When it comes to innovation in manufacturing, Kent and Medway is leading the way.
This dynamic region of the South-East is playing a key role in the UK’s manufacturing success, generating an estimated £3.2bn GVA in 2016, with almost half of all businesses in this sector now focused on advanced engineering.
They’re not the only sub-sector of manufacturing located in Kent looking to embrace the potential of the internet of things and other technological advances pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the 21st century.
Food and drink manufacturers, textile producers, the chemical and plastics industry and paper specialists are also preparing for, or delivering, new ways of working to boost productivity, increase capacity and identify savings to deliver growth.
Talk of Industry 4.0 is not some hypothetical concept in this forward-thinking county. Businesses across Kent and Medway are riding the latest wave of technology.
FUJIFILM Speciality Ink Systems is among those companies in Kent capitalising on the opportunities of the next industrial revolution. The Broadstairs firm uses sensors installed on plant equipment to capture data on usage and performance. The result? Significant energy savings.
Church & Dwight, meanwhile, has implemented a new manufacturing management system, which measures the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of their key plant and equipment.
This global manufacturer of personal care and health goods had wanted to increase capacity further at its Folkestone base. Understanding equipment performance helped them to achieve that goal, using the latest software and data to inform their decisions.
Mark Knowlton is Locate in Kent’s manufacturing advisor, part of a team of experts on hand to support SME businesses in this sector – from improvements in productivity and project planning to insights on manufacturing processes and staff training.
Getting companies ready for digital and technological change is a passion, regularly talking about the subject at industry events, including next month’s Southern Manufacturing and Electronics event in Farnborough.
“FUJIFILM Speciality Ink Systems and Church & Dwight are great examples of large businesses in Kent embracing Industry 4.0,” Mark says.
“But there are plenty of SME manufacturers in the county using more basic techniques. There is technology available to measure the stock levels of components with sensors that automatically trigger orders to go to suppliers.”
“These sorts of things don’t require businesses to transform themselves into digital leaders in industry. It just requires teams getting together and figuring out what can be done with current resources. Furthermore, many manufacturers do not fully utilise the capability of their current MRP/ERP systems for example.
“There’s a real opportunity for smaller companies to do things more efficiently. The cost of technology and Wi-fi is not hugely expensive and in Kent it is already making a difference.”
“Kent is known as the ‘Garden of England’,” said Gavin Cleary, CEO Locate in Kent, “but there’s a huge range of manufacturers in the county – from heritage food and drink brands to specialist electronics businesses – with an excellent supply chain that any new businesses can tap into.
“There’s also a big talent pool and a long history of manufacturing in the south-east, that continues to grow thanks to some excellent universities located in the county.
“This combination of factors together with excellent transport links, offering easy access by land sea and air, is helping to provide the foundation for an exciting future for the manufacturing sector in Kent and Medway.
“Manufacturing businesses are seeing the benefits of being located in Kent and innovation is part of that.”
One SME looking to invest in increased automation to support global demand for their fabricated metal products is Contracts Engineering, a company that called on Locate in Kent’s help to guide their growth as a manufacturing business.
Co-owners Troy and Catherine Barratt have transformed this 25-year-old precision engineering business in Sittingbourne, Kent since purchasing the company in 2012.
Over the past six years Contracts Engineering has increased turnover by two and a half times and today employs 32 people with more growth to come. In January 2019 they moved into 50% larger factory premises nearby. It’s just the start of an ongoing drive to take Kent and UK manufacturing to the world.
“We’ll be getting into robotic welding for the first time, which is very exciting for us. Most other parts of the business now have some levels of automation, in terms of the software speeding things up or the machines speeding up.
“In welding we have invested in advanced welding plant and staff training, though not in automation and robots. This investment in robotics will allow us to increasingly compete on a more international level for high volume contracts.”