Case study

Supporting Business Diversification - Penny Hydraulics

Since 2016, we’ve been helping manufacturing firm, Penny Hydraulics, expand, innovate and diversify its product offer. We’ve supported them with capital funding, collaborative research and innovation, and other projects which harness our academic expertise alongside graduate talent.

About the company

Penny Hydraulics is based near Chesterfield, and the firm designs, manufactures, installs and services handling and lifting solutions for a wide range of environments and purposes. Its customers include BT, Royal Mail, Buckingham Palace, the NHS and Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Plant.

Funding for new premises

It initially worked with our University through the ‘Invest to Grow’ scheme, under which we helped the firm secure funding to build a new, larger premises, and invest in new plant and equipment. The impacts of this were significant: the company achieved record turnover and profitability in the year following the investment, and it was able to recruit a new general manager for one of its divisions and two new apprenticeships. Ashley Holmes, Finance Director at PH, said:

“This year we’ve secured an additional £1.8m work from the nuclear industry. Without the new production bay and machinery, we wouldn’t have been able to quote for those orders or set people up to work on those jobs, or had the equipment to do the jobs. The perception of our business has also improved massively because of the University of Derby’s Invest to Grow programme. We were a backstreet engineering firm; now we’re a multinational company selling to 25 countries worldwide. We had Ford visit us recently and they were clearly impressed.”

Collaborative research

Through an ERDF-funded programme called Catalysing Growth, our researchers at the Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering (IISE) carried out a feasibility study for Penny Hydraulics, which looked at developing a mobile test rig for chain blocks. It was thought this could improve the efficiency of the firm’s testing processes. Our comprehensive study included calculations and assessments about different aspects of the test rig and provided a technical report to help the client decide whether to use the test rig or not. 

R&D collaborations with PH have continued, with a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) which is due to complete in December 2021. This is focusing on the potential to measure and create accurate representations of spaces using new digital technologies. The project has the potential for significant productivity improvements by limiting the number of site-visits the firm needs to make, thereby shortening lead times and bringing down costs for customers, reducing the company’s carbon footprint and opening up a new overseas market. 

Graduate recruitment

The University of Derby’s graduate talent is now helping Penny Hydraulics explore ways to expand and diversify their offer. In November 2019, the University’s ERDF-funded Knowledge Exchange for Innovation and Productivity Through Innovation schemes enabled the company to employ graduate design engineers. With academic support, this graduate is now helping the firm to develop a new low-cost universal crane for utility vehicles. 

In addition, during the Covid-19 lockdown, Penny Hydraulics wanted to explore its options to diversify, and approached the University of Derby for help with this. Our knowledge exchange teams (DRIVEN and Enscite) scoped out what support Penny Hydraulics needed, and the firm subsequently decided to recruit a graduate for a 400-hour internship position. This intern has now been appointed, and the company plans to employ the graduate full-time beyond that. 

For further information or to discuss working in partnership with us, please contact our Business Enquiry Team on +44 (0)800 001 5500 or