08.03.2021

Denis Henry Ashworth 1923 – 2021

We have been passed the sad news that access industry veteran Denis Ashworth has died. He passed away on February 28th at the tender age of 97.
Denis Ashworth in 2014

Denis Ashworth was in at the start of the power access market, having joined Simon Engineering in Dudley in 1951 as a management trainee. An engineer by training he had started his career in 1939 as a student apprentice with Renold & Coventry Chain company in Manchester. He had always wanted to work at Simon, as his father was employed there, and he had visited the factory on numerous occasions in his youth. He was actually employed by the Thomas Adshead subsidiary which Simon had acquired.
Denis Ashworth in his school days

His first encounter with an aerial work platform came in 1953 when Ted Trump arrived at the Dudley plant with a stack of drawings of his first truck mounted platform, the IG-40 - or Industrial Giraffe a new development of Trump’s Orchard Giraffe. Ashworth was promoted to works superintendent and told to convert the scrappy drawings into product with the first 10 already sold by Trump for delivery to Pittman in the USA. The team succeeded, largely it seems by trial and error, as the concept required some completely new designs and structures.

The team worked around the clock and shipped the first unit seven months later. Needless to say it developed some major issues and Ashworth was flown out to Kansas to sort it out, working with Ray Pittman over a three week period and developing a friendship that lasted until Pitman passed away. The order was ultimately cancelled but the IG-40 became a very successful machine. The next step though was to start designing machines from scratch, with the first unit - the P30 - launched in 1956.
The first IG-40 on demonstration before shipping

Simon went on to become the world’s leading aerial lift manufacturer through a series of acquisitions which were never properly integrated or thought through. Denis Ashworth became chief engineer and served as engineering director for many years, he was rewarded in the Queen’s 1974 Birthday Honours with an MBE. In 2009 he was also awarded an IPAF Lifetime Achievement award.
John Ball (L) presents Denis Ashworth with his IPAF Lifetime award in 2009

However, Simon went into decline and retired from the company in 1994. But his career did not end there, as chairman of IPAF’s technical committee he was heavily involved in the EU Machinery Directive and its application to aerial lifts. In 1995 he was retained by IPAF as a technical director to represent the association in the development of the new European standards for aerial work platforms and was most instrumental in the drafting and eventually the harmonisation of the EN280 standard, a job which took years and was finally completed in 2004.
With family collecting his MBE at the palace in 1974

The work he did on this was a classic example of his persistence and patience. He presented updates at every IPAF council and manufacturers committee meeting, having the unenviable job of updating a room full of people who had long ago given up and lost interest in the detail of this ongoing saga. But his persistence paid off and the workable and sensible standard that he played such a major role in developing, has set the parameters for the latest global ISO standards for aerial work platforms.
Ashworth with the Duke of Edinburgh at a design awards display

In addition to his work in the access industry Denis Ashworth spent 50 years in scouting, picking up numerous awards along the way. He was also a Scottish country dancing fan and travelled all over the country in a small camper van to attend events. The industry has almost certainly lost its longest serving and one of its most talented engineers.

Ashworth published a book on both his life in the form of an autobiography and the history of Simon Engineering: click here to learn more.

We will follow up this tribute in the next issue of Cranes & Access magazine due to be published later this month.

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