Innovating in Rail: an interview with John Butterworth

In the first in a series of blogs, we talk to John Butterworth, Head of Infrastructure Products at Gripple about how and why Gripple is so focused on innovation and how this has led us to, most recently, solving problems and challenges in the rail OLE sector.

(John Butterworth, Head of Infrastructure Projects with the new Gripple SwiftLine Rail Dropper)

Why is innovating and moving into new markets so important for Gripple?

"Innovation and developing new products is in our DNA at Gripple. We seek to constantly expand our horizons and find new markets where we can look to solve problems, drive efficiencies and increase safe working practices using our game changing innovations.

As a business, we have a target of achieving 20% of our annual turnover from the sale of products which have been developed and launched in the previous five years. This keeps us focused on growth and innovation in our existing markets as well as new ones.

The majority of new innovations start out life within our Ideas and Innovation Centre (our dedicated site at Don Road, Sheffield, UK) – where we have a team of over 30 product managers, designers, engineers and marketers who work closely with customers to come up with ideas that solve their challenges and put them into development.

(Gripple Innovation Centre, Don Road, Sheffield. One of Seven Gripple Sites in the City)

Our established markets (agriculture and construction) provide a stable platform for our business to grow, but we are constantly looking to disrupt traditional markets and help contractors and engineers working in them. This includes understanding the challenges they face and working with teams on the ground to find solutions and engineer products which can improve on their current methods, making work faster, safer, greener and more cost efficient.

Ultimately, we innovate and move into new markets because of our company’s triple bottom line of innovation; people, profit and planet."

As a Product Manager at Gripple, how do you look to identify opportunities in new markets?

"Everything starts with identifying a problem to solve. Whether that is installation time, material waste, health and safety or inefficiencies we first look to understand the problem and then explore how we can help.

Every aspect of new product development at Gripple is customer and market driven.

Across the business, we have a dedicated team of 10 product managers internationally who are responsible for monitoring external markets and spotting potential opportunities across the world.

Our product managers work alongside our team of product designers to ensure that development projects are continually progressing, and new products are reaching new markets as quickly as possible.

(Product managers and designers at Gripple Innovation Centre, Don Road, Sheffield)

As Gripple is a 100% employee-owned company, it means that all employees are fully invested in any new product development. All Gripple employees are also encouraged to look-out for new problems to solve and they can contribute towards new ideas to solve them.

Evidencing this, in 2021, we invested in an internal mobile 'New Ideas' app Eureka!. The app for Apple and Android, which all employees can download,  allows them to submit ideas for new product development directly to the product management team.

(Eureka! by Gripple, mobile application developed for capturing inspiration for new innovations)

We train all app users to hone in on the issues at the heart of the problem, and provide as much context as possible rather than offering solutions at this early stage."

Why did Gripple identify rail as a market prime for innovation?

"As you probably realise by now, as a business we’re always on the look-out for opportunities to innovate and improve ways of working for contractors and engineers on site.

The reason for recognising Rail as a potential market for innovation was that we identified broad similarities with rail OLE infrastructure compared with our existing quick installation catenary solutions, which are tried and tested in the building services industry.

When exploring any new market opportunity, we will always look for two things.

  • Is there a problem to solve?
  • Is the opportunity large enough volume to justify investment?

The rail industry ticked both of those boxes! We found there was a real demand for innovation which would speed up the rail electrification process globally, as the rail industry has ambitious electrification targets which are currently well behind schedule.

We wanted to learn more about this and discovered that much of the delay is caused by the products which are being used to install Overhead Line Electrification (OLE).

Working alongside Network Rail Engineers and their approved Contractors, and using our expertise in wire joining and tensioning, we started to work on the development of products which would solve those problems and allow rail engineers to install OLE infrastructure faster."

Click here to read more about how we developed the Gripple SwifLine Rail Dropper in our 2nd blog article and continued interview with John Butterworth.

We are excited to confirm that our SwiftLine Rail Dropper has now received Network Rail Product Approval and is available in the UK. Discover more here.

Tags: Rail, Corporate

Why use Gripple?

  • Innovative, patented solutions designed by an in-house team of engineers
  • Considerable reductions in packaging, vehicle movements & embodied CO2
  • A range of support services at every stage of your project, provided by our technical team
  • Complete, off-site solutions which minimise health and safety concerns
  • Significant time and cost savings on your project