In 1945 Rotork was a small engineering company which was subsequently acquired by brothers David and Jeremy Fry.
Jeremy recognised the potential for a valve actuation business and by 1957 the Rotork Engineering Company Ltd was trading at Widcombe Manor, his home in Bath. The first recognisable features of modern, modular actuator design were already in evidence and it was Jeremy’s ambition to introduce many more.
Early orders for BP and the Kuwait Oil Company led to major contracts for ESSO’s European refineries and Shell in Venezuela. Penetration of the Middle East increased with orders for Kharg Island, Iran and Iraq. In the UK, the order for the CEGB South Denes power station marked a breakthrough in this industry.
By 1959, annual actuator production was approaching 600 units, more than double the previous year, and Rotork’s first overseas agent, MB John & Hattersley of Ballarat in Australia, was appointed.
In 1960 Rotork introduced ‘O’ ring sealing. From then on, the actuator enclosure would be totally sealed from the environment when all the covers were in place, enabling the actuator to develop into an increasingly self-contained and sophisticated unit. 1960 also witnessed the introduction of the first ‘A’ range Syncroset actuator, on which Rotork’s growth into the world’s leading valve actuation company would be secured.
Heralding this growth, the first Rotork factory and production line was established in an old Bath mill building. The expansion of sales in Europe was pursued, leading to one of the largest orders in the company’s history, 1000 actuators for the French Atomic Energy Authority. This led to the establishment of a Rotork service company in France, followed by manufacturing licensee agreements in France, Germany and Italy. By 1962 agencies were also established in Canada and South Africa, both with local assembly facilities.
Rotork’s market share continued to grow and in 1962 the decision was made to build a purpose designed production plant at Brassmill Lane, which remains as the company’s international headquarters.
In 1964, the revolutionary Syncropak actuator was launched, offering the benefits of an integral starter and standard control circuitry. This proved attractive to most of Rotork’s markets and annual production flourished, reaching 4000 units by 1966 and over 6000 by the end of the decade. A manufacturing licensee was established in Japan and a Rotork office opened in New York.
In 1968 Rotork was introduced to the London Stock Exchange and the company name was changed to Rotork Controls Ltd. The shares were eagerly taken up, valuing the company at £2million.
By 1970 manufacturing facilities at Bath had more than doubled in size. Actuator reliability was further enhanced with the introduction of ‘double sealing’, a unique feature which helped the company to successfully negotiate the turbulent conditions of the 1970s.
In the USA a new manufacturing plant was opened in Maryland, following major breakthroughs with US oil companies and contractors. A specially developed actuator range was successfully tested and approved for nuclear power stations by the internationally dominant USA standards authorities.
In 1974 production was at a record level with over 13,000 units built. Rotork was employing over 450 staff in the UK and 80 overseas, creating an annual actuator sales value of £5million.
Back in the 1960s Rotork had manufactured fluid power actuators for British Gas pipelines. In the 70s this business had declined but later in the decade a new range of heavy duty fluid power actuators was introduced at Rotork’s US factory, by then situated in Rochester, NY.
Further expansion at Bath increased production capacity by 50%, enabling European manufacture to be centralised at the plant. A manufacturing joint venture in India was signed in 1977 and in 1979 a new Rotork company opened in Germany. By the end of the decade, a new range of electric actuators for very large valves, together with hydraulic and gas-over-oil additions to the fluid power range, enabled Rotork to offer an unrivalled product package.
The decade started in recession, followed by the Three Mile Island accident. Nevertheless 1982 was another record year and new Rotork offices were opened in Spain and Singapore a year later.
Product developments included the introduction of solid state electronics, focusing company policy on new technologies and ‘designed for excellence’ philosophies. When Jeremy Fry retired in 1984 his company had become a substantial international engineering group with annual sales of £21million.
An instrumentation company was purchased in 1985 to hasten the development of Pakscan, a digital bus control system that has since become the industry-standard for this type of system in many markets.
The Far East proved to be the major area of expansion. In 1987 Rotork Australia replaced the agency in that country, whilst Rotork Singapore became the hub for subsidiaries in South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong. In China, Rotork offices opened in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, with licensed manufacture in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Elsewhere, eight new Rotork offices opened in the USA and Canada, new companies were formed in Venezuela and Moscow and new agencies pursued burgeoning modernisation projects in Eastern Europe.
Bold expansion yielded a turnover figure of £40million by 1990, double the 1984 amount.
In 1989 Rotork won the actuation order for the urgent rebuilding of a major Russian oil pipeline, involving over 900 actuators with the first deliveries required within four weeks. The successful achievement of this order was instrumental in refocusing future policy on significant market share growth, assisted by further expansion of the subsidiary and agency network.
The early 1990s witnessed the launch of the ‘IQ’ actuator, a vitally important ‘intelligent’ replacement for the ‘A’ range. The ‘IQ’ also introduced ‘non-intrusive’ interrogation, enabling actuators to be commissioned without removing the electrical covers. Replacing the ‘A’ range was Rotork’s most significant task in three decades, and subsequent success and upgrades have proved that the engineers got it right.
In 1995 a dedicated Fluid Power Division was set up, operating from the UK, USA and Singapore. In 1999 a step change in fluid power actuator business was heralded by the acquisition of Fluid System Srl, situated in the heart of the Italian valvemaking industry at Lucca. Fluid System’s product range included subsea and other specialised derivatives. Lucca became the main manufacturing plant for fluid power actuators and the range began a successive programme of review, rationisation and development to create an unrivalled product offering.
Further investment in the Rotork Gears Division began in 1993 with the completion of the purchase of Exeeco, a gearbox company that had been part owned since 1987. A leading valve accessory company, Valvekits, was also purchased and in 1998 a company making small gearboxes in Holland called Alecto was added to the division.
Hand in hand with the expanded product range, the worldwide network of sales and service companies, agencies and manufacturing centres has undergone dramatic growth. Since 1997 new Rotork companies have been established in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Russia and China. This process has continued to the present day, increasing Rotork’s total number of offices, agencies and distributors throughout the world to over 350 in 87 countries.
The IQ Mk 2 actuator was launched in 2000, followed by the IQT quarter-turn version in 2004 and the IQPro third generation development in 2006.
Further electric actuator developments were heralded by the purchase of Skilmatic in 2000 and Jordan Controls in 2002. Meanwhile, the AWT – a new range of robust but simple actuators – began production in a new factory in Malaysia. The Rotork Gears portfolio was further strengthened in 2006 by the purchase of Omag, a specialised Italian manufacturer whose products include very large and subsea gearboxes.
In 2003 the Fluid Systems factory in Lucca moved to new premises, four times larger than the old. In the following year further Fluid Systems expansion included the purchase of Deanquip Valve Automation in Australia and PC-Intertechnik in Germany, the latter providing greater access to the important oil and gas markets of East Europe and Russia.
Fluid Systems has grown during the last decade to become one of the largest fluid power actuator manufacturers in the world, with the most extensive product range available from a single company. In 2008, Swedish manufacturer Remote Control was acquired and SVM (Smart Valve Monitoring) technology was added to the product range.
During the same period, dramatic growth has been prevalent in Rotork’s electric actuator business. With an installed pedigree of products stretching back fifty years, retrofitting and site service have always been significant parts of Rotork’s activities. The growth in the importance of these functions led to the creation of Rotork Site Services in 2006, to provide lifetime asset management for all Rotork products, as well as those from other manufacturers.
In 2008 Rotork launched the CVA, an intelligent electric actuator born out of IQ technology aimed at the control valve market, offering the potential for expansion into new and exciting market sectors in the future.
In 2009 the USA company Flow-Quip was acquired, increasing Rotork Fluid Systems' product offering in existing and new markets.
In 2010 the acquisition of Ralph A. Hiller completed Rotork's power industry product range. Hiller has also enabled Rotork to establish a Centre of Excellence for nuclear industry products.
Early 2010 witnessed the opening of a brand new manufacturing plant and service support centre for all Rotork products at Jigani in Bangalore, India. At the same time the existing factory at Chennai was also expanded and was chosen as the site for an exciting new facility called RIDEC, the Rotork Innovation and Design Engineering Centre. RIDEC was custom-built to provide the Rotork Group with a dedicated centre for research and development work serving all of Rotork's products and global activity. The year ended with the launch of a wireless version of the successful Pakscan digital control system, keeping this product in the forefront of valve control technology.
In 2011 attention has focused on the policy of expansion through acquisition, beginning with Rotork Servo Controles de Mexico S.A. de C.V. This company was Rotork's part-owned sales and service agent in the important Mexican market since the 1970s. Full ownership signals Rotork's recognition of significant opportunities for growth in the region and intention to invest in the organisation's sales and extensive service capabilities. The same can be said for the purchase shortly afterwards of Valco Valves and Automation AS, Rotork's long term sales and service agent in Norway, now renamed Rotork Norge.
Also acquired in 2011 K-Tork International Inc., a well established manufacturer of pneumatic vane-type actuators and damper drive systems, based in Dallas, USA. K-Tork's products provide a significant addition to the existing product ranges in the Rotork Fluid Systems Division and reinforce Rotork's presence in the water, industrial and power sectors.
At the same time as K-Tork, Centork Valve Control S.L., a Spanish actuator manufacturer based near San Sebastian, was also added to the Rotork Group. Centork manufactures a high efficiency, compact and modular electric actuator range, broadening Rotork's scope of supply in existing and new market areas.
At the end of 2011, two more acquisitions were completed. The Fairchild Industrial Products Company manufactures market leading regulators, boosters, relays and transducers used in applications requiring precision control of pneumatic devices and motion control equipment. Based in North Carolina, USA, Fairchild is the first company to be installed in the Rotork Instruments division, a new division formed in line with Rotork's strategy of increasing and strengthening its presence in global flow control markets. In the UK, Prokits was purchased and merged into Rotork Valvekits. As a well known designer and manufacturer of valve adaptor kits and valve accessories, Prokits adds strength and scope to Valvekits' established business.
2012 was an important year for the introduction of new products, beginning with the IQ3, the third generation flagship product range, maintaining Rotork's predominance in the non-intrusive intelligent electric actuator market. This was followed by the new CMA, a compact modulating electric actuator complementing the by now highly successful CVA range of actuators for process control valves.
As part of Rotork’s strategy of developing the Instruments division in 2012, it acquired Soldo srl, a switch box manufacturer based in Italy. This acquisition towards the end of 2012 added a second high-quality business to the Instruments division and further strengthens Rotork's presence in the wider flow control market.
In January 2013, the Schischek group of companies was purchased and incorporated into the Rotork Controls division. Schischek's well established products enhance Rotork's existing explosion-proof actuator ranges and increase Rotork's exposure to new markets including heating, ventilation and air conditioning.