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Big Interview: Chris Oldfield

Like many small- to medium-sized businesses across the UK, the recession has proven tough for Riverside Waste Machinery. But now we are coming out of the other side, managing director Chris Oldfield believes the company is leaner, fitter and stronger to face the challenges ahead.

The company is a typical UK business with Chris’ family closely involved as well as the two dogs that wander around the office. So when times are hard as we’ve had for the past couple of years, everyone in the company feels it and pulls together.

Video interview: MRW editor Paul Sanderson meets Riverside Waste Machinery managing director Chris Oldfield

“It has been very, very difficult over the last 18 months,” Oldfield says. “And what we’ve had to do is look at the services we provide and look at the way in which we do that. We believe we’ve increased our technical support and our engineering supply and back-up. So I believe now in 2010-11 we are stronger than we were and can give a better service to our customers.”

Riverside is an engineering company providing baling and shredding solutions to the waste management sector.

“We are the main distributor of Untha shredders in the UK and we also distribute our own range of RWM [Riverside Waste Machinery] balers,” he says. “Over the last 13 years, we’ve developed a reputation for good sound, quality advice where we can offer solutions to waste management problems that companies may have.”

“It has been very, very difficult over the last 18 months. And what we’ve had to do is look at the services we provide and look at the way in which we do that.

We believe we’ve increased our technical support and our engineering supply and back-up. So I believe now in 2010-11 we are stronger than we were and can give a better service to our customers.”

Its customers are wide ranging reflecting the changing recycling and waste market and the various stakeholders now involved in it.

“Our customers are so diverse. We are dealing with anybody from a hospital to a chemical company or a waste company.

“The vertical balers are mainly used in shops, cafes, supermarkets, all the way through to industrial warehouses. The shredders are very, very diverse and they can be used for confidential waste destruction in hospitals, government buildings or more recently, we have become very active in the waste to energy market where we supply shredders to make RDF [refuse derived fuel].”

Riverside supplies a range of balers from 40 kilo to 600 kilo (which it says is the largest mill-sized baler in the UK). Its 40, 55 and 75 kilo balers are ideal for shops, hotels and light industrial uses. Then its mid-sized 150 and 250 kilo balers are suitable for businesses of all sizes. Its largest 400, 500 and 600 kilo range are best for larger applications such as baling for full capacity loads in shipping containers and transport by flat-bed trailers.

The Untha range of shredders it supplies are suitable for all sorts of applications. The single shaft range of shredders contain solutions for dealing with wood waste and plastics as well as anything from carpets to industrial waste. The S120 and S150 two-shaft shredders (also known as rotary shears) are suitable in particular for metals and tyres.

While its four-shaft series can shred everything from washing machines to garden waste in industrial volumes.

So with this large range of kit available, what trends has he seen developing in the baler and shredder market?

“Over the last four or five years, what we have experienced is that companies that bought a manual baler from us in the past are now looking to increase to a much larger, perhaps, semi-automatic, of fully automatic baler. But at the same time, we are seeing new customers coming into the market who want very small machines – perhaps 40 or 75 kilo machines.

“So the market is fragmenting. There is a distinct split. One side is the smaller end of the market, which has increased and continues to grow. At the larger end of the market, we are seeing existing customers going to larger machines.

“The shredder market is still in its infancy in the UK. There have been shredders around for many years, but we are seeing new technologies, new developments, new applications all the time – almost every week! With Untha being a premier manufacturer of shredders, who have all three technologies – single shaft, twin-shaft and four shaft technology – we are able to deal with a lot of these new, exciting changes that are taking place within the waste management sector.”

He still sees plenty of potential for the market to expand over the coming years.

“In the case of waste shredders, it is certainly going to continue to grow because we’ve seen already, how these new exciting technologies have been developed. We are now producing shredders for use in anaerobic digestion plants, RDF [refuse derived fuel] plants, waste-to-energy, and pyrolysis facilities. Also, things like hard drives, tyres, and plastics. There are so many varied applications where our shredders are being used now.”

When this interview took place, the general election had just been announced. I ask Chris what he would like to see the new Government do for SMEs like Riverside over the life of the next Parliament.

“Well if the Government is to achieve its EU targets, and obviously it will be committed to do so, then it is necessary for the Government to provide us with direction as to what we need to do to meet those targets.

“Now I feel that at the moment, the Government hasn’t really been doing enough in incentivising industry to recycle, reduce and re-use. It needs to act in all those three areas.”

With the general election now out of the way, Chris Oldfield can now begin to see whether that help will arrive from the new Government. But this is a company that has put the recession behind it, and is now looking forward to sustained growth and developing new opportunities in the shredder and baler market.

The best thing to happen in my career was…

It was building a water dispersible granule plant for pesticides. It was the world’s first commercial plant. It was designed to produce a product that allowed safe handling of pesticides. Traditionally, these had been in powder form, which was difficult to handle or in water, which causes it to biodegrade. This meant it could be safe to handle and now these are a major business and include some of the brands that sell weed killers and the like to homes.

The worst thing to happen in my career was…

I was operations director at the plant mentioned above. The company was handling hazardous chemicals which made my job a difficult and onerous task because of the risks involved. It was also during the last recession, so it was financially tight and it meant my house could have been on the line. So it was best for my career when I left and got out of that situation.

Chris Oldfield CV

Started off with British Steel as a trainee engineer. Then he worked in BICC. In the late 70’s he designed and built a plastics manufacturing plant and was involved in the management. Then joined the chemicals plant before joining Riverside.   

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