IT IS the components and cables manufactured in Scotland that help make humankind’s place in space possible, provide Wi-Fi in aircraft and give the planet access to critical satellite systems.

WL Gore’s facility in Dundee was closed for just two days before getting back up and running again as an essential business on two shifts with workers given the option to return.

It didn’t take plant leader Sheona Barlow long to explain to the younger members of her own family why her work was key as lockdown was being brought into effect.

The manager, who has been at the firm 34 years after joining aged 17 for a summer job as a receptionist, said the organisation reacted quickly to changing working requirements.

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She said: “As an enterprise, we always have crisis management plans in place. So we were prepared for some kind of emergency whatever that may be, but not necessarily on the global scale of Covid.

“Worldwide, regionally, UK-wide, different pandemic teams have been created, and I’m working closely with all the different teams, whether it be health and safety or facilities specialists.”

However, she said: “We really needed to take a step back and decide how are we going to approach this. So actually the week before the lockdown announcement by Boris [Johnson] and Nicola [Sturgeon], we had already sent all associates [staff] home to work from home if they could. Anyone who could work from home was already working from home.

“It was only those associates directly tied to manufacturing who needed to be in the plant to do their job who were still working at that point on that Monday evening.

“As soon as the announcements came out, my phone was on fire with messages asking ‘what’s happening, are we coming to the plant tomorrow, are we open?

“I was on many calls again, with a European leadership team to establish where do we stand.

“So, actually we made a decision that night that we would meet very early in the morning on the Tuesday, at which point we made a decision, we were going to suspend manufacturing until we got some clarification.

“We were able to put in all the safety measures that we needed to ensure cleanliness standards, social distancing.

“Within two days, we’re back up and running on the two shifts.”

The supply chain has also been maintained.

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“Right now all of our key suppliers are open, but in the first two weeks, some of them did closed leaving us with some potential exposure.

“As it happens, everything has kept running. So our supplier base are all up and running.”

She continued: “My two children were questioning why would space be essential? As soon as I explained, they said, ‘Yes, I get it’.”

She said: “We are connecting the world, if you like, providing internet access, GPS. We have cables on the International Space Station.

“The main sectors that we are in are the defence and the space markets. So we have customers all over the globe. Customers like Airbus and Boeing, British Aerospace, some of these prime contractors. We have many, many customers, but I’m naming some of the bigger customers.

“We manufacture cable assemblies. So basically anything that transmits signals or data, the cable assembly is what we’re manufacturing in Dundee. So they are used for transmission lines. For example, one of the applications of our products is to enable the Wi-Fi on passenger aircraft. That would be an example of our product.”

The company was also in a strong position to respond to the economic downturn of 2009, adding: “We’ve always gone through some cycles of business, but in general our business has grown. Over the years since I’ve been here, there has been a pretty steady growth trajectory. Our business typically in Gore is quite diverse.

“We tend to have a number of different businesses, so when one is down, another might be up. So, it really helps us to balance.

“I would say we’ve never been terribly impacted by any of these individual downturns.

“This global pandemic, of course, is on a bigger scale. So who knows what the overall outcome is going to be on any businesses in the longer term.”

The technology, materials and medical manufacturing giant last year unveiled its first space centre of excellence outside the US, in Scotland.

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The launch of the Gore Space Centre of Excellence at Dundee Technology Park plant was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration of the firm’s legacy in helping the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.

With 50 staff added since last year, she is now heading up a facility of significant size and standing on a global stage and leading 150.

Looking back, she said: “I left school on the Monday, the 19th of May, 1986.

“I joined Gore on the 20th, as a bit of a filler for the summer months and to get me some career experience.

"It was very small at the time. It was actually in a little unit in Dundee. The technology part building was in the process of being built.

“There were only about 40 associates at the time, and I just really loved it.

“I was very curious. I was always asking questions. What does this mean? And what does this product do? So the plant leader at the time said ‘are you interested in going for some further education?'

“My strong subjects were always maths and science and I was a bit analytical, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I thought ‘yeah, why not’. I joined the local college end of September, so having joined Gore in May, and I was at college for four years on a day rellease and night school basis ... So, still working in Gore.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why? 

Business: USA & Germany – I enjoyed seeing the small cultural differences. Building face to face relationships and friendships, and it was a great opportunity to see cable manufacturing and core technology processing

Leisure: Dubai. It has a bit of everything – big cultural differences from UK

It has so much variety : Water fountain displays that rival The Bellagio, tallest buildings, beach safaris including cultural evenings, massive shopping centres with skiing, theme parks and aquariums and finally water parks that transport you to the top (much needed when its 45degC)

When you were a child, what was your ideal job?

Something medical or lab related,

Why did it appeal? 

I enjoyed science, being analytical and working with data/numbers

What was your biggest break in business? 

I've been involved in many significant program wins over the years, but one of the biggest achievements was the decision and Global support to invest in Dundee as the Space Centre of Excellence for cable assemblies

What was your worst moment in business? 

There's been a couple of examples of product line exits from Dundee.  It's always sad to see these businesses move on, and it's important to help associates to find new commitments

Who do you most admire and why? 

It's hard to choose one as there are so many inspiration people, but Steve Jobs springs to mind.  He reinvented Apple and had very strong beliefs about Design Quality and Standards -  he refused to compromise on perfection.

What book are you reading, what was the last film you saw and what music are you listening to?

Books: I read so much during my working day that I only read books while I'm on holiday.  During my last holiday I chose a very old book Disclosure by Michael Crichton.  I read it many years ago, and was intrigued to read it again to see if modern technology had really reflected what was written about in the early 1990s.

Last film: Military Wives - poignant and entertaining.

Music: Easy listening, 80s, George Michael, Michael Buble.