Making a success of it

The future UK manufacturing industry has the potential to be bigger, brighter and better than ever before argues Richard Shaw, MD of globally successful firm Ellis.

Manufacturing is of huge importance to any country’s economy. It provides the goods people use in their daily lives, it provides employment and it brings money into the economy – no matter whether the products are sold within its geographical boundaries or revenue is generated by their export.

The decline in manufacturing in the UK has been significant, some reports put it at having halved since the 1980s, and the reasons for this could keep me, and I’m sure many of you, occupied for hours on end. Suffice to say the tide is thankfully turning and one of the key factors has been a shift in attitude towards outsourcing manufacture to the Far East and other emerging markets.

At its peak, those businesses that had followed the trend to go overseas spoke glowingly about how much more cheaply their products could be produced. But for me, the question this argument always posed was; does cheaper ever mean better?

I’d be lying if I said Ellis hadn’t researched overseas manufacture, but every time we’ve looked at it we have been put off by the fact that the negatives seemed to far outweigh the positives.

In our opinion, the switch to overseas manufacturing is fraught with problems. It can have a negative effect on product quality, vastly increase lead times, leave a company unable to trace the source of its production materials, and have an adverse impact on product innovation.

In contrast, by maintaining manufacturing in the UK we retain absolute control, and it’s this control over everything from delivery times through to product quality that really does count. For example, our ability to react quickly to new demands is such that we regularly turnaround and deliver prototypes for new products in the space of a week – a scenario that simply wouldn’t be possible if our manufacturing facilities were overseas.

This ability to turn prototypes around so quickly also gives us free rein when it comes to product innovation. We are able to develop, try and test new ideas quickly and easily and without any of the delays that would occur if we had our design department in one location and manufacturing facility on the other side of the world.

Another plus in the column for UK manufacturing is that it scores highly in the green stakes. Not only is the carbon footprint significantly reduced, but all processes and sites need to meet the strict European legislation regarding emissions and the environment – again something that’s not replicated in the Far East.

While these arguments have played their part in breathing new life back into the UK manufacturing sector, perhaps the most significant factor in the change has again been cost.

The cost of overseas labour has risen, the cost of transport has risen and what seemed like a cheap option is no longer that. As such the playing field has very much begun to level out. And such is the extent of this levelling out we are now beginning to enjoy export success in China.

Our first order came in January when our Emperor cleats were specified by COSCO Engineering for installation on the Vantage Drilling Company’s new drill ship, the Dalian Developer.

As with a great deal of the projects we win, we secured this order a result of our persuasive technical argument that highlights the vital importance of correctly tested and specified cable cleats. To achieve this in a market saturated with apparently cheaply manufactured alternatives is something that until very recently would have seemed wholly inconceivable.

Closer to home, there is a real and very simple opportunity for wholesalers wishing to help support the resurgence of the British manufacturing sector. In a number of other countries a great deal has always been made of buying products made in that country, but this attitude has never really caught on in Britain.

Perhaps now is the time to change that. By simply highlighting the British made products in stock, wholesalers will be giving their customers the option of buying British. And I’m certain that faced with two similarly priced products of a similar quality the vast majority of Brits would opt for the British made one.

Yes, British manufacturing is on the up. Yes, it does have the potential for a very bright future, but it needs across the board support to realise this. So wholesalers, do your duty – British manufacturing needs you.”

Richard Shaw is MD of Ellis, the world leader in cable cleats based in Rillington, North Yorkshire. For more information on it and its products visit www.ellispatents.co.uk or call 01944 758395.