It’s a little-known fact among most people that the City of Dundee has been the home of battery manufacturing in the UK for 80 years.
And with Thurso-based cell manufacturer AMTE Power considering setting up a micro-line production facility in Dundee next year – joining existing battery technology firm MEP Technologies – this legacy should continue for many more years to come.
But what happened to the companies of yesteryear? How did it all start? The story of Dundee’s battery manufacturing industry is intricate, following a meandering path of ups and downs which spans 8 decades of innovation and technological advances.
Battery Manufacturing in Dundee 1941-1989
Dundee’s battery manufacturing heritage started in 1941 when Vidor-Burndept relocated their former radio battery factory in Erith, Kent, to the West Kingsway Industrial Estate in Dundee. The relocation was due to extensive World War 2 damage to the original premises, and was a roaring success: in 1961 the factory employed over 100 people, becoming the largest dry battery manufacturing plant in Europe.
In 1962, Engineering firm Royston Industries acquired the Vidor factory, but kept the name – Vidor was quickly becoming an internationally acclaimed brand, with an emphasis on longevity and quality.
By 1968, Royston Industries had collapsed. However, the Vidor brand was acquired by Crompton Parkinson, a manufacturer with long history in the electronics industry, being the first suppliers of electric lamps at Holyrood palace. Crompton Parkinson owned the Vidor factory for over 20 years until 1989, when Vidor was sold to US company Ray-O-Vac. The Vidor brand is now retired, but the battery manufacturing industry in Dundee lived on.
Battery Manufacturing in Dundee 1991-present
In 1991, American-owned battery company TDI set up manufacturing in Wester Gourdie Industrial Estate, and quickly became one of the fastest-growing manufacturers in the UK. Later moving premises to Claverhouse Industrial Estate, at the peak of the operation, TDI employed over 850 people to make lithium-ion batteries for mobile phones. In 1999, executives from TDI then formed Advanced Batteries Ltd, which operated under the brand name of MPower Batteries, going on to form MPower in 2004. 2 years later, ABL (and MPower) was bought by London firm Axeon Holdings, who were leading figures in the design and development of lithium-ion battery systems for the automotive industry.
Using the expertise of a diverse range of talent from both ABL and Axeon Holdings, the merged company, Axeon Technologies, focused on batteries for electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles. Axeon Technologies pioneered cutting-edge automotive systems including the Maclaren P1 Hyper Car. Axeon was incredibly successful, and rode the first wave of electric vehicle technology.
In 2012, Axeon was acquired by Johnson Matthey, a global chemicals company with a turnover of more than £15.6 billion in 2021. Axeon became Johnson Matthey Battery Systems, and continued to operate out of the Dundee site until 2016, when the company moved its premises south to Milton Keynes.
This could have spelled out the end of Dundee battery manufacturing – but luckily, that wasn’t the case. Unhappy with the decision to move away from the ancestral home of the battery industry, Dundonian Stuart Morrison – who’d been a project manager at Axeon since 2007 – set up MEP Technologies, moving premises to the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc in 2020. MEP Technologies has flourished into a hubbub of battery system innovation, specialising in small-pack applications as well as larger heavy duty automotive usages. Its 15th employee was hired in late 2021, and a memorandum of understanding was signed with an Indian Technology company in order to explore the e-rickshaw market in India into next year.
The future of Battery Manufacturing in Dundee
But the story doesn’t end there. AMTE Power, a battery cell manufacturer based in Thurso, are considering Dundee as a location in which to create a micro-line production facility; a move which would create jobs and boost the local economy. With any luck, MEP Technologies and AMTE Power will enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship, side by side in the ancestral home of battery manufacturing.
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