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COVID-19: SME manufacturers will ensure UK emerges wiser

UK manufacturers, agile and experienced enough to switch from specialist industries to producing critical PPE for NHS, in record time. “It’s the small...

Geoff Elvy, Founder & CEO, BEC Group
|May 16|magazine17 min read

UK manufacturers, agile and experienced enough to switch from specialist industries to producing critical PPE for NHS, in record time.

“It’s the small to medium sized UK manufacturers who are best placed to meet client demand as we emerge from COVID-19. It’s just frustrating that it’s taken a pandemic to make UK buyers realise the vulnerability of the UK supply chain from overseas and see the wealth of manufacturing and engineering talent, right under their noses. 

Another Chance

Who knows what the landscape will look like once we’re out the other side, but what’s likely is a degree of caution as companies start to resume their operations, reluctant and financially unable to tie themselves to huge supply commitments, until they understand the full impact of the Coronavirus crisis. 

As Julia Moore, CEO of UK’s GTMA (Trade association for Engineering Companies and Manufacturing Associations) says; “Relying on overseas production for so much of our engineering infrastructure has almost brought us to our knees. It’s vital that UK Manufacturers safeguard their future security by including UK engineering companies in their supply chains, so that we harness these skills in the UK. If we don’t, we stand to lose these companies and then where will we be?” 

As we emerge from the crisis and, dare I say it, Brexit (remember that?) we’re seeing mounting evidence of a move towards a more nationalistic approach to sourcing, proving that it’s the agile and experienced SME’s who are poised, ready and best-equipped to step up. 

Procurement Trends

As established manufacturers, we have watched as UK buyers focus their procurement criteria more and more on price, turning to low cost manufacturing countries to drive down costs without considering the permanent loss of experience and value that comes from 

buying closer to home. Paradoxically a dwindling number of engineering firms have been forced to quietly but determinedly adapt, invest and hone their capabilities. 

We have witnessed companies sourcing tooling from low-cost centres only to see that tooling produce inferior products, often the result of miscommunications that impacts on cost, quality or delivery of a new product. The 'tooling' budget is often in a different column from transport, subsequently the cost of getting the tools back to the UK doesn't make commercial sense. 

Pride in UK Manufacturing

As the original founder of BEC Group, I’m immensely proud that 41 years on we are still innovating, stepping up to the challenges set by clients and delivering high quality design, tooling and moulding services, all from under one roof, in one location. 

Proud of our team and the projects that have proved our innovative capabilities; from the first tumble dryer filter, 1million+ filters manufactured annually for the automotive industry, 50 bespoke VISA contactless payment bands for VIPs at the American Superbowl and 150,000 cable liners to support power cables for a new electricity interconnector inside the Channel Tunnel, to name but a few. 

Proof of Agility

It’s because of those decades of experience that we’ve been able to stay agile, scaling up or down, collaborating with clients and suppliers quickly. We’ve proved it in the last few weeks, stepping up to the UK’s urgent need for critical PPE, collaborating with other UK suppliers. Firstly, with Capit for clip-on visor shields for frontline delivery drivers (Lead time: 7 days from company set-up, design, tooling and into production) and secondly, with Protecting Heroes who we’ve assisted in large scale manufacture of NHS protective face shields (Lead time: 3 weeks from sign off, to design, tooling, trials, approval from Public Health England and into production). 

Julia adds “An incredible feat. I hope that our brilliant manufacturers, who have turned from their specialist industries to medical devices, will now recognise and applaud the UK engineering companies who have responded with their extensive knowledge and flexibility to produce and deliver high volume quality parts in record time.” 

UK Vulnerability

Over the years, global outsourcing of products to the Far East and other low-cost centres has had a devastating impact on UK manufacturing. 

While large companies are making commercial decisions based on cost, they’re not taking into account the benefits of choosing local manufacturing where reduced stockholding and increased cash flow improve liquidity. It’s this short-sighted view of profitability that’s now 

coming home to roost as Britain struggles to get the items they need to resume manufacturing. And whilst global companies have built illogical hurdles preventing smaller companies from passing the initial audit, it’s the resilient SME’s who are adapting and focusing on what they do best. 

Proof of Agility

We watched in the early 2000’s as companies sourced from further afield, causing toolrooms to close across the UK. But instead, we invested in ours, seeing the value in having everything under one roof, rather than shipping tooling overseas and risking projects getting lost in translation and clients losing control, deadlines, quality and customisation. 

We have helped customers with reshoring, so we know how the process works, what needs to be done and how to ease the transition to our factory. Everything is made easier with the team in one place. A product design can go from CAD sign off to a full Design for Manufacture review and then into the toolroom for manufacture in a matter of hours, not days. 

Within the UK, buyers can request fewer quantities, maintain tighter control, communicate directly (either in person or online) with the designer, anticipate CAD improvements, tap into engineering expertise, guidance and wizardry to get a better end product, tighter lead times and visit the factory to sign off at every stage, getting into production quicker. 

As the American billionaire investor Warren Buffet says; “Price is what you pay, value’s what you get” and he knows a thing or two about business!”

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