Birmingham-based FJD Consulting has just been crowned New Civil Engineer’s NCE100 Trending 20 champion, indicating that it has some great stories to tell.
The team leading Birmingham-based rail engineering firm FJD Consulting has set out an ambitious business strategy.
It plans to expand into roads, airports and geotechnical engineering, and bring in virtual reality as a core business offering. At the same time it is gearing up for the mass of tender opportunities generated by Network Rail’s next investment period, CP6, and High Speed 2 (HS2). And all that is on top of just being crowned New Civil Engineer’s Trending 20 champion, the award to the top small firm in the NCE100.
With this optimism and excitement, it comes as a surprise when the company’s executives reveal that they have just had their toughest year yet.
The 24 strong firm estimates rail cutbacks including transport secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to curtail the Great Western Main Line electrification programme lost it up to £1M in anticipated revenue. This included around £600,000 worth of work lined up for the scrapped electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea route, and electrification into Bath. FJD had even opened an office in Bristol off the back of a £100,000 deal to do temporary works design for the new roof of Temple Meads Station. This contract was pulled with virtually no warning.
“The contractor was just mobilising on site, we had probably about £100,000 of work to start and they got a phone call one morning saying it has been pulled and it has gone,” says director Simon Moon (above left).
We thought as our own business we can deliver that work a lot cheaper than big consultancies because our overheads were cheaper
Moon, a design engineer who joined Atkins from university, runs FJD Consulting with his business partner Mark Jenner (above right), a construction engineer, who runs sister construction management firm FJD Construction. The two first met when working at Birse Rail, which was subsequently taken over by Balfour Beatty. Although they went their separate ways professionally, they stayed in touch. The two started FJD Consulting in 2012, and just a few months later Birse’s core design team joined them, bringing in a stream of contracts. This was helped by Network Rail having, at the time, an enhanced spending programme, meaning it had to spend a certain amount in a certain timeframe.
“We knew the quality of work we could deliver. We had proven capability of delivering it in our historical past. We thought as our own business we can deliver that work a lot cheaper than big consultancies because the overheads were cheaper,” says Jenner.
Year on year growth
The firm, which has an annual turnover between £1.5M and £1.7M, had experienced year-on-year growth until now.
“Last year we went backwards in terms of turnover as a result [of the cutbacks],” says Jenner. “We took a view to retain all our team. It was an uncertain time, but we knew long term the business is sound, the market was good and it was sustainable, and it meant us doing a lot more in terms of getting other work in.”
“There’s one individual in particular we employ and I know the skills they possess are very difficult to find in the market,” adds Moon. “Had that one person gone, a lot of our core capability goes, when work comes in again.”
And thankfully the work is starting to pick up again, with early HS2 deals and CP6 tender opportunities starting to come through.
We’ve got the new control period starting in eight or nine months and already seeing tender opportunities around the regions
Like many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), FJD Consulting is keen to work on HS2 and its headquarters in Birmingham are ideally placed in Birmingham, but Moon believes that most contracts will not trickle down until there are boots on the ground. He adds that already the big contractors “have taken a massive grab of it.”
FJD Consulting is starting work with an archaeologist at Curzon Street in Birmingham, whose work entails an interface between the HS2 site and the West Coast Main Line. FJD will do some assessment works and temporary works design. It has also been working with the National College for High Speed Rail (NCHSR) to develop apprenticeships – the only SME to get so involved.
FJD’s ethos has not changed over the years: it aims to offer a good product at a decent rate. With market changes, including bigger consultancies expanding and more becoming ambitious about the work they go after, the duo is optimistic about the future, particularly for its Bristol office.
High rail spend coming
“We’ve got the new control period starting in eight or nine months and already seeing tender opportunities around the regions. Bristol and the South West has historically seen underinvestment. The spend in that area just to make simple upgrades is perceived to be quite high,” says Moon.
The project that caught the NCE100 judges’ eye, gaining it the Trending 20 Champion status, was on the Great Central Railway in Loughborough, Leicestershire.
The Great Central Railway is a charity and needed two sections of the line to be reunited as a part of its “Closing the Gap” Project. It involved rejuvenating a 400m section of redundant track and infrastructure to provide a continuous 29km length of heritage railway.
The donor-funded project was being undertaken on a tight budget, which called for innovation.
“We had quite a blank canvas and were able to think less like mainline engineers and more like practising civil engineers and try and find some pretty neat solutions, which weren’t possession dependant, which is pretty much the mindset whenever we do any work,” says Moon.
By using BIM Level 2 the team was able to create a digital picture of the design, which the charity could then use to bring in donations. Design innovations included using “flat packed” bridges to maximise value. The team also sourced redundant bridges from other railway projects, with Network Rail’s Reading Remodelling Project providing two steel bridges, saving the project approximately £2M.
Other engineering challenges included the development of reinforced earth solutions to make embankment slopes narrower so the charity did not have to buy land or divert utilities.
“We brought modern thinking to solve the problem,” says Moon.