Established in 1972, Dacey Ltd. remains a family-owned business, which manufactures a full range of bespoke orthotic products at their facilities in Cardiff and Merthyr. Their product range includes bespoke surgical, modular and stock footwear, functional foot orthoses, plastic and metal orthoses and all types of fabric supports. All these are currently supplied to NHS Hospitals across the UK, Ireland and Denmark.
Dacey also provide comprehensive orthotic services to NHS partners across South and Mid Wales, the West Midlands and South West England. These services include provision of healthcare professionals called ‘Orthotists’ who assess patients in hospital clinics for footwear and other orthoses, which are then custom made, supplied and fitted.
Each shoe is individually tailored to the needs and measurements of the patient. This involves transforming a patient’s foot measurements into a 3D ‘last’ around which a bespoke shoe can be built. The complete process integrates: last making, the cutting and stitching of leather uppers, fixing of sole units and fitting of orthotic inserts if needed. Once completed, the shoes are issued to the hospital clinics for patient fitting and if necessary reworked to achieve optimum fit.
The business remains the only Welsh manufacturer of its kind in the orthotic industry and currently employ over 100 people.
What they did
Dacey was established over 40 years ago and has since built a strong reputation for reliability and quality of its products. Over the years, the business has been successfully awarded various NHS contracts for the provision of its products and services, all of which have been overseen by Managing Director, Bob Cooper, and his management team – sons Paul and Tom Cooper as well as orthotists Stuart Rees and Steve Hunt. Together they have guided the business through a transitional phase to increase turnover to a record high.
Dacey presently manufacture approximately 6000 pairs of bespoke footwear for the disabled every year. These are specialist, made to measure shoes, mainly for NHS patients with foot conditions that mean they are unable to buy off-the-shelf footwear.
Having encountered a production bottleneck due to capacity issues, the business targeted their last-making and upper-cutting sections for improvement. This led to the adoption of technology, which was simply not being integrated in their industry at that time. This new application of technology would open new possibilities for expansion and growth.
The process involved investing in:
1. Portable scanners which could be used by orthotists to digitally measure patients’ feet with far more accuracy, sending the measurements to the factory instantaneously.
2. New computer software – so that the scans could be processed in the factory to produce digital 3D model lasts which can be rectified on a computer screen.
3. Specialist 3D printers, allowing for an easier and quicker creation of a new type of model last, perfect for building more complex footwear.
4. High speed milling machine – enabling a quick and easier creation of a new type of model last, perfect for building the straight-forward footwear.
What would they do differently?
Having seen the benefits of the new automation systems, they would have adopted these earlier and invested more time in technologically advanced production.
Their proudest moment in business
Their proudest moment in business to date is revolutionising a traditional manufacturing method with a forward-thinking innovative system at the forefront of technological advances.
Describe the type of support (financial / non-financial) they’ve received from Business Wales / Welsh Government
As the business was using very traditional, time-consuming and labour-intensive manufacturing methods, making the lasts by hand to a specification or cast, Bob sought Business Wales’ assistance as he was looking to incorporate new CAD CAM shoe last making systems and 3D printing techniques into the manufacturing process. Due to capacity constraints, Bob also identified new premises for the factory, which would further increase production and maximise efficiencies.
Business Wales and Welsh Government worked with Dacey to support the concept and looked for ways to streamline the whole manufacturing process. As a result, Welsh Government provided financial support from their Innovation Fund for the automation of the leather-cutting process.
Additionally, a Business Wales Relationship Manager, Brian Roberts, assisted Bob with formulating their business and financial plans as part of a Growth and Prosperity grant application. The business was able to secure £50,000 towards the cost of the scanners, software, 3D printers and last-milling machine.
Brian referred Bob to a Business Wales Tendering Adviser to help with the further expansion plans, including tendering for various NHS Trusts. A Resource Efficiency Adviser has also been working with the business, providing assistance with accessing Carbon Trust funding for the proposed new premises.
As a result of the financial and business advice, Dacey have been able to observe some immediate benefits, including more accurate measurements, meaning less rework and fewer visits by patients, quicker product lead times, removal of the production constraints enabling increased productivity and better export potential.
They have already created 10 jobs with a further 3 technicians to be recruited by the end of the year.
Dacey’s top tips for anyone else looking to start or grow their own business would be:
- don’t be afraid of ‘CHANGE’ – look for alternative ways of doing things
- integrate new technologies within your industry whenever feasible
- don’t forget the people – a skilled workforce might seem a threat, but in fact, their skills are evolving and there will be more, not fewer, jobs in the future – but you have to allay their fears in an honest way
- don’t let cost be an obstacle – there is always another way of doing things, and investment can be phased in stages
- keep an open mind and listen to advice, both internal and external