Chapman Machinery Ltd may be just an arrow’s flight away from Tintagel but there’s nothing Dark Age about its products for its agriculture and equestrian customers. James Chapman shared a few secrets.
While Cornwall may have a reputation as a place of myth and legend, there is nothing mythical about the range and quality of equipment that Chapman Machinery produces near Tintagel, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur. The company has grown to become a leading and innovative producer of equipment for use in farming and equestrian applications. Its founder and managing director is James Chapman.
”I started the business in July 2010. I did everything: welding, selling, fabricating – the whole lot,” he said. He is a mechanical engineer by training and holds a first-class degree in the subject. After graduating, he went straight to work for Rolls-Royce plc, the aero engine manufacturer.
“It is a fantastic firm but I’m too independent for such a huge beast,” he smiled. “I was brought up on the farm, here, and so I decided to strike out on my own. It seemed a good idea at the time!”
The Chapman Machinery factory is located within the family farm. That background gave him a natural network to reach out to and the business began by fulfilling requests for various items that were needed by the agricultural community.
”We ended up providing equipment suitable to be towed behind ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), 4x4s and UTVs (utility task vehicles), and arena levellers for equestrian sand schools,” he said. These are naturally smaller than the equipment you see being towed behind tractors. The company offers seven standard models, with a range of specified options to cater for particular market needs.
“One core model can be adapted to do different jobs,” James explained. “Some mowers might go into the equestrian market and be used for cutting paddocks. The same machine, with suitable options, may go to an estate in Scotland and be used for cutting grouse moors.”
Chapman sells around 400 units a year. The range extends from the FM series of flail mowers to W240 weed wipers, RM rotary mowers, MG250 arena levellers, and BT500 bale transporter/trailers. Each machine is designed by James himself, and he takes great pride in the fact that the company innovates, it doesn’t copy others. He maintains that it helps to keep it competitive and ahead of those who might wish to copy its designs.
“The total package – quality, service and support – is worth paying for”
“They check first and then cut, rather than cutting first and worrying about problems later.”
Smaller-size agricultural equipment is a competitive niche. There are two or three competitors in the UK and manufacturers in China are also involved, although they tend to go for mass production. Quality is essential; that’s why it uses laser cutting.
“We use laser cutting as it is the most accurate method of cutting large volumes of steel and ensuring precision and conformity in every product,” James explained. The company used to use a local cutting service but when it wanted folded components as well it had to look elsewhere.
“That was when we first encountered SSC Laser,” he said. “It was about six months before we actually started to place orders; I think they were a bit more expensive but we quickly noticed that their quality was better.” Presentation and delivery were also a cut above. Components were packed properly and there were no issues with unfinished parts.
“The total package – quality, service and support – is worth paying for,” James said, but he made clear that he still has his sharp pencil to hand. “I trust them to give us a fair price but we do check!” He emphasised that Chapman Machinery keeps a tight ship and has a quick turnaround time. It does not want suppliers to involve it in unnecessary work.
“We can’t have things arriving with burrs or burn marks on them. I have confidence in them that things will be right, first time. That’s why they are our preferred supplier.”
Chapman’s location, in the far south-west, means that efficient and effective inventory management, component supply and finished goods despatch is crucial. It uses a palletised distribution company, both to keep costs down and to ensure that customers receive their equipment when they expect to. Its machines are designed to fit on a double-sized standard pallet. Keeping promises on delivery is absolutely vital for this small company.
“I have to say that we do get a really good service from SSC,” said James. “They call us if they think there is any problem with the parts. They check first and then cut, rather than cutting first and worrying about problems later.” SSC Laser has offered collaboration on design; while he prefers to keep that in-house he appreciates that the company knows what it’s doing.
“They might call and say, for example, a particular hole will stretch when it’s folded. I probably knew that was the case; location can be constrained by other tolerances. But they check these things and that’s important: attention to detail,” he declared. Chapman has changed the automatic tolerances within its CAD system to make them more compatible with SSC Laser and the result has been more than acceptable. “We know that, if we send them a design for a part that will be folded, it will come out exactly right. We are talking tiny fractions but, even if you’re only doing agricultural equipment, it’s important to get it right, first time.”
Chapman Machinery has been using SSC Laser for three years. James is pleased to be able to use British suppliers; each of the machines goes out with a stylised Union Flag on it. At the same time, he is very much aware of competitive pressures and will not – cannot – accept second best, just to say he has “bought British”. Was there anything in particular that led him to rely on SSC Laser?
“It was a combination of factors,” he replies. “We got the feeling that they won’t screw us on price; other suppliers have offered good deals first time and then ramped it up. We don’t get that with SSC. We get a really good service. They communicate with us and they keep their promises.”