Construction, Manufacturing and Engineering
Singer Instruments @ Roadwater Village (Exmoor), Devon
If you think of Exmoor, what images come to mind? Ponies and open moorland? Steeply wooded valleys? Tea rooms in quaint villages? With its 267 square miles of national park, Exmoor offers all this and more. It is a popular destination for leisure and tourism.
Few people may think of Exmoor as home to a world-leading, cutting-edge company in the field of cancer research. But it is; in the form of family-run, Singer Instruments. The company produces scientific instruments including specialist microscopes, and lab robotics that are used in research laboratories around the world.
Singer Instruments (nothing to do with sewing machines!) has had its global HQ in Roadwater village on Exmoor since founder, Arthur Singer, moved his company out of London in 1981. Back then the remote location presented a number of business challenges – such as having to walk to the owner’s house to make a telephone call as there were no telephone lines on site. But the Singer family and their staff love living and working in the West Country and are committed to keeping their business on Exmoor. Recently, the company has invested £1 million in its buildings, as well as buying the most up-to-date and state of the art machinery, so that they can keep production costs down and retain a manufacturing base in the UK.
Today, one off the main business challenges facing Singer is inadequate broadband service, as IT Development Manager, Neil Parbrook, explains: “We have a reputation for being the best in the world for what we do, and ninety per cent of our business is international. We have to keep up to date with the latest technology and have been using the internet since the early 1980s. We rely on email and the web for keeping in touch with our engineers and our customer base in different time zones around the world. At the moment, we have to do everything via ASDL broadband connections and our average upload speed is around 300Kbps with download speeds of only 2.65Mbps.
“We desperately need superfast broadband. Only the other day I was trying to install a software update on our PCs and it took me over 2 hours just to download the file. I had to do that on four separate machines, and whilst I was doing the software updates, the engineers couldn’t use their machines to design and improve products. It really impacts on business effectiveness. I’d also like to reduce our rack of servers and replace them with cloud computing – but until we get superfast broadband, that’s almost impossible.
“We also have to support our roaming engineers while they’re fitting and repairing instruments overseas. Slow speeds make it impossible to upload and download the data they need from here, so we end up either emailing files to them when they’re out of the country or trying to ensure that they have every possible thing they need before they leave. We’ve grown exponentially in recent years and to remain competitive, we need access to the latest and best technology.”
So what’s being done to address rural connectivity issues? Local authorities across Devon and Somerset have joined forces to establish ‘Connecting Devon and Somerset’ – a programme aiming to deliver faster broadband for all residents, businesses and communities by 2015. Of these, 85% will enjoy superfast broadband. This would be followed by access to superfast broadband for all by 2020. The programme aims to transform online access across the area, for businesses and visitors as well as communities and residents.
Local people and businesses have an opportunity to sign up and register their need for superfast broadband. A survey is open through the summer, asking for people’s views on their current broadband service. Responses to the survey will be used to provide evidence that there is a strong demand for superfast broadband and persuade private broadband companies to invest in the area. Anyone who wants to participate can register on the website www.connectingdevonandsomerset.co.uk or by calling the telephone hotline on 0844 4636887.
Neil Parbrook has already pledged his support to the programme. He knows it’s vital for business to thrive. As he says, “I live five minutes away from the office and at home I have connection speed of 18Mbps. That’s what I need in the office!”