Panel Graphic, a Norfolk-based manufacturing company, has recruited 10 new employees to meet increased workload and a number of large contracts.

Founded by Steve Earl in 1998, Panel Graphic supplies enhancement screens and filters for electronic information displays in cars, aircraft, trains, sea vessels and medical equipment – as well as other devices such as fridges, water dispensers and smartphones.

The company’s products help protect digital displays against scratches, chemicals and reflections.

“Most of the time, you'll think the screens that you see in your car or home are made of glass – but in a lot of cases, they are plastic,” explained managing director Steve Earl, who was awarded an MBE in June 2021 for services to the community during the pandemic.

“We spray the plastic with an abrasion and chemical-resistant hard coat – and over the years, we've invested in printing, fabrication, flame polishing, diamond polishing and other types of plastic protection, including anti-reflection coating.”

To date, Panel Graphic has fulfilled contracts for customers including Motorola, Porsche, McLaren, Aston Martin and BAE Systems. It is now looking at a new contract to manufacturer 200,000 dashboard lenses for electric-car giant Tesla.

“As long as we can keep up with the technology and impress these big companies, it can only filter down to all the other businesses that will benefit from it,” said Steve. “Our marketplace could be massive – it could easily be 10 times what it is now.”

To meet increasing demand, the company has employed 10 new people in the past two months – taking its total headcount to 44.

“We still need another couple,” said Steve. “We probably need to be thinking about additional office staff, and we also need ‘hand skills’. People seem to think that working within a factory, you can just move things from one piece of machinery to another – but we're very hands-on, very artisan.

“I see enquiries coming through, and I've almost got to plan six or 12 months in advance,” he added. “It takes a long time to find the right people – you can't just pull them out of the air.”

The Comet: Steve Earl, managing director of Panel Graphic, was awarded an MBE in June 2021 for services to the community during the pandemicSteve Earl, managing director of Panel Graphic, was awarded an MBE in June 2021 for services to the community during the pandemic (Image: Panel Graphic)
All employees are inducted on Panel Graphic’s internal certificated training programme, which covers the company’s equipment, processes and materials.

“The training programme also determines our pay structure,” Steve explained. “I have always believed that people who want to learn more should be paid more. We've been doing that for five or six years, and nobody has left the business in that time, so it's working well for us.”

Panel Graphic has also secured planning permission for a brand-new manufacturing facility and business hub close to its current premises in Loddon – which represents a £6 million investment.

“We’ve got a three-acre site which we purchased with the support of South Norfolk District Council,” said Steve. “They found the land and approached the landowners – it’s been really good how they have supported us as a family business.”

The new premises, named The Portal, will have capacity for 100 employees – in addition to rentable office space and a function room for other local businesses and community groups.

“People who have started their own businesses may need to take that step towards working in an office – as I did,” said Steve. “The Portal will enable them to come into an office environment, connect with other businesses and hopefully grow their own business.

“It will also be a nice meeting space for the local cricket team, football clubs, parent-teacher association and parish council etc.”

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