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High flying engineering firm says fond farewell to founder Steve

Continental Diamond Tool Stephen Noakes retires; (L/R) Justin Hughes, David Morris , Peter Hughes, Stephen Noakes and Michaela Lawton. Picture Mandy Jones

A specialist engineering company that keeps the world’s airlines flying will reach new heights thanks to investment from its new American owners, according to one of the firm’s founders. 

Former production director Steve Noakes, 67, from Trefriw, in the Conwy Valley, was speaking at a presentation ceremony to mark his retirement from Continental Diamond Tool in Kinmel Bay which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Among his leaving gifts was a nickel plated version of the graphite mould for a diamond dresser of the type used to grind the turbine blades of Rolls Royce aero engines, with the signatures of each of his 40 colleagues engraved onto it. 

Steve was one of the eight people who established the niche company as Consort Precision Diamond in 1984, specialising in the manufacture of diamond-encrusted rotary dressers and grinders.

The firm – still one of only two similar companies in the UK – supplies a range of manufacturing sectors, including aerospace, automotive, medical and semi-conductors.

Its products are used in Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft, as well as the Airbus range A330-A380 whose wings are made at the giant Airbus factory in Broughton.

The company was acquired and rebranded in 2018 by American outfit Continental Diamond Tool which has its headquarters in New Haven, Indiana.

Father-of-two Steve was the last man standing because all the other members of the original team had already retired.

He left “safe in the knowledge” that the company was in good hands. having seen the new management team investing £1.6 million to launch a second production line to make electro-plated grinding wheels, with record profits and sales soaring by 70 per cent.

Steve said: “I am extremely proud of what we have achieved, employing people for 40 years in skilled, well paid jobs.

“I’m also very proud that we’re now part of Continental Diamond Tool. Acquisitions can be messy affairs but this was actually a really happy process.

“They have the same mindset as a family-oriented company, looking after their employees and building a successful business with a very good future. The fit is excellent because they can invest more than we were able to as an independent company.”

He was delighted by the “perfect” gift of the inscribed nickel-plated mould which was presented by his old boss, the original managing director, Dave Morris, came back for the emotional occasion.

He said: “Steve made a huge contribution – he’s a real diamond. In one sense this is a sad day but it’s also a good one for him because we know our legacy is safe. They’re a good bunch of people.”

There were also good wishes from CDT president, Nick Viggiano, who said: “We will always be indebted to Steve and his fellow founders for their grace, helpfulness and goodwill in managing the transition to the new ownership.

“Steve played an integral role in building a very successful company with a global reputation for excellence in a very competitive niche market. He should be incredibly proud of what he achieved.”

The current managing director, Jeff Wirth, added: “We are determined to build on those firm foundations and continue to grow and prosper as we look forward to the next 40 years of success.” 

The baton has also been passed to current production manager Justin Hughes, son of the firm’s original technical director, Peter Hughes.

He said: “We now have backing behind us which enables us to push forward and aim at new markets because we have a big safety net behind us.  It gives us reassurance.

“I spoke to our new managing director, Jeff Wirth, who was incredibly complimentary about the existing workforce and said how brilliant it was and the high level of skill and work ethic here.”

It was a sentiment echoed by finance manager Michaela Lawton who said: “We have a lovely team here and everyone’s really very excited about the future.

“We’ve had an investment of £1.6 million and the company’s been on an upward trajectory in terms of growth, turnover and profit and being able to diversify our product range is the next step forward.

“It’s great for Steve, who’s been with the company from the very beginning, to see that that the company is going to continue to grow and expand into new markets.

“Every business goes through a life cycle and the acquisition happened at a perfect time with the original founders reaching retirement age. It was a marriage made in business heaven and the sky’s the limit.”

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