Jack Hanwell

Jack Hanwell, Advanced Manufacturing Forum

Manufacturers are up for the challenge

In light of recent national and global events, such as Brexit, there is no doubt that 2017 will see many opportunities and challenges for the manufacturing industry, argues the AMF’s Jack Hanwell.

The Advanced Manufacturing Forum (AMF) hosts monthly meetings with members and guest speakers to gain feedback and updates on the local industry and while 2016 saw a mixed-bag of fortunes for our members, these were mainly positive. Two things stand out as being the prime reasons behind their financial results - the low oil price and the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Since the June Brexit result we have asked our members and guest presenters alike to give their take on how Brexit has directly affected them. Despite many people expecting the worst, there has been a lot of positive feedback. An almost immediate effect was the weakening of the pound against other major currencies which meant a windfall for those companies predominantly exporting. However, for those buying materials abroad the change in currency value has proved to be a double-edged sword. There is still much change to come, both before and after Article 50 is invoked but most of our members retain a business-as-usual attitude.

The continued sub-$50 oil price has, despite creating hardship and even the odd casualty, seen some interesting stories of diversification; with some companies having foreseen changes early and put measures in place, while others reacted nimbly once the realisation of the long-term nature of the situation sank in. The nuclear and renewables sectors should benefit from the transference of technology, skills and experience of those organisations which honed their reputations in the sector.

AMF members such as Zytronic, Barbour and Liebherr, to name but three, are leaders in their respective fields and renowned across the globe. Much of their success is due to a culture of adapting to market conditions and investing in the skills of their staff. Smaller manufacturers, some of who, having been around for many years and some just starting out, are also invaluably contributing to the UK’s economy - and doing so with pride. There are many unsung heroes: SMH Products and VREO for instance, through an innovative approach and by identifying and exploiting gaps in the market, which is leading them to great success in their respective fields, to the benefit of all concerned.

If our experience in manufacturing has taught us anything it is that the North East community is innovative, resilient and even bullish when it comes to their businesses. From automotive to oil & gas, precision engineering, food production, manufacturers of clothing, battery packs, an array of electrical equipment, hearing aid batteries and much more, there is a genuine push for growth and this bodes well for the future.

Inward investment plays an important part in the development of the region and its manufacturing base and we are very supportive of the local authorities in this area. South Tyneside and Sunderland City Councils are working together for the development of the International Advanced Manufacturing Park planned for a site north of Nissan and close to the A19 and the A1. The development is promising to create up to 5,200 new jobs whilst also unlocking over £300m of private investment, giving an obvious boost to the region’s economy.

As a region punching above its weight on several fronts, not least in its exporting successes, manufacturing will continue to be a pillar in the economy of the North East. The AMF will continue to play its part in shaping the future of the UK and supporting the continual growth of the manufacturing industry.