A blinding performance

Celebrating 35 years of successful business this year, Solar Solve Marine has grown to become the leading manufacturer of high performance sunscreens for the marine industry today. Originally founded in Sunderland, for the design and supply of roller blinds to the domestic market in the UK, the organisation’s emergence into the ship building arena came in 1986 when it was approached by Sunderland Ship Builders for the manufacture of a specialist roller blind designed specifically for installation on ships. Utilising its experience within the field, Solar Solve Marine soon completed its first order for 26 ferries from A to Z being built for Denmark and the rest is history. Still operating as a family entity today, the company has continued to seize opportunities for growth and expansion over the years moving to larger offices in South Shields and investing in new factory facilities in the Port of Tyne. With an inordinate reception in the marine industry, this area now takes up over 98 per cent of the business with 88 per cent of all orders being exported to seven continents and 60 countries worldwide.

Founder and chairman of the company, John Lightfoot, a marine engineer by profession, was awarded an MBE for his services to international trade in 2002 and Julie Lightfoot, his daughter and managing director of Solar Solve Marine highlights the key elements of the company’s success: “We believe in quality, service and reliability. We refuse to buy cheap components and prefer to obtain quality parts from manufacturers in Europe though if possible we look to local UK companies for supply relationships. One of the key reasons behind the business’ success is the fact that we are able to manufacture and dispatch our products within the same day, a major accolade considering that it is not unusual for the marine industry to have a six week wait period. We also have such confidence in our solution that we offer a five-year guarantee and simply replace any product that fails to perform. Having reached quite a milestone with our 35 year anniversary this year we are looking forward to a big celebratory party with our staff and stakeholders.”

With Solar Solve Marine’s portfolio providing premier anti-glare and heat rejecting sunscreen credentials to a variety of marine applications, installations and specifications it is no wonder that SOLASOLV has become the world’s leading brand name. Meeting all Lloyd’s, DNV, ABS and ISO8468:1995 regulations, the product range spans sunscreens for navigation bridge windows, marine interior windows and areas in need of blackout conditions such as chart rooms, control rooms, training rooms and laboratories. The SOLASAFE anti glare roller sunscreens for navigation bridge windows offer a variety of benefits to customers including a 93 per cent reduction in glare to guarantee clear visibility and safer navigation, reduced eye strain, a more comfortable work environment by rejecting up to 87 per cent of the sun’s heat and the protection of the body with 97 per cent of UV light being filtered by the screen. A variety of screen shapes, fastening options, electrical or battery operations, films, fixings and dimensions, ensure that every customer receives a sunscreen tailored to their exact needs, while the inbuilt ‘wipe clean’ brush system enables any dirt and dust collected during operation to be removed when the screen is retracted.

SOLASOLV screens also address environmental issues, which is currently a hot topic, by reducing the demand on air conditioning systems in the wheelhouse, harmful CO2 emissions are therefore reduced for a greener, cleaner environment, saving fuel and saving money for the shipowner.

“Research and development is not a priority for us because we have a product that works,” Julie notes. “Customers don’t buy the product for its technicality but rather for the fact that it is a solution to a problem and this is how we market our range. We find that the product sells itself and over 100,000 of our screens are in operation on more than 10,000 vessels today. According to RINA (Royal Institute of Naval Architects) and its annual document of the most prestigious vessels in the marine industry, SOLASOLV has been installed on seven of the most significant ships in 2009 – quite an achievement.”

Having placed substantial investment in its factory facilities in 2006, taking production from four smaller sites to one large factory, Solar Solve Marine is seizing the opportunity for greater efficiency and flexibility. Opened by HRH the Duke of York in December 2006 in his capacity as the UK’s special representative for international trade and investment, the factory named ‘The Tyne Dock Facility’ provides three times more floor space and plenty of room for expansion. With all staff now situated under one roof, communication between colleagues is far easier, while new highly sophisticated manufacturing equipment and areas have not only increased production but have also eliminated bottlenecks. As a result of this move turnover has increased by 20 per cent year-on-year, which is an impressive growth margin considering the economic climate.

One of the key reasons the organisation emerged from the recession relatively unscathed is due to the fact that Solar Solve Marine exports to over 60 countries and yet still aims to expand into further markets. Several new areas have been identified for growth especially within the sub sectors of the marine industry, while the potential to manufacture other types of equipment for the sector is another possibility. “Hopefully in five years time we will still be manufacturing the same high quality products with the same staff. We are continually looking for opportunities to produce other, similar types of equipment, but are keen to not take our eyes off the ball with regards to the success of our SOLASOLV solution. Our customers have confidence in our brand and the fact that I sit on the Board of the British Marine Equipment Association Council in London also ensures that we keep in touch with the industry and requirements of our customers,” Julie notes.

World leader for high performance marine sunscreens

Has over 100,000 units in operation on 10,000 vessels worldwide

Has increased efficiency through new factory facilities