Niels Aage Kjær, AVK’s Owner and CEO, visits AVK companies across the UK

Niels Aage Kjær, AVK’s Owner and CEO, has spent three days visiting AVK companies across the UK. Niels was accompanied by his wife, Ellen Margrethe Kjær, and his son, Jacob. Jacob is General Counsel for AVK Holding A/S. 21-12-2022

Niels graduated as an engineer in 1967. He still retains an engineer’s eye for manufacturing, as well as an entrepreneur’s interest in the commercial and innovation aspects of business. 

Over his 52 years as CEO of AVK, Niels has built a commanding global brand. AVK now has over 100 companies worldwide generating a turnover of almost 1bn Euros. The UK has long played a pivotal role in AVK’s evolution. In 1979, it was the location for AVK’s first factory outside Denmark.

Monday 12 December - Glenfield Invicta in Kilmarnock and Aqua-Gas Manufacturing in Corby
Niels’ packed schedule, taking in seven different sites, began with a visit to Glenfield Invicta’s team and facilities in Kilmarnock. 

At Kilmarnock, Niels was shown round the facilities by Managing Director, Paul Boyden:

‘As always it was great to see Niels. It has been a while since his last visit due to the travel restrictions imposed by Covid.  It was the first time Niels has seen our remodelled 150,000 ft² facilities. He toured the new Academy and Visitor Centre facilities and was particularly interested in our display of smart water concepts.’

Robert Milligan is Glenfield Invicta’s recently appointed Marketing Manager, joining in October 2022:

‘Jacob was particularly complimentary with his feedback, commenting on how far the facilities had developed since he was last on site.  I had never met Niels before. I was impressed at how engaged he was with everyone he met, whether they wore a business suit or a boiler suit.’

Niels, Ellen, and Jacob flew from Prestwick to East Midlands Airport and then on to AVK Aqua-Gas Manufacturing in Corby where they were welcomed by Fran Brody, Group Operations Director:

‘At Corby, the focus was on the new press introduced for the production of the Series 36 gate valve. Niels talked about the wedge in the gate valve and how it had been developed. Some twenty years ago, Niels had been visiting a customer in Nevada and had witnessed how they applied rubber coating to metal on their product range. He reported this back to the team in Denmark and, by the time he returned from his tour of the USA, a first prototype was on his desk.  Niels was also interested in the thread rolling machine which had been integrated since his last visit.’

Unfortunately, freezing weather conditions meant Niels’ scheduled visit to AVK UK Northampton was unable to take place.

Tuesday 13 December - AVK Syddal in Hyde, Fusion Group, Bryan Donkin and AVK UK all based in Chesterfield

First port of call on Tuesday was AVK Syddal in Hyde, located to the east of Manchester. Chris Carr is AVK Syddal’s Operations Manager:

‘Over the past twelve months we have made significant improvements to the facilities in Hyde, both inside and out. Visitors to the site are now welcomed by well-tended grass and hedges. The reception area has been overhauled to create a modern feel and to ensure we maintain the AVK standards. This simple change alone has had a really positive impact on the AVK Syddal team.  Shop floor organisation is undergoing a sustainable evolution driven by the introduction of the 5S (Sort; Straighten; Shine; Standardise; Sustain) lean manufacturing approach. Niels was able to see the impact of 5S throughout his tour. The factory floor has been painted, new racking has been installed, and many of the machines have been moved to improve materials flow. We discussed robotics and automation, and Niels took a keen interest in the new robotic welder.'

Dean Wheatley, Mechanical Fittings – National Sales Manager, took Niels through the programme of new products and initiatives AVK UK will be implementing over the next twelve months.’

A short drive over the Pennines and Niels arrived at Fusion Group in Chesterfield where he was hosted by Group Managing Director, Mark Palmer. The visited started with a tour of the Fusamatic manufacturing facility by Manufacturing Director, Paul Else:

‘Niels was impressed with the most recent investments in robotics and automation and the focus on energy saving initiatives. 
We discussed the sixteen-week lean project we recently completed to identify efficiencies and I talked Niels through how that had been translated to the SQDIP (Safety, Quality, Delivery, Inventory, Productivity) boards on the shop floor.’

After manufacturing, Niels’ tour took in the Fusion test lab, warehouse, and new Academy facility. Stephen Tann, Group Technical Manager, and Dave Clayton, Product Technical Manager, led the tour of the Academy:

‘Niels focussed on the new training rig we have created in the Academy building. He commented on the way the rig integrated products from across AVK’s manufacturing facilities.’

On the visit, Mark commented:

‘It was great for us all at Fusion to have the opportunity to meet, and spend time with, Niels, Ellen and Jacob.’

At AVK Donkin in Staveley, Niels was greeted by Martin Greenhalgh, AVK UK Managing Director:

‘The AVK Donkin site is impressive by any standard and Niels commented that it was as good today as when we first took ownership.  We have introduced localised SQDIPP boards across the shop floor and these have encouraged greater employee engagement. I talked Niels through our plans for 2023 where a data register will be installed at each point of the manufacturing process. One of the advantages of the scanning of work orders will be the self-generation of invoicing.  We have recently invested almost £700k in our PUR coating plant and Niels was interested in the impact this would have on both productivity and quality.’

Wednesday 14 December - Atlantic Plastics in Bridgend and Glenfield Invicta in Maidstone

The final day of the tour started with a visit to Atlantic Plastics’ manufacturing facility in Bridgend. Atlantic Plastics, a leading manufacturer of boundary boxes, only joined AVK in June 2022.
James Fry is Managing Director of Atlantic Plastics:

‘Much of the conversation with Niels during his visit revolved around the significant investment plans sanctioned by AVK for 2023. In April we will be commissioning a new injection moulding machine. This will allow us to switch from compression moulding to injection moulding for our meter boxes. With the associated tooling, this represents an investment of over one million pounds.  Niels was interested in how the site layout would change as a result of the investment and the impact this would have on the flow of materials. We also discussed the redesign of the Atplas multi-manifold meter box.’

The last leg of the visit to Glenfield Invicta in Maidstone, required a flight from Cardiff to London Biggin Hill, an airfield first used by the Royal Flying Corps as long ago as 1916.

At Maidstone, Niels was welcomed by Glenfield Invicta’s Operations Director, Andy Grewar, who, like Niels, has a passion for flying:

‘I talked Niels through the site services we deliver and showed him some of the projects we are currently working on. After touring the warehouse and the workshop, Niels chatted with the team in the office. Niels was keen to understand how we worked with other AVK Group companies like Orbinox, which supplies us with penstocks. We even managed a short conversation about flying!’

Paul Hubbard, UK Chairman and Group Director, accompanied Niels, Ellen, and Jacob throughout the tour:

‘It was a good visit. All the businesses had worked extremely hard to showcase the contribution they make to the AVK Group. There was great engagement across the business and our workforce. Niels was happy with what he’d seen.
Niels was impressed with the housekeeping across the sites and was delighted to see AVK Group’s brand cornerstones of quality, innovation, reliability, sustainability, and customer service on prominent display. Niels talked about the importance of growth, but within the context of efficiencies and maintaining our strong working capital position.
For me, the essence of the visit was epitomised by an incidental moment from the visit to AVK Donkin in Staveley. During a tour of the warehouse, Niels struck up a conversation with a young member of the warehouse team, Dan Kaminski. Without prompting, Dan talked about the people he worked with, his working environment and how he felt a valued member of the AVK team.
Dan was both a credit to himself and as a representative of the quality and commitment of all those working across the facilities visited by Niels whilst he was in the UK.’