Tees fabrication firm Katmex is thriving 20 years on

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The Tees Valley was forged on a long and proud heritage of iron and steel.

Skill and graft from our part of the world built some of the most iconic structures around the globe and we often like to shout about it.

That mammoth scale of industrial might may have given way to new sectors as the years have passed but that doesn’t necessarily mean our expertise in heavy engineering has gone with it.

And Katmex, a company based in Stockton, is living proof.

The firm specialises in steel plate processing and fabrications at its facility in Norton. Engineering high-precision components for use in the manufacture of heavy vehicles like excavators, dump trucks, forklift trucks and cranes is their core business.

Katmex supplies some of the biggest names in the construction equipment industry including the likes of Komatsu, JCB and Caterpillar from its base in the North-East where it is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary shortly.

Managing director Dave Mitchell was the first UK employee of the company when it was established as a division of Japanese steel plate processing firm Katsushiro Matex to serve one of its largest clients, Komatsu.

In 2009 Dave negotiated a management buyout after Katsushiro decided to focus its business in Asia and Katmex has been running as an SME ever since.

It was a giant leap, but Dave knew there was a future for the business which is undoubtedly one of Teesside’s success stories.

“What that future was I wasn’t too sure back then, but I started out by talking with our customers who still wanted a product from us. I got commitment from them and kept the business going. It has been running for the past 10 years, so you could say it has paid off.

“Our core business has remained the same, we ship 75% of our machinery to the UK market and 25% to Europe.”

Crucially, the bonds forged with Komatsu remain strong today – Katmex has recently been named Komatsu UK’s Supplier of the Year. The company has also become one of Midlands-based JCB’s main suppliers.

Katmex employs 125 at its Norton site and another 30 at a sister plant in Seaham in neighbouring County Durham. The workforce is skilled, says Dave, and that’s another reason why it continues to thrive in the Tees Valley.

The Norton site measures 20,000 square metres and has the capacity to process 2,000 tonnes of steel per month with a further 500-tonne capacity at Seaham. As well as cutting, additional processes can engineer cut parts to suit customers’ needs and welding, surface preparation and finishing can all be taken care of in-house too.

Continuous investment in equipment and machinery has totalled £3.5m since the management buyout and the plant boasts both gas and plasma cutting machines which make use of the latest technology to ensure efficiency and high precision.

The machine shop floor is an impressive place to be, busy, well ordered and stocked with vast batches of precision engineered steel ready and waiting to be shipped to customers. As much as 1,500 tonnes of plate stock is kept in various grades and sizes, ensuring whatever the need for a part might be, Katmex can meet it.

The company has also recently leased another building nearby which will be used to house stock.

Proud moments have come in the team effort and work ethic on display, says Dave, qualities which have shone through the past 20 years as Katmex’s reputation has spread through word of mouth around the world.

“To be able to supply a global company like Komatsu and be named their supplier of the year is an achievement – but it’s not just my achievement, it is everybody’s achievement,” said Dave.

“Our reputation has spread through word of mouth, people know who Katmex are and we are happy to show people what we can do.”