Highlights of 2017: Remarks from UK manufacturers

2017 was a turbulent year marked by long standing challenges and opportunities for the UK economy; we asked UK manufacturers about the good and bad impact from last year.


2017 was marked by many highlights, long standing challenges and opportunities for the UK economy – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

An encouraging PMI in December, a first major Brexit deal breakthrough, and a promising Budget 2017 announcement alongside with an auspicious Industrial Strategy were events advancing the optimistic outlook in the UK’s economy.

On the other hand, the job market is required to face an increasing skills crisis and furthermore many Brexit uncertainties are reason enough for UK companies to remain hesitant when it comes to investing more money into their business now.

However, in the light of the above, we have put together the most critical comments on 2017 – given by UK manufacturers.

“From the aerospace side of manufacturing we continued to see huge interest in UK supply-chains from OEM customers in the EU. 

“This may see surprising, but where the right technologies, capacity and demonstrated quality are available, overseas customers continue to place significant long-term contracts (in our case, in sterling), demonstrating their confidence in us and in the economy, we’re part of. 

“Whilst the Brexit process has introduced a huge number of uncertainties, we should be proud of our capabilities and invest for the future.”

Andrew Churchill, managing director at JJ Churchill

Each of the 15 Technical Academies will feature ETG-supplied machines, supported by technical partner equipment and software - image courtesy of Engineering Technology Group.
Each of the 15 Technical Academies will feature ETG-supplied machines, supported by technical partner equipment and software – image courtesy of Engineering Technology Group.

“I’ll remember 2017 as the year where the Engineering Technology Group (ETG) decided to take matters into its own hands to help industry begin to solve its well-acknowledged skills gap.

Working with In-Comm Training, we opened our first Technical Academy at Norton Motorcycles in the East Midlands and plan to follow this with a further 14 sites spread across the UK and Ireland.”

Martin Doyle, managing director of Engineering Technology Group

“The last twelve months will go down as one of our best ever for attracting new clients, with 100 additional customers signing up to take advantage of our state-of-the-art etching processes. With interest coming in from all over the world, this growth demonstrates a robust economic picture and one that we have taken full advantage of.”

Ian Whateley, managing director of Advanced Chemical Etching

“For me, 2017 was the year where many manufacturing companies – both large and small – woke up and realised that they can’t just keep cannibalising each other’s workforces and more needs to be done to boost the pipeline of engineering and manufacturing talent. Hopefully, the MCMT is one way we can support this new-found approach.”

Matthew Snelson, managing director of the Marches Centre of Manufacturing & Technology (MCMT)

Brandauer’s cutting-edge high speed presses are key to meeting volume requirements - image courtesy of Brandauer.
Brandauer’s cutting-edge high speed presses are key to meeting volume requirements – image courtesy of Brandauer.

“My abiding memory of 2017 was MAN turning uncertainty into growth, with all of our members reporting increases in sales and opportunities in new markets. We have decided to embrace Brexit by investing more than £10m across the group in the last twelve months in new machinery, technology and training our staff.”

Rowan Crozier, CEO of Brandauer and member of the Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN)

“For us the main highlight of 2017 has been a significant boost in manufacturing.  Our customers, old and new, across all sectors have all shown sales growth and in turn we experienced an unprecedented year end push during the run up to Christmas with high demand for extra product right up to the 11th hour. 

“We were also pleased to see an increase in the number of new product coming onto the market which is always a positive sign.  Despite this there is still an air of caution within our industry and a detectable ‘making hay while the sun shines’ type attitude.  Although a very positive year in general it has not been without its challenges. 

“Exchange rates, whist clearly helping to drive sales have also been problematic at our end of the supply chain. The cost of components and bare circuit boards has risen significantly due to these changes so managing this within existing contracts and new business has been challenging.  Whilst this appears to have settled down, components continue to be our main concern leading into 2018.”

Laura McBrown, managing director at G&B Electronics

One of JJ Churchill's Makinos at work in its machining cell - image courtesy of JJ Churchill.
One of JJ Churchill’s Makinos at work in its machining cell – image courtesy of JJ Churchill.

“The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April was an enormous change to the whole apprenticeship ‘landscape’.  JJ Churchill has had apprentices for 80 years and is a Levy payer – for us, I see no further encouragement to train than we already demonstrate. 

“The key groups to watch will be Levy payers and the non-Levy payers who haven’t previously trained apprentices.  I understand the government’s aspiration, but remain to be convinced that the current model will deliver the significant numbers of technicians and engineers of which our country is critically short.”

Andrew Churchill, managing director at JJ Churchill

“Despite the uncertainty of Brexit last year, we actually saw an increase in the number of long-term projects we have been involved in. This stems from some of the UK’s largest manufacturers committing to large scale investments in new plants and factories and wanting to incorporate cutting-edge measuring and testing technology.”

David Mold, managing director at Blum-Novotest

“2017 was a great year for UK manufacturing, and I see no reason why we can’t carry on this growth into 2018.

“UK manufacturers maintained a positive outlook in December 2017. The PMI (Purchasing Managers’ Index) averaged 55.9 in 2017, higher than an annual average of 52.3 in 2016.

“I see we have the chance in this country, to take control of our own destiny and make a positive future. Manufacturing in our region has always been world class, and we have always been at the forefront of invention. With the next Industrial Revolution on us, we have the chance, with central government support and backing, to once again lead the world market.

“We need to look to new sectors and new markets, promote productivity and renewal production techniques, that will make us leaner and greener, and able to compete on a level playing field.”

Chris Greenough, commercial director at Salop Design & Engineering 

“For BAE Systems Air business here in the UK, 2017 brought with it some significant highlights and some significant challenges. We saw the production rate on F-35 increase by around 50% from 2016 and we delivered the 318th aft fuselage from our Samlesbury facility – just 10% of the way through the programme of record – an indication of the size and importance of the programme. Not only to BAE Systems but the UK as a whole.

BAE Systems has announced a £5bn contract to supply Typhoon aircraft to the Qatari air force - image courtesy of BAE.
In 2017, BAE Systems has announced a £5bn contract to supply Typhoon aircraft to the Qatari air force – image courtesy of BAE.

“On Typhoon deliveries continued to our UK and international customers, and on Hawk we delivered 16 aircraft (eight each to the Royal Saudi Air Force and the Royal Air Force of Oman). Furthermore we delivered three ‘kit sets’ of Hawk major units into Saudi Arabia where they will be final assembled – a prime example of how critical technology transfer and supporting national agendas are.

“The challenges we face have seen us reduce the production rates on Typhoon and Hawk to ensure we can maximise the potential export market for both products in the short and medium term.

“On that topic, in December we received the great news regarding a contract for 24 Typhoons for Qatar with a clear intent to purchase Hawk – great news for BAE Systems and the supply chain that supports us. We have also seen significant progress in advancing technologies such as additive manufacturing and cobotics, as well as increasing our understanding of the potential applications of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality.”

David S Holmes, manufacturing director, BAE Systems – Air