ray and Robert used a cheeky tactic of visiting companies with logos already on the panels but this worked and we still work with some of the customers today. As a result of the expanding customer base, Kentec found themselves running out of space so took over the next unit in our block, Unit 26 and brought the previously sub-contracted silk screen operation in house.

The turn of the decade saw the first addressable range of control panels compatible with Hochiki detectors and devices, this new technology helped Kentec to penetrate the market. Kentec’s rise in the industry wasn’t met without hard work by the employees and small but meaningful rewards by Ray King himself. Nigel Harpur or “Boutros” as he was known by Ray recalls the time he used to work in the specials department when he first started working life at Kentec. Kentec had a big job that staff were working on in the factory and Ray promised to make it worth his while if Nigel completed this job before the end of the night. The clock was ticking and Ray who liked to keep an eye on “his children” reminded Nigel that a reward could be coming his way. 10pm struck and the job was finally complete which meant that young Boutros anticipated his reward from Mr King. Cruising along the M20 in the Lexus, Boutros wondered what was coming his way and in true Ray fashion instead of giving Nigel his monetary reward he pulled the car in to the nearest curry house and told Nigel to get himself a curry! Having started in Specials, Nigel is now Head of Materials which recognises our theory of promoting from within, hence long service from many of our employees.

Oh how Ray loved to treat his hard working employees, often finishing early on Friday afternoons to get down the pub.

The early finishes on a Friday must have motivated staff to work extra hard as the volume of products in 1995 were large enough to consider new manufacturing techniques. This led to the introduction of high volume products using surface mounted components. Things got even better for Kentec in 1997 when we saw the introduction of Solo, the first analogue addressable control panel range which was compatible with next generation Hochiki detectors. Loop explorer, the first Windows based fire panel configuration programme was also launched and was innovative and popular with customers. It has since become the industry norm.

Over the years Kentec have taken on projects that are of a large scale and that is what makes us the global name that we are today. The National Grid project is one of the biggest projects we have been involved in where we used conventional panels to supply power stations around the UK. We still work with National Grid today providing them with our more modern products.

Large projects and new products gaining market share saw Kentec struggling to cope with all ongoing operations, so luckily enough Unit 27, the last unit in our block became available in 1999. This was the perfect opportunity to expand and we installed a powder coating plant to bring the last of sub contracted operations in house. The new millennium and a 15yr old Kentec saw the launch of Syncro, an analogue addressable control panel capable of being used for much larger installations. The Syncro range was compatible with Hochiki and Apollo detectors and later Argus protocol was added making the Syncro the industry standard. Further investment saw the Amada CNC punch press being installed in the metalwork department and Kentec continued to expand. We had no space left in our current block having occupied all the units so it was time to look further afield. By some miracle, Unit 6 became available only hundreds of yards away so all PCB production was moved there in 2001.

Of course every company has its moments, and Kentec had just one of those when the factory flooded causing panic. However, as one big Kentec family we all pulled together and saved the panels and equipment before anything got destroyed. Measures have since been put in place to prevent further disasters from happening! Along the line of small panics, software test engineer Didier Basset caused a scene when he wired one of the panels wrong and set it alight. Nothing was severely damaged and as a fire detection company, we dealt with it pretty efficiently!

The year 2005 was the year of the Sigma XT extinguishing panel release which was the first panel to receive 3rd party approval and certification to the recently introduced European standard for control equipment. Sigma XT leapt into a different league and still remains our largest selling individual product a decade later. Going from strength or strength Kentec took over one of their customers, VES LLC in Philadelphia USA in 2008. This presented Kentec with the opportunity to build on our growing strength in the US and Middle/Far Eastern markets. It was clear by the end of 2009 that Unit 6 was no longer suitable for the current level of PCB manufacturing so we acquired Unit 9 which was a short distance away. Acquiring unit 9 meant that we would have a 50% space increase and the opportunity to have sheet metalwork, powder coating, printing and PCB operations under one big roof.

Kentec was also rewarded with the prestigious Royal Warrant of Appointment by Her Majesty The Queen as a supplier of Fire Detection equipment to the Royal Household in 2009. We currently have our panels in several of the Royal Households.

Further investment in 2010 allowed for a messy silkscreen process to be replaced by a digital printing process at Unit 9 and it has proved to be a great success! In 2011 Unit 9 was officially completed with all of the departments set up and was opened by the MP for Dartford.

In August 2012 it was publicly announced that Hochiki Corporation had acquired the stock of Kentec. The new ownership of Kentec will ensure continued investment and open new market opportunities for sustained growth and its business as usual.

Now 30 years later in 2015, Kentec is celebrating an excellent three decades in business coming from strength to strength to become the global market leading name in fire control that they are today. Around the world we are known for quality and service providing our customers with excellence in fire control panels. Robert and Ray created this legacy and we would like to congratulate them on their success and thank them for their determination, persistence and hard work to push Kentec onto the world stage. We would also like to thank our past and present staff members who have each individually contributed to Kentec’s success. We would like to thank our customers for their loyalty which we are all most grateful for.

Ray King has now stepped down as director of Kentec after completing a consultancy period helping with factory improvements at Kentec. Without his vision and determination that small Kent based electronics company might not have grown into the global supplier and highly respected name within the industry that we are today. As in any company success, it is always a team effort and while we thank Ray for everything in the past we are now in a very strong position to face the challenges that manufacturing and the fire industry can present and we are sure that as a whole we can continue the success story that Ray and Robert started all those years ago. We thank Ray and wish him success with his new ventures.

Stories from over the years

As Kentec are 30 years old we thought we would share some of the more amusing side to the company and share a few stories about Ray King and Robert Jefferys.

Clumsy Robert Jefferys- Many of you who know Robert Jefferys may know how clumsy he can be. Allison Datson who is our Operations general manager and has been at the company for many years recalls the time Rob had a fight with a coat stand. It was a normal day, no one batted an eyelid as Rob proceeded to make his way to Richard Hackett’s office. Richard’s office bore vertical blinds and an old fashioned coat stand which stood tall in the corner. All of a sudden Allison remembers a great big CRASH BANG WALLOP, and everyone stopped what they were doing to see what on earth was going on. Then there was Rob, on the floor being attacked by this coat stand and tangled up in the vertical blinds getting himself into a bit of a pickle. That is why Allison refers to him as clumsy Robert!

Grey Ray, the great joke teller- Ray always thought he was a great joke teller. If you were lucky enough to hear one of them you would know how long they eventually went on for. Everyone would usually get bored and when it came to the crucial part, the punchline, it was always terrible anyway! Ray would also always wear grey, grey hair, grey suit, he was basically known as grey Ray. So when Comic Relief came around everyone saw that as a perfect opportunity for him to change his ways and get in the spirit of charity fundraising. Grey Ray went on to dye his hair red for Comic Relief and raise some money for charity.

Ray and Robert, Together- Ray and Robert might as well have been a married couple as they both decided to get his and hers cars in the form of Toyota Celica’s. Very fetching indeed! Ray and Robert could not go away together without getting into a small spot of bother everywhere they went, when they went on their own however everything ran smoothly!

 

 

 

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Kentec Electronics Ltd

Units 25-27 Fawkes Avenue,

Questor, Dartford,

Kent. DA1 1JQ United Kingdom

+44 (0)1322 222121

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