MACH 2018: Changing perceptions at MACH speed

Posted on 9 Mar 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Nick Peters sat down with James Selka, CEO of the MTA, to discuss MACH 2018 and the legacy machines taking part in a very special exhibit.

A Bridgeport milling machine and an old Colchester lathe, old machines packed with sensors communicating data in just the same way as any new machinery does - image courtesy of AMRC.
A Bridgeport milling machine and an old Colchester lathe, old machines packed with sensors communicating data in just the same way as any new machinery does – image courtesy of AMRC.

In our last issue, we reported on some of the ground-breaking work being done by the AMRC in Sheffield in collaboration with partners from manufacturing and the software industry.

One of the key projects we wrote about involves a decades-old Bridgeport milling machine and a similarly aged Colchester lathe that has been retrofitted with sensors to make them Industry 4.0 compatible.

The machines had been given to the AMRC by the MTA (Manufacturing Technologies Association) and sensored up by PTC. You will be able to see them at MACH 2018 in April.

James Selka: We’re particularly proud of this exhibit, entitled ‘Digital Meets Manufacturing’.

The whole driver behind it is to show some of the smaller companies in the supply chain that really all this buzz around Industry 4.0 is not scary at all. The technology has never been more powerful and it has never been cheaper.

And now it’s not even a choice, because if you’re not investing in it, then somebody else is. I was at a company recently that is confident their turnover will grow from £20m to £60m in four years.

They are spending £7m this year on new equipment, including a lot on automation. They currently employ 150 people – they estimate they’re going to be employing 180 when they hit £60m.

This article first appeared in the March issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

Manufacturing is changing, and as we see from the statistics it’s also charging ahead – the sectors had a fantastic year. But, perceptions are not changing. People still think of manufacturing as something of a sideline in the UK economy. The statistics say it represents just 10% of GDP, a mere shadow of its former glory. At The Manufacturer, we get frustrated by that. Do you?

Oh, we get hugely frustrated. As long as the Treasury and the outside world believe that our manufacturing sector is only 10% of GDP, we will continue to come across as a well-meaning, but rather whiney community.

(2016) James Selka - CEO, MTA
James Selka, CEO, MTA.

In fact, I believe that there’s some studies being done in America that show one can apply a multiplier effect to manufacturing of about three in terms of the extra economic activity it generates – do that, and suddenly we are around 30% of GDP. That would certainly attract the recognition and support the industry deserves.

Government is working on a new industrial strategy, a new sector deal is being negotiated by the Made Smarter team… Are you confident there’s a new era of positive relations between industry and government just around the corner?

I think to a large degree it is here. The very fact that we have an industrial strategy is a fantastic move forward. The fact that the government spent a long time and a lot of money engaging with both big enterprises and SMEs, not just through trade associations, was very encouraging.

However, what we all realise is that it’s far from the finished article, and there is still much work to do on how it’s going to be implemented.

There’s also the great British public and its misplaced perceptions about manufacturing. That plays into the skills gap because parents tell their children, “You don’t want to go into manufacturing, it’s not a great career. It’s a dead-end street.” That has to change, does it not?

It must change. Parents are probably the most influential careers advisors to their children. If their personal experience was growing up in the 70s and 80s, then it’s no wonder that’s the perception they have and the advice they provide.

But, what other industry can you join at 16 – or in some cases, if you went to a UTC arguably a little earlier – go all the way through, be paid to be part of it and through an advanced apprenticeship come out with a PhD and no debt? We need shooting if we can’t get that message across.

Manufacturers do sometimes have a tendency to whinge about the fact that the landscape around them is conspiring to slow them down. The skills gap we’ve just mentioned, Brexit, and a host of other things – a mottled landscape of support structures, for instance. If you had a magic wand, how would you change things?

I would start by conducting a study into what real, positive impact manufacturing actually makes to the UK economy. This would change perceptions and would add to current favourable government thinking.

MACH 2016 (Image - Copyright Paul Thomas Photographic Ltd.).
MACH is the UK’s largest manufacturing equipment exhibition and takes place on 9-13 April 2018 – image courtesy of Paul Thomas Photographic Ltd.

Despite Brexit and despite some of the massive under-investment, we firmly believe that the UK is the most amazing place to manufacture.

Just take some facts – since the Brexit decision, companies such as Boeing, have decided to manufacture in Europe for the first time. Where are they doing it? In Sheffield. McLaren have decided to set up another plant in the UK, in Sheffield.

We’ve got Nissan making big, new investments. Then there’s Toyota, and Airbus. These are headline examples of much of the good things that are going on, but which, as you rightly point out, are simply not noticed.

To pick up on your point about figures not adding up, how else would we contribute 44% of the nation’s exports if we were only genuinely 10% of GDP? There is a big arithmetical argument to make.

Music to my ears. In fact, to add to those statistics, 70% of all non-governmental investment in R&D in this country is in the manufacturing sector. We must all work together to get some independent data that is credible to all parties outside the industry. That, I believe, would be a really good first step.

Visit MACH 2018

MACH 2018, the UK’s largest manufacturing equipment exhibition, takes place 9-13 April 2018 at the NEC Birmingham. Click here to register for MACH 2018, or visit for more details.