1880 - 1930
In 1914 we were founded by Henry F Joel, an experienced motor manufacturer and designer. He proceeded to design a wide range of electric machines for various customers, whilst tinkering on some personal projects, such as an electric car. Very forward thinking!
The company registered as ‘Small Electric Motors’ and opened its doors at Eagle Works in Peckham. We remained here for some years, and from the documents it is clear that the SEM of this time period enjoyed an active social scene, with photos of a day out to Weybridge, dinners and games. One of the games mentioned is ‘Musical Arms’. Despite the name this was not a dance move but a variation on the perennial classic musical chairs, where instead of finding a seat when the music stops you instead have to find a partner.
As the years went on, SEM continued to grow and gained a number of government contracts during the war. With the marketing slogan ‘Efficiency and Reliability’, we were already gaining a reputation for unrivaled quality within the market.
1930 - 1980
In 1941 SEM opened a second factory Hawthorn Works, Loral Grove, Penge focused on the manufacture of switches. We also opened a factory in Canada, but very little archive material remains except for this brochure.
SEM continued to flourish over this period, and entered into many local competitions. You can see a picture of the SEM cricket team below, after losing to local rivals from Rediffusion during a game in August 1944. SEM during this time period was structured with departments of experts clustered in each area, such as the drawing team or winding shop below.
The range of products and applications of our products also rapidly expanded in this period, for example into electric motorcycles and even an electric milk float manufactured by another local company called Brush. Other items that we manufactured included gramophone motors, sawing machines and aircraft generators. SEM remained in public ownership for well over half a century but by 1953 most of the share capital was owned by Industrial & Commercial Finance Corporation Ltd
In 1952 SEM opened a third factory in Green Lane, Penge to focus on high volume commercial motors for products such as vacuum cleaners, and a few years later began to exhibit at the Electrical Engineers Exhibition at Earls Court. We even won a prize for the ‘Best Industrial Exhibit’ for the dynamic balancing machine. 1957 was a landmark year for SEM, as we celebrated the 50,000th motor produced by us.
In 1960, most of the company shares were purchased by European Ferries Ltd, and a couple of years later our Loral Grove factory closed. We did, however, gain a funky new logo, and our product offering began to focus more on the motor industry as opposed to the wider range we had provided to customers previously. This was also around the time that we dropped the ‘small electric motors tagline’ and moved to ‘specialised rotating electrical equipment’ instead.
The 70’s was all change for SEM, as we moved factories to Sydenham, closed down Green Lane, and updated our logo… again! This was also the decade that saw the introduction of servomotors into our product range.
1980's - 2014
After a quieter period in the 70’s, SEM ramped up its marketing campaign in the 80’s and went ‘full throttle’ in pushing brushed DC servomotors to worldwide markets through systems houses and drive manufacturers. In 1987 SEM introduced its first brushless motors containing ferrite magnets, but quickly replaced these with the BMR range containing rare earth magnets. Sales representatives from SEM then travelled around the world selling these new motors, and visiting trade shows from Los Angeles to Milan. Our customers at this time included D-Weld and Nu-Plant, plus wheel chair and battery car manufacturers.
In the 1990’s SEM settled into the new factory in Kangley Bridge road, and took part in some quite daring social outings, including abseiling in Wales, building rafts and kayaking. In the late 1990’s SEM introduced motors optimised for machine tool applications.
It was also during this time period that more technology was being integrated into our way of working. Finally, in 1998, we moved to a brand new, purpose built factory in Orpington, and shortly thereafter were purchased by our parent company.
Throughout the 00’s SEM continued to invest in communication with staff and team building activities, plus brought in a staff magazine wittily coined ‘Motormouth’. This has now been running for over a decade and is a great way for staff to keep up to date about events in the company. Applications for the new ranges of motors brought out by us during this time period include motors for moving stages in London theatres, antenna positioning, wind turbine pitch control, even automated sausage making machines!
From 2008 onwards SEM began a journey of improvements, such as introducing cells and running Kaizen events, updating our manufacturing processes and introducing best practices such as 5S.
2015 to Today
This period saw the introduction of value streams and daily management into production, as well as our move to the Dartford facility. You can read more about these lean manufacturing techniques on our pages relating to how we work.
Our move to Dartford has enabled us to secure our future, as it will give us the room and space to increase the volume of product to our customers significantly. It has also allowed us to invest in new specialist machinery, so we can now state with authority that we are one of the most advanced machine shops in the South East- and we are so proud of this we actually hosted our opening ceremony in the middle of the machine shop!
It has also seen the evolution of the company magazine Motormouth, into a communication tool for all the rapid changes happening around the building.