Airedale International Welcomeumi

Shortlisted for the PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards High Growth Markets Award, we meet Nicola Ware, Marketing Executive of Airedale International.

What does your company do?

Airedale Air Conditioning is a British manufacturer with over 45 years’ experience. As the UK’s number one provider of chillers, precision air conditioning and IT cooling solutions and at the forefront of controls software design and optimisation, we are experts in integrating products to reduce total cost of ownership.

Airedale prides themselves on design and innovation. We are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to maintain our stance as the authoritative voice in the air conditioning industry and to do this, we have to be one step ahead.

From humble beginnings, Airedale has grown into a world-leading air conditioning company with a world-class manufacturing, research, testing and training facility, right here in Leeds. Proudly operating from our state-of-the-art 23,000 square foot HQ in Rawdon, we employ approx. 530 people and export across the globe.

When was your company launched, who by and why?

Airedale International was founded by a chance meeting of two local businessmen at Leeds Bradford Airport. The two men recognised back in the 1970s that Information Technology was an emerging market and there was a business opportunity to be had, developing cooling systems to keep IT equipment operating at optimum temperatures.

This could have all ended in 2013, when the Airedale factory was destroyed by fire. However in a true show of Yorkshire grit, the workforce rallied; working in hotels and houses to keep the company afloat in the days following the fire, followed by a move to temporary facilities on Geldard Lane. The fire served to galvanise the company and the workforce and although Airedale has grown into a huge multinational, the feeling of a family business remains with a shared bond gained through strength in adversity.

Fast-forward 45 years and Airedale International is exporting air conditioning units all over the world and even has offices in London and Dubai. Alongside this, Airedale has its own software development team and offers bespoke building management system packages, tailormade right here in Leeds, to multinational organisations, helping them manage their energy output.

From 2018 to 2019, Airedale experienced stellar growth and developed new systems and products, using the expertise of our team of Leeds-based engineers. Airedale continues to focus on the ever-growing data centre market, recognising that the world is becoming ever more reliant on IT, and continues to innovate to meet this huge demand, not just in the UK, but all over the globe.

How long has the company been exporting?

Approximately 40 years.

What do you currently export, and where to?

Airedale exports data centre cooling products to Europe, the Far East, the Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia.

What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?

Airedale is a trusted name in the air conditioning industry and we invest heavily in research and development to keep us at the forefront of technology and market trends. Having had success in the UK market, we recognised the need to move into a wider market, both to balance risk and also allow our business to grow, especially as we could see opportunities arise.

As a market leader in UK data centre cooling, we recognised this trend of increasing demand for data is a worldwide phenomenon. Furthermore, common sense suggests that opportunities for air conditioning are going to be prevalent in warmer countries. As digital communications have developed, the world has become a smaller place. Speaking with international clients, monitoring global trends and understanding different marketplaces is commonplace in most industries and something Airedale excels at.

It wasn’t long after Airedale was founded that the owners established a sound working relationship with a business in Holland. This team established Airedale Continental and went on to become Airedale’s first export client in the early 1980s. From there, Airedale looked to move into other international markets, and relationships were established in the Far East, many of which we continue to enjoy today.

An example is our ongoing work with Lucky Engineering in Hong Kong. Lucky first visited Airedale in 1986 and has placed many orders with us since then. Their latest order is currently in manufacture and their last visit to our manufacturing facility was in December for a factory acceptance test in our state-of-the-art test facility. Lucky particularly appreciate the excellent level of customer service they receive and the quality of manufacture they expect from a British manufacturer. Airedale offers fully bespoke cooling solutions, which means we work closely together with our Export Partners and their end-user clients to match all aspects of the design criteria.

Airedale also enjoys excellent working relationships with several key engineers in the Gulf and has done so for over 20 years. We have established a reputation of trust and reliability in the region and enjoy a long-standing relationship with Al Mazroui, an engineering firm based in the Middle East. Such is the strength of our reputation that we have opened an Airedale Office in Dubai. Since moving into the export market, Airedale has successfully exported thousands of air conditioning units to over 60 countries across the globe.

What is the easiest part of exporting?

The advancement of technology and the opening of our sales office in Dubai, along with the establishment of key business partnerships in other countries, makes trading abroad much more accessible and manageable than it has ever been. We are able to communicate quickly and easily with our clients in other countries and answer any queries in the same timeframe as we would our UK clients.

Having local representatives means we understand the culture as well as the marketplace and can meet our customers’ requirements. The speed and convenience of today’s communications and the ease of making digital financial transactions make exporting an attractive proposition.

What is the export challenge you’re most proud of overcoming? How did you manage this?

Airedale was the chosen air cooling system supplier for i-Advantage’s Mega Two Sun hung Kai logistics centre data centre in Hong Kong. Our long-standing relationship, our range of bespoke air conditioning systems and our global data centre pedigree made us their ideal partner. i-Advantage came to us with a series of challenges, confident we could overcome them. They were refurbishing several floors of an old industrial unit into a high-end data centre and had to work with many building constraints, restricted space being one of them.

The usual answer for air-con in such a building would be to install packaged chillers on the roof of the building, but in this case, the roof space was already taken with other plant machinery. This meant we had to find a solution that would work inside the building.

Working with the consultants WSP and our engineering partners in Hong Kong, we together designed a space-saving system whereby each data centre has its own plant room running alongside it. The plant rooms are open to the atmosphere on one side, with the ambient air entering at one end and the hot condenser discharge air expelled at the other.

We designed a system of air-cooled compressor/evaporator matched to a ductable “V” framed condenser to achieve horizontal discharge air using Airedale's 'Turbochill' technology. The interconnecting pipework system was designed and sized to achieve low refrigerant side pressure drops to ensure good efficiency and low power usage effectiveness (PUE). i-Advantage has optimised the use of their plant room where the more conventional roof space was not available.

Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and how did it help you?

We work closely with bodies established to assist companies trading aboard, such as the Chamber of Commerce, Northern Powerhouse, the Department of Trade and Industry and other organisations in the local export communities, for example, Eurovent Middle East. Our export sales manager, Asim Ansari, has recently been appointed on to its board.

Such organisations can help with keeping you up-to-date with any changes in legislation, export tariffs and other documentation that can appear quite daunting at first and we found this useful, especially in the early days. We also find them useful for lobbying, for example in regions where legislation may prevent trading.

What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?

We strongly advise organisations to invest in some research into regions of interest to ensure not only that there is an appetite for the goods or services provided, but also to ensure that as a company you can meet local legislation. It is also important to understand local trends and cultures as well as the political arena. We would always advise working with an established export support organisation, such as the local Chamber of Commerce, especially for assistance with documentation, tariffs and other legislative requirements.

Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We are looking to move into the developing markets of Eastern Europe and more countries in Africa and the Middle East, such as Egypt. As these regions and countries develop, the demand for infrastructure to support such development increases, of which air conditioning plays a huge role. IT, in particular, is a big business worldwide. The demand for data across the globe is growing exponentially and in response, more and more data centres are being built.

These data centres rely on efficient and effective cooling solutions to prevent overheating of servers. Such concentrated amounts of IT in one space generate heat that if left, would cause the servers to fail. Cooling is critical and Airedale are at the forefront of this market with constant innovation and next-generation products.

As these developing countries come into the business arena, Airedale sees an opportunity to work with the teams in these countries to develop cooling solutions for their infrastructure and environment.

How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Northern Powerhouse Export Awards and what does it mean to your business?

We are delighted to be recognised by the Northern Powerhouse Export Awards. As a northern manufacturing organisation, we are proud to be part of a strong team of northern businesses that are making a positive impact on the UK’s economy. We welcome the opportunity not only to showcase Airedale International, but also to represent our region. Being shortlisted alongside other top-performing businesses in our region reinforces our passion for our company and our determination to be the best we can be, in very good company.

Find out more about the PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards

Amanda Armstrong
Article by Amanda Armstrong
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