2024 marks Cygnet Texkimp’s 50th year in business. CEO Luke Vardy looks back over five decades of ground-breaking innovation and technical leadership and highlights the milestones that have shaped the company’s history.

Luke Vardy, CEO, Cygnet Texkimp

From the very beginning, our work has always been innovative and ambitious. Without exception, our intention has been to engineer the best technical solutions in the world; to be courageous in our work; to try new and novel ways of doing things in the belief that we can achieve better results for our customers, more efficiently, more accurately, and more reliably than ever before.

The technical excellence and entrepreneurial instinct shown by our founders and their colleagues 50 years ago are still fundamental to our culture and our approach to engineering today.

Rooted in Britain’s textile tradition

Cygnet Texkimp (originally named Texkimp) was founded in 1974 in the Cheshire town of Knutsford by eminent textile engineer Colin Smith and his wife Janet, to manufacture fibre unwinding equipment – creels – for the traditional textile and technical fibre industries.

Already a successful mechanical engineer, Colin had honed his skills working alongside his father-in-law William (Bill) Kimpton, who was instrumental in the early development of the creel and the fibre processing concepts that modern machines still rely on today.

Bill’s business, WHK Products, was ideally located at Cheshire’s Quarry Bank Mill, in the heart of Britain’s traditional textile industry. When, in the late 1960s, nylon and polyester fibres began to grow in popularity, Bill and Colin’s expertise in the traditional market gained them an early foothold in the field of technical fibre processing, and at the start of the 1970s some of the first carbon fibre produced in the UK was woven directly from a WHK creel commissioned by early adopters in the UK military sector.

When Bill retired, Colin and Janet’s newly founded Texkimp business set about developing a range of unwinding machines and handling accessories specifically for the international high-performance fibre market. The company found success as a niche manufacturer with global customers hungry for Colin’s technical expertise. Their reputation spread and they began winning business in North America and Western Europe before heading into Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the developing economies of China, India and Vietnam.

Texkimp creels earned a global reputation for unparalleled quality and reliability and the company grew a loyal following, becoming the largest independent creel manufacturer in the world – a position we still hold today.

New opportunities in a growing industry

By the early 2000s, Colin and his team were presented with a new opportunity to put their fibre handling expertise to good use. A steady increase in the size and weight of fibre bobbins they were being asked to accommodate into their creel designs meant that existing handling technologies were no longer practical. Unable to find the handling equipment they needed in the market, they set about designing their own. The move would prove to be a major turning point as they began to realise the value they could add to customers’ operations by offering complete solutions to their processing challenges.

As well as automatic creel loading and unloading solutions, we have gone on to develop systems to wrap, pack and palletise bobbins of fibre, radiofrequency identification (RFID), barcoding, vision and data capture capability, robotics, and auto guided vehicle (AGV) systems. It has been a hugely successful venture, with automation and handling solutions now making up around a third of our revenue annually.

Navigating the storms of business

Global recession, geo-political instability, oil price stagnation, materials shortages, pandemic – in 50 years of business, we, like most, have weathered some significant storms. But at these times more than at any other, we’ve drawn on the strength of our expertise, worked creatively, given support to and taken strength from our network of valued partners and customers, and in doing so have always emerged with renewed focus, greater resilience and a deeper understanding of how we can use our capability to meet the needs of the markets we serve.

At the height of the 2009 global recession, we were faced with a market paralysed by a fear of committing to large capital expenditure on machinery like ours. The implications were potentially devastating, but our saving grace was that we had a team of the world’s most accomplished fibre handling engineers, and we were determined to keep them in employment.  Working with a large and long-term US customer, we identified a gap in the market for an improved solution to process carbon fibre prepregs. Our knowledge in this area came from our work developing the technology to unwind prepreg fibres into downstream processes. With the trust and confidence of our customer, we developed our first prepreg processing solution and secured contracts that would allow us to successfully navigate through and out of the recession. That became the first of more than 30 prepreg machines we have delivered in the last 15 years. At the same time, we began building a dedicated wide-web engineering team which now includes some of the most experienced and respected experts in the world as part of a thriving division developing new and unique solutions for coating, slitting, and laminating, as well as prepreg.

We had always been innovative in creels, holding on to our spot as the leading independent creel specialist in the world with a continually improving range of equipment – from mechanical tyre cord creels for the global tyre industry and high-capacity weaving creels with intelligent controls and customised guide system, to our low-pressure, pneumatic Flatline creel for the unwinding of high-end carbon fibres used in the manufacture of prepregs and other composite materials. But now we were also pushing the boundaries of what could be achieved in automation, prepreg, coating, slitting and filament winding. Over the next ten years we strengthened our position in these markets with a series of pioneering new products that would provide previously unreachable capability.

Continually innovating

In 2017, as a result of a successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Manchester, we unveiled the 3D or Nine-Axis Winder, a robotic 3D winding machine capable of creating complex composite parts. This was followed in 2021 by the launch of our high-precision Slitter Spooler machine, which is used predominantly in the aerospace and automotive industries to slit and wind carbon fibre prepregs into high-accuracy tapes. In the same year, we unveiled our Direct Melt Impregnation Thermoplastic Composite Line, the world’s first commercially available thermoplastic composite line capable of using standard polymer to create high-grade thermoplastic composite prepregs on an industrial scale. In 2022 we brought to market the Multi Axis Winder, a high-speed, large-scale winding machine designed to wind large, continuous, and curved parts for the aerospace industry, and in 2023 we introduced the Multi Roll Stack, a short-footprint, energy-efficient prepreg processing machine designed to deliver significant savings in terms of capital investment, running costs and energy requirements.

At the same time, interest and investment in green technologies was gathering momentum, propelled by international government commitments to achieve ambitious sustainability and decarbonisation targets. Industries around the world were facing growing pressure to manage their impact on the environment and we had the technical know-how to support them.

In 2021 we joined forces with fellow engineering company Longworth to bring to market Longworth’s DEECOM® recycling solution specifically for the composites industry. In 2022 we unveiled our innovative materials reclaiming and recycling solution to address the environmental impact of waste in global composites, featuring DEECOM®. The solution de-manufactures end-of-life composite materials and parts using pressurised steam in a process called Pressolysis to separate and reclaim constituent elements including high-quality carbon fibre for reuse in the manufacture of new composites or in other industries. With applications ranging from marine to wind turbines, automotive, aerospace, rail, and construction, the scope for this technology is considerable.

Showcasing our capability

With so much innovation to share with the industry, it became clear that we needed a space to showcase it all. Our state-of-the-art Innovation Centre was officially opened in early 2023 at our UK headquarters in Cheshire, to enormous interest from the international market. This is a place where existing and potential customers and partners can witness the true scale and capability of our machines through hands-on trials and the opportunity to develop processes with the support of our experts.

The Innovation Centre also makes it easier for us to work collaboratively with other organisations. In the last decade in particular we’ve focused on collaborative partnerships as a way to ensure we’re developing the solutions that are most relevant to the industries we supply. Partnerships including those supported by Innovate UK and EU funding have created highly innovative pieces of technology and launched exciting new capability into the market, improving processing speeds, accuracy and quality in ways previously unseen.

Collaborative partnerships have led to us carving a niche in the high-tension winding market for EV motors and creating a fully automated system to manufacture large volumes of hydrogen pressure vessels at rate, supporting moves by global governments towards zero-emission policies for transport.

Our creel business, where our story began, continues to evolve and advance in line with the demands of an increasingly diverse market, with applications for traditional and composite fibres used in projects from automotive tyre cord to aerospace parts. We are currently designing the largest creel we’ve ever built, to enable the 3D weaving of preforms for the rate manufacture of critical aerospace composite components.

A vision for the future

As a business of fewer than 100 employees, we’re able to adapt quickly and work collaboratively with our customers and partners to develop the tailored solutions they require to secure competitive advantage in a demanding and fast-moving market. With more technologies currently in development and more partnerships set to be announced in the coming months, we’re excited about what our future looks like. But we also want to make sure we grow at a rate that allows us to remain innovative and responsive to the evolving needs of our valued customers, many of which have worked with us for several years.

We recognise that our success over the last 50 years has only been possible because of the trust and commitment of our customers and partners and the hard work and dedication of every member of our skilled team, from those who have devoted entire careers to our company, to those who are just starting out here. I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has worked with us over the last 50 years for helping to make us the company we are today. One of our biggest ambitions is to continue to attract great people to take up fulfilling careers at Cygnet Texkimp, with high-quality opportunities for varied and interesting work, professional development and international travel.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say a personal thank you to Colin, Janet, and their family for allowing me to take on the role of leading the business in 2017. I’m extremely grateful to them for giving me their trust to lead Cygnet Texkimp into the next chapter of its story.