UK subcontractors report positive outlook and look ahead to post-COVID boom
The UK’s subcontract manufacturing sector appears to have weathered the COVID storm and is emerging from lockdown with exceptionally strong sales pipelines, according to a cross-section of the industry’s leaders.
The positive outlook is leading many to accelerated investment plans and conversely, leading to increasing concerns about the robustness of supply chains and skills availability.
Chris Shield, director of Shield Group, a provider of machining and assembly solutions to the power generation, off-highway, construction and automotive industries, with facilities across the Midlands and North of England says the business outlook is very positive.
“The pipeline is very strong and we’re feeling a lot more positive compared to six months ago now that the situation with regards to COVID and Brexit is clearer. It makes us more confident about investing further.”
Chris Shield says Brexit uncertainty was a drag on the business, but since the turn of the year the outlook is much more positive: “Up until the 1st of January the uncertainty was a real negative, however European customers are now viewing the UK as a good source and we are seeing many more enquiries and interest. Our only concerns are finding people with the right skills and the capacity of the foundry supply chain to get us the raw materials.”
His sentiments, echoed by Andrew Whitham of Brooks Ltd, a Manchester-based subcontract manufacturer of gears, sprockets, shafts and adapted transmission chains, are typical of the positive mood that is surrounding UK manufacturing.
“We’ve enjoyed a period of sustained growth and investment despite the challenges of COVID and lockdowns. Our key industry sectors are growing and our investment strategy has just about been able to keep up with the increased demand. The sales pipeline is very strong and our only concern is finding the right skills for our business and the robustness of the supply chain.”
Andrew Whitham believes that the decision to continue with investment in new technology has been pivotal to the company’s success: “We’ve spent more in the last 12 months than at any other point in the company’s history, well over £1,000,000. We firmly believe one of the factors behind our increased turnover has been our willingness to invest in new machinery and technology.”
John Hyde of John Hyde Engineering, a Stoke-on-Trent-based subcontract machining and production engineering services provider to some of the world’s biggest names in plant, machinery, earth moving, and engine building, is also increasingly optimistic: “We’re more positive than six months ago and the pipeline is looking increasingly strong. We’re benefiting from some reshoring of operations back to the UK, but finding CNC machinists with the necessary skills and sourcing raw materials are a challenge.”
Alan Mucklow, managing director UK and Ireland sales and service at Yamazaki Mazak, says the optimism of the subcontracting sector is a much-needed boost for UK manufacturing: “The subcontracting sector, one of the backbones of UK manufacturing, has largely weathered the COVID storm. It is very striking when I talk to customers how positive the outlook is, particularly the strength of the new business pipeline.
“I’ve been particularly impressed by the continued willingness to invest in new technology which has put many subcontractors in a very strong position to take advantage of any upturn. With the announcement of the capital allowance super deduction announced in the Budget, which effectively offers a 25p reduction in Corporation Tax for every pound invested in machines, I would expect this commitment to investment to accelerate further. Coupled with the increased certainty with regard to our trading relationship with Europe and with COVID in retreat, the future looks very positive.”
Emphasis on productive solutions for subcontractors from Gewefa at Southern Manufacturing
Gewefa UK Ltd, the Corsham based specialist toolholding and allied equipment supplier, is offering products with special appeal to subcontract manufacturers at Southern Manufacturing 2018.
Keith Warner, managing director of Gewefa UK, says: “We met a lot of subcontractors at our first appearance last year and it was clear they are always on the lookout for toolholding and metal cutting solutions that give them a lead in productivity, precision and repeatability. In the past year Gewefa has introduced a number of innovations and we will be featuring them at a UK exhibition for the first time.”
These will include the Gewefa ‘HydroPin’ hydraulic chuck with a fixed stop pin and the new ‘Easy-Fix’ boring bar toolholder. The HydroPin single point boring bar toolholder is a Gewefa invention and utilises the proven tool grip features of a hydraulic chuck with the added advantage of guaranteeing fixed orientation when positioning the bar. ‘Easy-Fix’ is a unique hydraulic chuck for holding Sandvik Coromant Easi-Fix boring bars. It removes the need for reduction sleeves while eliminating run out and guaranteeing the centre height at the insert tip. Setting time is substantially reduced, by as much as 75 percent, with the Gewefa design featuring a spring plunger mounted in the toolholder body. This locates into a fine groove machined into all Coromant Easi-Fix boring bar shanks and aligns the bar position precisely for the correct centre height. Along with the hydraulic chuck operation, a secure grip is guaranteed with integral anti-vibration damping to optimise the machining process.
In addition, the Gewefa stand will also feature products from Gewefa’s partners, who they represent exclusively in the UK. These will include EWS static and driven tools, OTT spindle monitoring equipment, Pibomulti angle heads and speeders, Nann collets and Rineck heat shrink clamping machines.
Highly experienced Gewefa personnel will be available to discuss all aspects of toolholding and related products with visitors.