Potential changes at UK borders and COVID-19 have made us all more sharply aware of the fragility of some supply chains and the importance of supply chain security. That realisation creates real opportunities for UK firms. Rosa Wilkinson explains how the HVM Catapult is working to make sure businesses are ready to seize them.
Over the past 50 years, many UK companies have established off-shore manufacturing facilities in lower-wage economies where finished goods are assembled cheaply and shipped to lucrative markets.
That trend has not only fuelled the (entirely inaccurate) cry that Britain doesn’t make anything anymore, but has hollowed out UK supply chains. COVID has delivered a sharp shock to that model. If there’s one good thing to have come from the pandemic, it’s a recognition that without core engineering and manufacturing capability – the ability independently to produce key products when we need them – we are vulnerable as a nation.
That realisation is not only a concern for government, it’s also starting to encourage top tier companies to look critically at their supply chains and question both the short-term benefits and long-term sustainability of off-shoring production and an overdependence on global trade routes.
For some, the answer will be to spread risk geographically by sourcing supplies from a range of countries. Others will look to bring production back to the UK whether by manufacturing in-house or turning to domestic suppliers able to supply the right products at the right prices.
That creates real opportunities for UK firms. The HVM Catapult is working to make sure businesses are ready to seize them.
Ready for Electrification
The electric vehicle revolution opens up huge prospects for the UK. To make sure that our smaller firms are ready to make the most of increasing Electric Vehicle (EV) manufacturing opportunities, our WMG HVM Catapult Centre has kicked off the Ready for Electrification (R4E) programme to help develop the UK supply base for the current and future EV market.
The programme connects the whole supply chain from the smallest supplier through to the OEM, offering practical and technical support to businesses and helping UK manufacturers to understand the challenges and seize the opportunities.
Bringing work back to the UK
Over the last 130 years, Albert Jagger has been associated with innovation, excellent service and the highest quality products for vehicles of all types which has seen them grow into a market-leading vehicle hardware supplier.
Albert Jagger approached the MTC to help reshore a product range that a competitive marketplace had led them to purchase from China, to their UK engineering facility. Inspired by the potential, they chose to revolutionise their factory and create a modern, dynamic British engineering company.
Using SME-friendly visualisation tools and worldleading expertise in manufacturing optimisation, the MTC team showed Albert Jagger what was possible to achieve their aims.
Their virtual reality environment enabled the live mapping of the shop floor in a risk-free way before any significant capital investment. With the most efficient plan in place, the company was able to reshore product and produce it at 20% – 50% less than the cost of purchasing from overseas.
By reshoring production, Albert Jagger now have the opportunity to reduce their stockholding costs by 50% from £120k to £60k. Now in a position to manufacture the products themselves, a substantial amount of business is expected to return to the UK in the next three years.
Creating a UK supply chain for 3D printing
Plastic is not the only thing you can 3D print. Metal additive manufacturing has the potential for delivering better products, reducing time to market, and simplifying the supply chain for many industries, with aerospace leading the way.
Seeing the opportunity for UK firms, the MTC worked with Liberty Steel Specialists (LSS) and seven other partners to develop a range of technologies across the metal powder supply chain. The project, CASCADE, has enabled LSS to establish its first powder production facility and a new supply business which should bring new jobs to the Tees Valley.
The work, led by the MTC’s National Centre for Additive Manufacturing, helps position the UK as a global leader in metal additive manufacturing and supports the wider aerospace supply chain in adopting the technology.
Our Nuclear AMRC’s flagship Fit For Nuclear (F4N) supply chain development programme helps companies get ready to bid for work in the civil nuclear supply chain.
The programme, which launched in 2011 and was expanded in 2017, helps firms measure their operations against the exacting standards required to supply the nuclear industry and take the necessary steps to close any gaps.
But it’s not just helping the nuclear sector. The programme has also been reaching out to firms which could apply techniques used in the nuclear industries to boost their performance in other supply chains.
A survey of the programme in 2018 found that 90% of participating companies – most of which are SMEs – expected their turnover to grow in the next year, with the majority confident of winning new work in nuclear. With such success it’s no surprise that other sectors are looking to apply the approach to build their supply chain success. The Nuclear AMRC is working with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult to bring supply chain development to the wind sector.
The Fit 4 Offshore Renewables (F4OR) collaboration was piloted in Scotland in 2019 and is now set to deliver targeted support to keep wind sector jobs in the UK.
Ready to compete
The work we’re doing isn’t just helping firms become fit to supply at the domestic level. Our Centres are also helping to make UK operations competitive enough to outperform even lower-wage economies.
Take the work of our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield which applied its world-leading machining know-how to transform productivity in local firms so much that the Centre attracted strong inward investment including from Boeing.
The global aerospace giant has established its only European manufacturing facility on the AMRC’s doorstep and is now producing aerospace components there more cost effectively than its Mexican operation.
With the aerospace industry buffeted by so much COVID turbulence, those countries that can offer the most competitive production possibilities stand the best chance of anchoring investments. The HVM Catapult is working to help make sure that the UK remains a highly attractive option to global firms.
If you would like to boost the resilience of your supply chain or need help to make your firm the go-to supplier for your sector, come and talk to the HVM Catapult. An initial conversation is free and could transform the outlook for your business. If you’re particularly interested in our Ready for Electrification Programme, Nicola.Kirkley@warwick.ac.uk.