Machine Number Five
Recently, our local newspaper here in Bradford ran a story about Advanced Dynamics.
Essentially, it was about how we as a business transformed ourselves in the space of 18 months back in 2015 and changed the entire face of what Advanced Dynamics had been known for to meet a new emerging market.
At the bottom of that story, I am quoted as saying: “We went through the toughest experiences you could go through as a business. It wasn’t done over a prolonged period of time, we achieved it in 18 months and that experience has set us up since. We learned so much during that period.”
However, what that article didn’t explain is what those experiences were or what we went through as a business to get through that 18-month stint.
We’re not papering over any cracks here. It was a long, arduous, and at times painful process, but we persevered through it because we knew, ultimately, that the end goal we had in sight was the best thing for the future of the business.
And that’s something I firmly believe most companies, despite which sector they operate in, go through at some point.
At the centre of Advanced Dynamics’ story, however, was ‘machine number five’. That will mean nothing to you reading this right now, but bear with me and it will do.
Essentially, though, ‘machine number five’ is a metaphor for what I alluded to earlier, a process I believe every business goes through at some point or another – a moment where a company decides what it is, what it stands for, and what it needs to do in order to evolve.
The decisions that are made at that moment shape the next phase and how successful it is.
‘Machine number five’ was a culmination of all that for us.
How machine number five came about…
At the beginning of our business transformation, we had sold six filling machines to different rising e-liquid businesses – people that had come to us off the back of our reputation as a labelling machine company and the work we had done with them in the past.
That customer loyalty gave us an unbelievable platform.
We spoke to Pack Leader, one of our key suppliers, and instead of starting off with a small, desktop, filling machine, we went into a brand new market with a machine that it had never seen or worked with before. For reference, the machine was called the FL-800D.
In truth, it was a real baptism of fire at the beginning. We had no idea what was going to happen, but on paper and in principle, we thought it would work perfectly.
The biggest issue we were being faced with was that every business we were speaking with wanted to get their hands on it. That came with all sorts of different pressures and expectations – expectations we were trying to meet while we were working with Pack Leader to build this brand new machine that would revolutionise the e-liquid industry.
It was a huge gamble.
We had faced a lot of delays at the beginning and when the first filling machine was finally installed it didn’t achieve the speed that we wanted it to, it didn’t operate how we wanted it to and it didn’t successfully place any caps on the bottles accurately.
Basically, everything this machine should have done, it didn’t.
We’d had a lot of setbacks by this point already in the builds, but even despite those setbacks – over a number of months – and difficult conversations, we still retained the trust of our customers. They believed this machine would be worth the wait.
Fast forward and over the ensuing 18 months, we went through five different models of that machine until we got it right with number six.
Looking at them from a distance, they all look very similar, but with every model we sold we were having to amend them all, doing so free of charge – rightly so, too.
When that next change didn’t work, the process was the same. We had to amend them all. With the six machines we sold, five of them needed completely overhauling five times until we got them to a state which successfully did what was required.
Introducing machine number five
All of our learnings. All of our overhauls. All of our changes. Everything we did during that 18-month period eventually proved fruitful.
And while we had finally got it right, got it bang on the money, with machine number six, machine number five was the one that had suffered the longest delays and from the knock-on effects of the first four overhauls that came before it.
In the end, we even had to take backward steps on it before it was eventually fixed.
After all of that, that was the only customer that I have had to stand in front of, to this day, and answer the question ‘what are we going to do now?’ with ‘I have no idea’.
Every time we have had a problem with a machine, I have been able to see a way out of it. We could always see, logically, how changing one thing impacted another and how it fit together. But, without a total refurb, I couldn’t see a solution.
Machine five, essentially, was the casualty of all the work we had done, but without it, without persevering with it, we wouldn’t have gotten over the line.
Again, being totally frank, we lost that customer to a competitor. We bought the machine back for the price we sold it, refurbished it, and sold it on.
=Thankfully, we have been able to retain that relationship and that customer has still bought kit from Advanced Dynamics since.
Actively seeking out problems and trusting gut instinct
Since then, we work to actively seek out problems. It’s those problems that allow us to grow as a business.
It’s during those horrible 80-hour long weeks where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel where you learn the most. If you trust your instincts and believe in what you have always done, the way you have made decisions, and keep moving forward, it always works out in the end.
In 18 months, we went from being a comfortable labelling machine company and emerged out of it as a leading filling machine business.
Most businesses in our shoes would have pulled the machines out and just offered the customer their money back. It’s difficult to keep pressing ahead, spending the time and the money, as we did, when so much has gone wrong.
What I do not mind admitting is that during that 18 months, there were a lot of discussions around why we decided to do this.
We questioned what we were doing. We questioned whether it would be better to go back to sticking to what we know and go back to just doing labellers.
At the end of every one of those discussions, though, we came back to the number one factor – this is what we had committed to.
That wasn’t just for the customer. We had made the decision that we were going to do this and we were going to see this through. It was the best thing that could have happened for the business and our careers and we’re excited to see where it takes us next.
This company would be nothing like it is today without that 18 months, nor without machine number five.