Success built on a solid engineering foundation

Uploaded 16 Mar @ 15:55pm

Ian Drew, Operations Director at the Swindon-based Retrac Group, explains the ethos behind the steady progress made by the business over many years.
Success at the Retrac Group has been built from a solid engineering background. Retrac Composites Ltd will be celebrating its 20-year anniversary later this year. Founded as a complement to our sister company, Retrac Productions, which itself was founded in 1972 by the Carter family (Retrac is Carter in reverse), established in its early years as a pattern shop supporting the automotive industry, before evolving into a CNC machine shop and tool maker.
As the company grew it could offer design and machining capabilities to Formula 1 teams in the 1990s, producing patterns, moulds, jigs & fixtures and metallic components. With F1 moving into composite components, adding a composite facility, perfectly suited the machining side of the business. Forming Retrac Composites in 1998 enabled the group to develop a stronger relationship within the Formula 1 industry, producing parts from design to fully assembled components. Retrac Composites developed early relationships within F1 that still exist to this day. The growth has been through hard work, quality and reputation, with more teams on the grid turning to us for support with their build programmes.
With our reputation for producing Class A structural components as well as engine component programmes and to date, most parts on a racecar, we could take on local people and train them to the ‘Retrac’ way of producing composite tooling and parts. This is still very evident today. It has enabled the business to retain its core staff and promote from within, meaning Directors, Project Managers and senior personnel have all wholly experienced the full requirements and understanding of composite manufacture and how the business operates. Staff retention, flexibility and commitment has built a sustainable business model.
Obviously, we are seeing an ever-increasing demand for composites across all major sectors, due to its beneficial characteristics. More demand needs to be fulfilled, and yet we still see competitors struggling through hard times. Our steady growth plan and gradual investment programmes, have ensured we keep financial stability. We have not excessively marketed over the years, and have not tried to take on the world. We have recognised the need for diversification and have implemented changes where required based on customer requirements wherever possible.
The purchase of a new building and the investment in a Class 6 cleanroom has helped in developing a different side of the business separated away from our motorsport work.
This facility is set up with its own Operations Manager, Project Manager and staff. This division has given piece of mind to potential customers that worry about the motorsport demand with its fluctuating manufacturing trends. We have successfully delivered large scale tooling projects to a variety of Tier 1 and 2 aerospace companies and relationships are developing not only within aerospace, but other sectors alongside motorsport.
With our knowledge and expertise in composites, supported by our engineering background experience, customers are seeing what we can produce and achieve first-hand and this is only enhancing our growing reputation. With the promotion of an internal Quality Manager this has also enabled us to focus our efforts on recertifying AS9100. We are pending the Accreditation of AS9100 Rev D within this facility in the second quarter of this year.
Work still fluctuates throughout the business and we still rely on contract manufacturing staff to help through the busier times of the year. We have vetted individuals over many years who are happy to return to us on a contract bases as and when required. Some have remained with us continually over the past 12 to 18 months, indicating the increased interest for us to supply to more customers.
We have recently welcomed back our Managing Director after a long-term illness, and have recently added two new Project Managers to our motorsport facility to cope with demand, to enable them to look after individual customers providing better support. This has allowed two senior personnel to focus on running and developing our newer facility for non-Formula 1 requirements from our new offices.
We have taken on some additional experienced laminators, plus we still have trainees in laminating and trimming/fitting positions. We have also introduced a full-time nightshift over the past 12 months, helping to push work through over 24 hours. Our staff are flexible and obviously we rely on their good will and support during busier times with overtime during evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays as required.
We are continuing to work with new customers to develop R&D manufacturing methods for future processes within the composite industry. A lot of the work we undertake is too sensitive to talk about, but we are venturing into exciting times as a company.
We are under no illusion that we are only ever as good as our last job, so reactivity, quality and on-time delivery are high on our list of priorities. We are still looking to improve our facilities within what we currently own and this will help with further efficiency and productivity.
Having already invested and installed a new Zund G3 cutting machine with ZCapture software and lightspeed projection software. We have also upgraded our main industrial extractor system to help further with dust control, and we are in the process of purchasing a fourth large autoclave with forced cooling capabilities. We hope for this installation to
take place later this year.
With all the above improvements to our infrastructure and careful thought to capital expenditure, it should help to take us to the next level of customer demand and further future proof the business.

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