What are the obstacles UK manufacturers must overcome?

Posted on 7 Mar 2018 by Jonny Williamson

If the country is take advantages of global opportunities, what do UK manufacturers have to start doing or approach in a fresh, innovative way?

The business had been collecting data for years, but a lot of that data was never reviewed or questioned – image courtesy of Brandauer.
Lack of confidence and uncertainty in the economy are the key challenges many businesses face – image courtesy of Brandauer.

Given the events of the past 18 months, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many UK manufacturers are concerned about the potential risks associated with the leaving the European Union.

While the number of companies planning to relocate UK production to an EU or non-EU location is still relatively low, the depreciation of sterling has particularly affected the nation’s small and medium-sized enterprises – businesses which account for more than 90% of the total UK business community .

Yet, it’s not just Brexit which has been playing on manufacturers’ minds. National productivity and investment in automation have been lower than many of the UK’s peers long before an EU referendum was mooted.

So, what needs to change? In an effort to find out, The Manufacturer recently sat down with members of the MAN cluster group to discuss their views.

The Manufacturing Assembly Network is one of the UK’s leading manufacturing collectives, comprised of eight sub-contract specialists and an engineering design agency. All are small or medium-sized companies and, for the most part, all are based in and around the Midlands.

Rowan Crozier is the CEO of Birmingham-based precision stamper and toolmaker Brandauer, a business where exports account for 80% of its sales.

He noted: “Lack of confidence and uncertainty in the economy are the key challenges that we face as a business. I can only control what’s inside the building, not what’s outside.

“Nationally, we often talk ourselves in to not doing something, as opposed to finding a reason why we should. We need to change our mind-set towards finding the opportunity in everything.”

Adam Cunningham, managing director of subcontract machine group Muller Holdings, agrees and highlighted the positive role that foreign direct investment played.

Kimber Drop Forgings
Could the UK’s inability to produce its own raw materials be hindering investment from global OEMs? – image courtesy of Kimber Drop Forgings.

“Government needs to be doing everything it can to retain and attract global OEMs of a similar size to Toyota or Airbus to invest in UK production as the direct and indirect supply chain benefits and employment gains are huge.”

However, the UK’s inability to produce its own raw materials may be hindering such efforts, said Geoff Turnbull, director of Kimber Drop Forgings – part of KimberMills International.

“We are a manufacturing country, we are an island race, we need to export, but before you do that you have to produce something and that can’t happen without raw material. That’s where Kimber is finding it difficult at the moment.

“During the recent steel industry turmoil, government tried to step in and help, but I don’t feel that there was anywhere near enough support. As a result, we are being exposed to very high prices because we are having to buy through stockists who have no choice but to go abroad to source material. That has led to delivery times increasing significantly.”

Crozier agreed, commenting: “Extending raw material lead-times is a real problem for manufacturers now. I have one alloy that is UK-supplied, every other non-ferrous metal now comes in from Europe or the US, for exactly the same reason.

“We could buy them from China or the Far East, but questions around quality mean we don’t. All my lead times are now four months or longer, the longest is 12 months, and that’s likely to get worse if we don’t agree a timely Brexit deal.”