Keeping Your Business Online All The Time

“The costs of losing electric power are almost unthinkable for many businesses now,” says Ann Brown, Managing Director of FG Wilson.

FG Wilson has been around long enough, more than 50 years, to see a transformation in how customers use electric power today. “There’s always been a need for reliable power for critical applications,” says Ann, “but now there’s an even greater edge to it and much of this is driven by increasing reliance on digital technology. Fifteen or twenty years ago, businesses which lost electric power probably had a back-up plan to work with pen and paper. But today, when power is lost, everything else stops with it. Particularly for businesses which operate data centres either for themselves or for others, the costs of going offline due to power outages are colossal.”

That means that for many businesses, the tried and tested generator set has a place. Ann says, “There are many ways to store or produce energy but when it comes to guaranteeing standby or emergency electrical power, in terms of cost, flexibility and responsiveness, there’s really no better option than a generator set.”

Now among a handful of global generator set brands, just over 50 years ago, FG Wilson was a small engineering company in Northern Ireland, owned and managed by its founder Fred Wilson. Then came the energy crisis of the early 1970s. Turbulence in the Middle East led to restrictions in the supply of oil and higher prices which created huge transport and power infrastructure problems in many Western economies. With electricity rationed in the UK, Fred saw an opportunity. He chartered planes and flew in electricity generator sets from the US, auctioning them from a warehouse near Heathrow Airport. A booming global export business followed and FG Wilson quickly found itself on a steep growth curve as Fred began manufacturing himself.

Today, FG Wilson manufactures generator sets powered by diesel or gas engines with power ratings from 6.8 – 2,500 kVA for small to very large businesses. Some customers can walk into a dealership and drive away with a ready-to-run generator set, while for others it’s a major project. That means working with consultants on load requirements, finding the right generator set, designing the complete layout of the generator set including exhaust and fuel systems, installation and commissioning. Ann sees this as a key strength of FG Wilson: “With larger projects, it’s about managing complexity and risk, so for a customer the choice of supplier is important. It’s about trust and we achieve that through the stringent testing and validation of our products, the competency of our engineering teams at our factory and dealers, and with the onsite support from our dealers.”

Customers with critical power needs have always been a key part of FG Wilson’s business and the brand today has many customers in the healthcare, data centre, telecoms and banking sectors. For each, that means a full turnkey power system, designed to accommodate critical loads in key areas of a customer’s operations.

One area which has seen a major leap forward recently is remote monitoring of power systems. In 2017, FG Wilson completed a major power project for one of the largest hospitals in Eastern Europe, Ljubljana University Clinical Centre in Slovenia which has 2,000 beds and treats 115,000 in-patients and 1.2 million outpatients each year. FG Wilson installed 5,000 kVA of standby power across four generator sets to provide emergency and standby power anywhere inside the main hospital building and a new Medical Emergency Unit. The local FG Wilson dealer designed and installed complete automation for this power system, with monitoring software and the complete generator set system is connected to the main Control Centre and to local monitoring computers and smartphones and tablets of the maintenance staff.

That ability to design bespoke power projects has been a core element of FG Wilson from day one. In the early 1970s, FG Wilson built its name designing, building and commissioning mini power stations in the Middle East, often in very inhospitable operating environments. The tradition continues today: in many European and Middle Eastern cities, it’s possible to look across the skyline and pick out large landmark buildings which rely on FG Wilson generator sets for standby power. This custom-engineering business for large generator sets is important to Ann: “We know this is something which FG Wilson does well. We’ve a long track record of experience, within our organisation and within the dealer network, world class facilities.”

The FG Wilson approach is simple. Ann says, “You could sum us up in 3 words: products, dealers and support.”

Across the entire product range, FG Wilson takes the same approach to product design and launch, whether the generator set is large or small. Nothing is released for sale until it has been rigorously tested, validated and a full suite of parts is ready for customers. All of this goes on at an Engineering Centre in the UK, a $26 million investment which is also home to Europe’s largest Anechoic Chamber for noise testing. “This is how we operate,” says Ann. “When we bring products to market, we know exactly how they will function for our customers in real conditions and we know we can support them fully. That’s very important to us and we won’t compromise on it. Just as an example, recently many of our generator sets in the Caribbean were battered by two major hurricanes, and then went on to operate for four months all day until mains power was restored. It’s gladdened our hearts to get feedback and photos from customers who have relied on us and our products. When someone asks us why we do what we do, there’s the answer.”

Supporting those products is a network of dealers, painstakingly built up over decades. Ann says, “People starting in our industry often under-estimate how difficult it is to establish a strong distribution network. Yes, you can support customers locally yourself within a small radius of where you are, but once you go further, you need good local distribution partners.”

Dealer support is backed up by a parts operation stocking more than 11,500 parts products and delivering up to 3 million parts a year. There is a large population of products to support: since 1990, which is as far back as their IT systems can report, over 600,000 FG Wilson generator sets have been installed worldwide. If you lined up every one of them, you could power an entire country the size of the UK.

So, what about the future? Ann says, “Demand for power is going to grow, everyone sees that. People will expect more stable power, zero tolerance of power outages. And I see a place for generator sets in that for the foreseeable future: technology has made engines much more efficient and that will continue to happen for as long as we use them. On customer sites, generator sets will co-exist more with other renewable power generation technology as part of a balanced solution. We’re already seeing that: maybe the generator set is for critical power needs onsite while some electrical energy, perhaps derived from renewable sources, is stored for other applications.”

Ann is optimistic for the future: “Today our designs have moved on while the philosophy of our founders remains as strong as ever: self-contained generator sets which are easy to install and operate, designed for a long and productive working life, supported by a wide and professional dealer network and which represent great value for money.”

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