MACH: Slow start belies sumptuous showcase and signs of recovery

Posted on 9 Jun 2010 by The Manufacturer

The UK’s biggest manufacturing technology show opened on Monday with a small puff more than a loud bang, but this belied great expectations.

The great and the good of UK-based manufacturing technology companies from around the world are on display at the NEC this week, showing off their latest gizmos – big and marvellous machines that mill, turn, bend, cut, machine, measure and finish, in myriad ways and scales – on lavish stands, waiting patiently for the mad dash from visitors who logged record pre-event registrations. But Day One was a muted affair, although many exhibitors expecting it to be slow following the half-term holiday.

Small crowds clear the fairways for the rest of us, however, and when HRH Prince Andrew the Duke of York arrived punctually at 3pm to officially open the event, a large group of visitors were able to get good access to HRH. After “cutting” a laser beam by hand, Prince Andrew walked the two vast halls with Bob Hunt, president of the Manufacturing Technologies Association, the show organisers, and managing director of Star Micronics Ltd. The Royal Family, especially the Duke of Edinburgh, has a track record of supporting British industry so it was appropriate that Prince Andrew opened the biennial event, which expects to attract more than 24,000 visitors this week.

A quickfire tour of the halls revealed upbeat moods given the unease in the economy. Geoff Bryant, managing director of Citizen Machinery Ltd and the chair of the MTA committee, told TM he was quietly optimistic about business prospects at the show, and business in Europe had picked up in recent months. But he warned of complacency while foreign competitors invest. “The message to UK manufacturers is invest now, don’t be left behind. We see customers in other countries investing in the latest machines and the UK must be wary to stay high up the productivity curve.”

Around the corner, domestic measurement machine manufacturer Renishaw’s general manager Marc Saunders was also positive about market conditions. “In recent months we’ve had 20 per cent increase in sales in some overseas markets and we’re hopeful for the show. Our new 5-axis CMM probe exemplifies the kind of advanced tool customers are demanding for advanced manufacturing applications today. Ninety three per cent of our business is exported.”

Peter Dicken, marketing manager for Delcam the British CAM software developer, has observed tangible recovery in sales in recent months. “Since the start of the year, we have seen some markets increase orders by 40 per cent, which is very exciting,” he said. “This push is mainly from the one-time emerging markets, which have now really emerged. Our sales office in India is busy, and China especially has picked up strongly in the last six months.” Delcam launches its latest version of Powermill at MACH, featuring a 64-bit operating system running on Windows 7 “so you can programme more quickly and more efficiently,” he says.

Tube bending looks up, R&D tax claims get relief
The only British company to make tube bending machines, Unison, occupies a handsome stand in Hall 4. On Tuesday, Miss Scarborough 2010, Alice Czyz, visited Unison’s stand to launch a new all-electric machine. She said: “Scarborough is one of the most enterprising places in Europe, and has many world-leading industrial engineering companies. Unison is one of those businesses and exports over 60% of its output. I’m delighted to help this innovator launch the latest version of its bending machine which has been refined over nearly two decades.”

Ian Pickering, managing director of Unison, said he hoped manufacturers at the Show would see a corner had been turned in business conditions. “We’ve seen recent growth, in the UK and abroad after a tough year or more. The acid test is sales of course but we’ve got several promising enquiries for the Show. Judging by the numbers of pre-registered visitors I heard about it should be a success, but it’s the quality that matters not the quantity.”

In the new Education and Training Zone, R&D Tax & Grants Ltd gave an interesting presentation on their niche accountancy service that helps businesses identity and successfully claim both R&D tax credits and corporation tax refunds on accounts filed up to two years ago. Starting up in 2009, the company has acted for 50 companies, many manufacturers, and has submitted 34 successful claims. “More often than not, companies we speak to did not realise they could be eligible for a further R&D tax claim, so this is often a genuinely unexpected benefit,” said joint managing director Mark Evans. An average size company for R&D Tax & Grants is a business of £5m turnover with about 30 employees, but they have successfully claimed £244,000 in one claim.

R&D tax claim illustration: Part of the service is to deliver an enhancement on the R&D spending. A hypothetical illustration of the process is: A company with £5m turnover, with 45 employees, has labour costs of £2m p/year, and R&D costs of £200k (10%). IN the claim the R&D is spending enhanced by 75% to £350k, so for every £1 you spend on R&D, you get £1.75 in tax relief. This “uplift” or balance of £150k generates a tax refund of 21%, or £31,500. Despite initial scepticism, coatings manufacturer Crosbie Casco was able to reclaim a further £88,000 from HMRC via R&D Tax & Grants.

Many other interesting seminars and presentations take place at MACH over the week, including on Thursday talks by 3M UK plc on respiratory hazards in welding operations, RFID in machine tools measuring return on investment, by Balluf, and other seminars by KASTO Ltd, Vollmer UK and Phase Vision. Visit the MACH website for more details of seminars and all the exhibitors.

Will Stirling