Behind the Booth: Stories from the show floor - Meet Dave Ellson

30 & 31 October 2024

NEC, Birmingham

Close this search box.

30 & 31 Oct 2024 | NEC Birmingham

Behind the Booth: Stories from the show floor – Meet Dave Ellson, Managing Director at PRF Composite Materials

London, 23/01/2024

Welcome Dave! 

  • Can you give me some insights into your career path and how you ended up in this job?

I was very lucky to land in this industry by accident. I worked in an animal feed factory, which was the worst job ever! I saw an advert for a Quality Control technician at Cyanamid Fothergill, so I applied for it. The job interview letter got sent to my old house, as I had recently moved, so I missed the interview and they had filled the vacancy. By luck, they called me 7 weeks after that to offer me the job!

The first year was building the business, then it boomed after that. I really enjoyed the small team of can do people; it was like a family business at the start and I was able to move around the business, experience the variety, creativity and responsiveness of a small growing composites business. As companies I was in grew and grew, the layers and layers of complication and bureaucracy became too much. I made moves from quality to purchasing and then to sales when I moved to the US. When the pandemic hit, I was made redundant. As I was looking at new opportunities, I came back to conversations I had had with Robert Burnell (then MD, now CEO of PRF) about joining.

What I liked about PRF was that Robert was investing when everyone else was contracting in 2020. His thinking was that he wanted to prepare for coming out of the pandemic strong. I liked that boldness.  And as a family business, it took me back to the family days of the beginnings of Cytec.  I’ve always enjoyed being a team player and being part of a strong, innovative team.

I’ve left the composites industry twice, once to work in electronics and once in heavy metals for automotive parts. Why I have come back to composites both times was opportunity and also that – after 35 years in the composites industry – I’m still learning and there is so much change and new drivers of change (as now with sustainability) and that drive for innovation keeps me here!

  • Did you participate in last year’s show? 

Yes, we’ve been attending the Advanced Engineering show for about 10 years now, and we headline sponsored the Composites Zone in 2023.

  • How was it for you? 

The voice of the customer is so important and these events are critical to hearing this and getting this feedback from the market.

  • what is it like meeting face-to-face with clients

Quite diverse: students at one end and then, at the other end, meetings with managing directors of composites – stalwarts of composites industry. We like to see young people coming on and showing interest in the industry – we need to encourage these students at the beginnings of their careers and bring them into the industry.

It’s always fantastic to have these dialogues at Advanced Engineering: so positive and our clients are doing such amazing things. The engagement is excellent and seeing what’s going on in the industry is great. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to promote our involvement in the ThrustWSH project, led by Richard Noble and Lorne Campbell as well. Innovation and challenge, and flying the flag for Britain is incredibly important for us as an industry.

  • Are you exhibiting at the October show? 
    – have you begun preparations yet?

Yes, we will be at the 2024 Advanced Engineering show and are already preparing. We are headline sponsors of the Composites Zone for the second year running and look forward to the opportunities that brings.

  • Let’s talk more about the industry,
    – do you think there are any industry-specific 
    challenges or opportunities in the UK market that 
    your products or solutions address?

Sustainability – this is the big challenge. Speaking for PRF, we don’t want to green wash; we want to do things that are tangible, measurable and make an actual difference. Plastic is a dirty word now and we don’t want composites to become the next ‘plastic’. As such, managing waste and converting composites waste is so important – hence our REEPREG, prepreg made using recycled carbon chopped mat. In combination with our RP570 eXpress cure prepreg system, REEPREG has true benefits in waste reduction, improvement in circularity and significant reduction in energy consumption during processing. When pressing, we are also saving plastic consumables from waste as well.  We also need to consider the balance between sustainability and cost-efficiency – we need to look at increasing both productivity and sustainability, rather than asking our customers to choose sustainability over economics.

Composites drives the development of products. If you look at the evolution of cars for instance, the McLaren F1 was the first to use composite materials, but that was a hypercar – now composites are in midrange vehicles. The challenge for the automotive market is cost-effective composite solutions that deliver what is needed for electric and hydrogen vehicles. Cost-effective and sustainable products like REEPREG combined with our RP570 is a realistic option for this. For mass transportation, the challenge is to combine the environmental, productivity and cost requirements.

Skills is the biggest challenge that we face as an industry. Combined, at PRF we have a nucleus of highly experienced people – I have 35 years experience, Robert (CEO) has over 40 years working with composites. As such, apprenticeships are something we are seriously looking at in the future, for sharing this knowledge and building the skills of future generations of composite engineers. The question is also how to retain good people in composites, rather than losing them to other material engineering industries. Government needs to support our industry in doing this as well – businesses can’t do it all. Technological advancement has to be key for any government; supporting high quality, high tech advanced engineering industries for economic security.

  • Does your company contribute to sustainability 
    and environmental considerations in the engineering

PRF is a member of the Composites UK Sustainability Subgroup, and we have our own sustainability and environmental goals as well. We are investing in product development, manufacturing innovation and operational improvements to lower our impact and to help our customers to do the same.

  • What ongoing efforts does your organisation 
    make to stay at the forefront of technology 
    advancements and maintain a competitive 
    edge in the market

Composites is a highly competitive and innovative industry, in which we are known for product development. Our focus, in our 40 years of working at the forefront of the industry, is to listen to our customers and what they need, looking at productivity, cost-efficiency, technical requirements and sustainability. This drives our innovation and allows us to create products that are confirmed as market-leading, such as our Q.tool (UK Patent GB2614600) and our RP570 FR eXpress cure prepreg system, that was shortlisted for the Innovation in Materials category at last year’s Composites UK Industry awards.

We invest in technology and product development, and are already working on our product development centre, which we hope to open this year.

  • Where do you see the future of engineering going

UK is deemed to be a leader in composites, example F1. Could we do better? Yes, absolutely. I can’t see any material replacing composites, but if we look at our competition, this comes from metal and other material industries. So part of the challenge for composites is to look at these other materials, rather than internally against each other. As an industry, we need to ensure that we are not pricing ourselves out of opportunities and to not lose our competitive edge over other material industries. The future is extremely bright for the composites industry. Every day there are new applications for composites; it is a growth industry and can answer some of the sustainability challenges that, for example, metal production can’t.

  • Do you have advice for any students starting in the
    engineering industry

For students coming into composites: Grab it with both hands and run with it! It is a hugely exciting industry to be in!

I guess I was lucky that when I joined the industry was just developing and job change and variety was good, and the challenges were there – which helps in building confidence and a broad range of skills and experience. Come into the industry with a positive attitude and a desire and willingness to learn, and you will go far. I would also encourage anyone to take the opportunity to learn new skills; skills are a reward in themselves and the more skills you have in your skillsbox, the more employable you are. Promotions for me have come from these transferable skills, and people see your readiness to learn – it promotes your visibility in your company. I didn’t start my career with pieces of paper from higher education to prove my potential, but I competed with highly educated peers because I had the skills to compete with them.

  • How do you feel about the new government 
    putting 4.5 billion in funding for British 

I welcome any investment from the government, but the proof is in the pudding. Administration of these funds are always the issue. The fund can be there, but if it’s a shambles administering it then that’s not helpful. Business shouldn’t be there just as an opportunity to gain tax revenue; Industry needs the support of the government. Of course there has to be boundaries on funding, so advantage is not taken, but the accessibility of these funds – evidence, administrative steps etc – need to be straightforward and understandable so that businesses can work to these. For example, what could really benefit industry is simplifying R&D tax relief and creating meaningful incentives for apprenticeships. Investment in innovation is what is needed.

This was an insightful depth into the composites industry, thank you Dave for your thoughtful responses! 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Easyfairs acquires Southern Manufacturing & Electronics

Easyfairs, the world’s largest privately owned exhibition organiser, today
announced the acquisition of European Trade & Exhibition Services, organiser of Southern Manufacturing & Electronics, bolstering its already extensive engineering and manufacturing portfolio that incorporates Advanced Engineering as well as many other brands across Europe

Read More »
Scroll to Top