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Manufacturing in the UK


My background is in (Electronic) Engineering, so obviously I have a very keen interest in manufacturing. Despite its decline, the manufacturing sector is very important to the UK in terms of both employment and as a very large contributor to GDP and our exports.

Recent TV programmes (such as the How To Build series on BBC2) have covered some of our high end industries. Last year they featured BAE Systems producing Submarines at Barrow, Rolls Royce producing Trent Turbofan engines at Derby (and components at other UK locations) and Qinetiq doing various things. This year they covered Airbus UK making A380 wings at Broughton and fuel system and landing gear work at Filton, McLaren producing supercars at their site (also work by specialist firms Capricorn and Riccardo), and Astrium UK producing Communication Satellites, the service module at Stevenage and the Communications module (the fun bit in my opinion) at Portsmouth.

I have commented elsewhere - like here: The collapse of UK manufacturing - PPRuNe Forums

Yesterday's news about the loss of jobs at Corus in Teesside made me fume. Manufacturing in this (what used to be) fine country is in decline. Most kids these days are growing up hoping that they will get jobs in either Banking, Television (reality shows) or working in some gaming software studio.

Why oh why, did this shameful excuse of a government, squander billions of our taxpayers pounds on banking, instead of stimulating the economy directly, by investing in massive civil engineering projects, tunnels, bridges, high speed rail, power stations etc etc. This is the only way to put money in people's pockets (except greedy bankers) and keep unemployment down.

I hear you, Widger. As a spotty 17 year old (engineering) student I was astounded to hear my lecturer talking of his kids' school and the way they got people to come and talk to them from the workplace. People were invited from the emergency services, a nurse, a vet, from shops and tourism places. When my lecturer suggested that they invited some people from manufacturing companies, the teachers were very negative. A few minutes drive from that school there was/is a Queen's award (for both innovation and export) winning manufactuer of industrial (and also some aerospace) instrumentation. Nor did the teachers invite anyone from the food manufacture industry that is present in this sort of rural area, and that farmers depend on. The late Sir John Harvey Jones frequently commented on this in his programmes. God alone knows what he would think of the current debacle.

I also agree with your second point. For example, if we had built more prisons there would be be more prisoners locked up, less crime, better welfare for prisoners, and a much needed boost for the construction industry. I'll be expanding on this point later.

I was deterred from commenting on this thread for a numbers of reasons, chiefly that people fall into entrenched points of views before thinking. This views tend to include the following...

a)The Tories messed it up (the Government since 1997 has clearly not been involved then?)
b)It's all down to New Labour
c)It's inevitable and there's nothing we can do except embrace it
d)It's a good thing and we should have a service based economy
e)Because manufcturing isn't what it used to be, we should give up

I disagree with all these views. Before giving you some comments, I'll declare my interested. My background is in Electronics/Communications, which is part of the reason I feel able to make sensible comments. I also live in a rural area, which has a share of industry, some of which has struggled due to lack of Government help. My comments are in no real order.

1. The nature of manufacturing has changed. I would suggest that it would be difficult to find everything (other than food or clothing) that has been 100% produced in any one country. Things made in the UK will often contain imported components or parts. Likewise, producing and selling high value components, and sub systems, is important for the UK, and a major part of our industrial future.

2. As I've said, I live in a rural area. Yet within twenty miles of where I am sitting, I can think of several companies involved in the high technology component/subassembly manufacture I speak of. A few examples would include:

- a multidisciplinary engineering company involved in the defence, oil/gas, and renewable energy fields
- a manufactuer of electromagnetic and electrommechanical aerospace components, and they also do contract electronics manufacture, much of it for the industrial big boys like BAE System, Agusta Westland, or Rolls Royce. Some of their output goes into space. I spent some time there and was pleased to see how much was exported.
- a company produces valves and actuators for the defence and aerospace markets
- a producer (and exporter) of printed circuit boards
- a firm producing industrial valves
- various food, clothing and pharmacetical producers

They would have benefited from a more helpful Government.

3. The distinction between products and services is not all all black and white. A factory selling engine parts sells products, and insurance broker sells services. But wht about things like software, sold via the internet? They certainly make something, but is it a product or a service? What about things like CAD services? Or how about (say) ship repair and conversion - what A&P do?

4. On the maritime theme, should we just tut and curse that the UK no longers build the world's ships, or should be concentrate on helping the marine activities of Rolls Royce and many others - producing engines, gearboxes, propellers and other propulsion equipment, electrical plant, radar and communications gear - in other words the high value, hi tech parts? Only recently Rolls Royce achieved an export sucess in this area.

5. I would say the same about the aerospace sector, if not engineering as a whole. You might be suprised at the high technology things made in the UK. Don't dismiss them because they are parts.

6. Less positive stuff now. With the banking crisis, it has been hard for companies to obtain credit - meaning that some have been unable to meet orders, or that they couldn't invest in new plant. After the Government bailout, this has continued. There was no part of the contracts to tell the banks to start lending (instead they awarded themselves greater bonuses than ever - running into thousands of millions). Of course, the crisis was largely due to lust for short term profits (with the risks involved), instead of long term growth.

7. The Government has totally failed to take advantage of the low pound. Where was the export drive? There's no Minister for Overseas Trade (or whatever?), nobody coordinates the work of various groups that represent different parts of the economy or different regions of the UK, or export related work by other Government departments.

8. Off the Cornish coast a wave hub (sic) is being built, allowing various wave related renewable energy resources to be both tested and connected to the national grid. I see an opportunity here. Old and closed shipyards may not be able to build ships, but I imagine many could do fabrication type work. Sections of steel (or anything else) joined by hinges will move due to wave action. This can generate electricity. If done on an industrial scale it could produce a significant percentage of the UK's electricity and reduce CO2 emissions, create thousands of jobs, and possibly produce an export....

Sadly this would need Government involvement and political leadership. We've got the natural resource (thousands of miles of coast and powerful waves), we've got the industrial resources (just about) and the technologies (some of them borrowed from the oil/gas sector or defence). We just need political leadership and investment. A better investment, I would suggest, than bonuses for incompetent banking executives.

9. There should be a bank purely for business, owned initially by the Government, to provide the funding businesses need. The goal shouldn't be high profits, merely low term growth and keeping companies afloat. Think of poor LDV.

10. On a similar note, exporters should get tax breaks.

From this post.

And from here: Not made in England - Page 3 - PPRuNe Forums

Nice article (and video) from the Beeb: Made in Chard

But why, I ask Andrew, do Numatic still make everything here?

"We don't only make Henry," he smiles. Their customers are large cleaning companies, based in Europe, America, the world. They don't want off-the-shelf kit. They want specialised equipment for specific cleaning contracts. Machines that sweep, wash and dry floors in one go for vast hotels and malls. Vacuums that suck hazardous industrial dust safely away. And everything with the cleaning firm's logo printed above the smile.

"We do over 5,000 different product lines," Andrew smiles, "and you can have any one of them in three weeks. We couldn't do that from the far east."

So that's their trick. Fast turnaround bespoke equipment. Yes, Henry is made in volume and shipped daily to the big stores, but every other cleaner is made to order.

A few parts are still bought in from other suppliers, notably the motors which come from an American firm, made to Numatic specifications. But recently Numatic has decided to bring six small parts back to Somerset from the current supplier in the far east. "We've been having problems with deliverytimes," he explains, "and really we can make it here just as cost effective".

A tour of Numatic should be compulsory for all those pub bores who insist 'everything is made in China'. Not every firm can follow suit, they have established a reputation for speed and bespoke manufacturing with which Asia cannot compete. But there are others. Printers making fast turnaround books for the topical market, for example ( think X Factor Winner, Royal Wedding).
ahhh yes manufacturing in the UK,remember it well, my factory went to Poland,my next one only employed Polish,and now im on the dole,living the dream i am,just living the dream.
I wanted to learn how to use a lathe a couple of years ago. Popped along to the college in Rugby to have a chat with the bloke running the metal bashing department and wonderd at the rows and rows of lathes in the room. He told me that there was no demand for lathe op courses anymore and that the lathes were all going to go - the huge railway factory had stopped making stuff so they were not sending apprentices through the college anymore.

Sad really. You stop making stuff and in short order no one can make stuff because there is no one to teach them.

Mr. Yokel is right, manufacturing is important to a country it provides the life blood of industry and generates a countries income. THe UK went from manufacturing to providing international call centres and those are now moving to the far east now too, ultimately the UK will be considered 3rd world in comparison to such countries as China and India. I already see huge swathes of the USA that are bordering very closely on being third world.
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[RANT MODE ON] Successive governments have ignored the manufacturing sector, despite the fact that manufacturing still contributes more wealth to our economy than financial services, and creates way more employment. As well as the fact that the wealth created by the banking industry seems to have been based largely on imaginary numbers, wishful thinking and debt.

For many years, manufacturing seems to have been considered a thing of the past, dirty dark and industrial, with no place in politicians' shiny new future of a "knowledge economy" and industries with a high multiplier like retailing and business services, which involved pushing the same money around in circles until one person lost "confidence" and the whole circus collapsed. The "growth" of western economies in the last 20 years consisted largely of the rising paper value of banks, who lent more and more against rising property values, on the assumption that such prices would continue to grow geometrically for ever. It was bound to end in tears.

Meanwhile take a look at the Chinese, who have built the world's top industrial economy on the basis of producing all those cute little manufactured goods people in the West wanted to buy with their ever extending credit.

It's high time politicians woke up and set about rebalancing our economy, supporting and nurturing the manufacturers, so that we have an economy where people are paid to work, not sit idle, where making things pays as well as money lending, engineers have more status than lawyers and where innovation and risk taking are not stifled by accountants.


Edited to add a missing apostrophe
Advice from the late Sir John Harvey Jones

How can companies be small, fast and successful if they are not to compete on price? By inventing things, by being innovative, by being cleverer than their competitors and by recognising that thanks to the Internet it is now a world market.

Innovation doesn’t need to be rocket science - although that can help - and whileinnovation does not necessarily have to be purely in products, it does have to becontinuous. It’s not a one off. In fact, a successful innovation can be a drag that isoften quite difficult to get out of.

As a broad rule of thumb, anything you do or make that has not been developed orchanged in the last two years is a potentially fatal weakness. You have to becontinuously alert to changes being introduced by your worldwide competitors. Andit’s much tougher now to know exactly who that really is. It can be a tiny group which just had a bright idea in India or in Eastern Europe. This means that you have to be continuously striving to stay ahead of them, continuously alert to change and continuously aware of what’s happening elsewhere, wherever that might be.

I’ve had many nasty surprises in my business life. And it’s almost always been because I’ve not moved fast enough, that I’ve waited to be sure of what action required taking, rather than taking the risk of being wrong. It’s better to be there early and develop on the run. I’d go any day for having an eighty percent ready thing which has failed, but where you learn on the run, than to hang on for when you’ve got a hundred percent thing where you’ve almost certainly lost the market. And you must be constantly scanning the horizons in the field or niche in which you are competing as well as the broad basis of technical innovation – which is leaping ahead at a rate that even those within it barely recognise.

Even if you are ahead, you must always present a difficult moving target – and if you don’t set an ever increasing speed, you’re a sitting duck. After all, you know how difficult it is to catch up somebody else – he’s never where you thought he was going to be and if he’s any good, he’s miles ahead anyway.​

It is in the discussions, in the twinkle in other people’s eyes that the new creativity occurs. You cannot talk to enough people, not just in your own area, but in everyother area. Very few of us create our own ideas. The human mind works by linking something that we’ve heard somewhere with something that has been worrying us.

One thing that used to drive me mad at ICI was when I went to somebody’s office and found them sitting with their feet on the desk. I’d say ‘What are you doing?’ and they’d say they were thinking. And I’d say ‘Balls, you do your thinking when you’re shaving in the morning, when you’re having a bath or driving the car.’

Nobody thinks as a raw exercise in that way. Of course, you apply rigour to yourthinking – but the more you can discuss your ideas, your dreams the better. Thebiggest way you produce new ideas is in the pub, at the football match, or, in mycase, the rugger match. You need to spread your net as wide as you can possibly make it, to talk to as many people as possible.
Yokel, I would be interested to hear your views with regards to BTEC HNC/HND entries into engineering related trades. It appears that colleges are unable to place 6-12 bods into anything apart from the biggest companies, therefore such courses are being culled.
Without a bridge for bright hands on guys to get in, surely you get stuck with academic theory at one end, and the pure manual at the other?
The UK's manufacturing future lies in the 'higher tech' industries. We cannot compete for the 'low tech' products that can be churned out with a minimum of equipment and training by a lowly paid, largely unskilled workforce.

My degree is in materials science and I spent 25 years in the metal production business. There are few people in the UK with wider experience of producing refractory metals than I - that experience ranges from the chemical intermediates to the finished products. But the industry was f*cked over by the Chinese who used state subsidies to sell product on or below cost and force western manufacturers out. At one time I saw Chinese finished parts coming out of China cheaper than i could buy the metal power. So (bearing in mind I had a good few years to go to retirement) I got out and went to work in the software industry.

I work for one of the largest software companies in the world and you can see a trend there as well. The 'numpety' jobs are being outsourced to India and the like - leaving the 'brains' jobs behind in Europe and the USA. I saw the way that wind was blowing a couple of years ago and have made damn sure I got a reputation as an SME (Subject Matter Expert). That puts me on the 'brains' side of the equation.

The reason I've told my story is that its a microcosm of the UK's problems - low tech jobs being exported abroad and only high tech jobs staying behind. UK PLC needs to:

1) Fix our busted educational system. Handing out worthless qualifications so you can boast exam reports have improved cheats people coming through that system. They have to learn useful skills - and if the pass rate drops; tough sh*t. A high tech manufacturing industry requires a well educated workforce.

2) Make the appropriate finance available for small business start ups. The government would do well to set up its own low interest loans system (secured against the borrowers house, etc). That way an entrepreneur could get low interested financing for the first 3 - 5 years of his company; the most critical time.

(The bulk of new jobs come from small companies starting up).

3) Make sure that government doesn't burden industry with useless regulations. Too many people putting in place regulations have no experience of the industries they're regulating. I've spent too long filling in forms as a 'cover your arse' reasure just to keep inspectors happy when they ahve no practical effect on (for example) safety. Reduce the number of written safety regulations and send round inspectors who know what the f*ck they're talking about. If you've 'walked the walk', you get my respect when you ask for A, B and C to be improved. If you're just out of uni with f*ck all practical experience, you don't.

4) Set up a simplified tax structure so it rewards investment and growth. And f*ck off Browns overcomplicated nightmare that's a tax evaders charter. AS good tax system is simple and so well drafted that it's not a tax avoidance accountants delight. Business have to to be encouraged to put money back into growing themselves.

5) Etc, etc...

We will only survive as a country if we develop high tech industries that require substantial investment, sophisticated machinery, a complex process and a highly educated workforce. Those industries have a high entry barrier to 'low tech' industries that run with a minimum of equipment and training and have a lowly paid, largely unskilled workforce.

The impetus for that lot has to come from the government - which means we need a government of vision that can decide on what is required and implement the appropriate policies.

** Important note ***

Government itself cannot create a high tech industry. It does not have the detailed knowledge or the ability to pick winners. But it can create a climate where those things happen.

Rant over....

Yokel, I would be interested to hear your views with regards to BTEC HNC/HND entries into engineering related trades. It appears that colleges are unable to place 6-12 bods into anything apart from the biggest companies, therefore such courses are being culled.
Without a bridge for bright hands on guys to get in, surely you get stuck with academic theory at one end, and the pure manual at the other?

And alongside our 50% production of Graduates, with a little less than 20% required in the market. Most for jobs that didn't need a degree in the first place.
And alongside our 50% production of Graduates, with a little less than 20% required in the market. Most for jobs that didn't need a degree in the first place.

In Germany the degree students are also following a closer industry orientated track (they also have a technical college/engineering route similiar to our HNC/HND).
One difference/prejudice I see is almost all German company owners and mgt are degree qualified, whereas in UK what value you could bring in ££'s counted more than a Masters. Trying to change a perception takes a long time. It largely changed my view doing mine in my 30's, but then I developed another one, preferring older graduates who knew why they were doing it.... heh ho...
Yokel, I would be interested to hear your views with regards to BTEC HNC/HND entries into engineering related trades. It appears that colleges are unable to place 6-12 bods into anything apart from the biggest companies, therefore such courses are being culled.
Without a bridge for bright hands on guys to get in, surely you get stuck with academic theory at one end, and the pure manual at the other?

When I were a lad, kids who could manage the maths did degrees in engineering while those who could not did HNC/HND type qualifications. Some flourished at college and joined the second or third year of a degree course after finishing their HND.

Now, everybody has to have a degree. If you can't hack honours level maths, no worries, there will be a maths free engineering degree for you at some institution that's keen for your cash. Case in point is a "university" round my way that's offering a two year "degree" in engineering with a C pass in GCSE maths as the only entrance requirement. There's no maths content beyond GCSE and, best of all, you can pass the "degree" even if you fail the written exams because it's assessed mainly on coursework.

Kids who could do well on an HND course are encouraged to run up massive debts to obtain a so-called degree that the course lecturers themselves describe as "sub o-level". Instead of a well paid job as a technician, they end up working in Carphone Warehouse after being laughed out of a number of interviews with engineering companies.

I've heard that some firms now require graduate applicants to sit formal degree exams set by a "reputable" university after their finals in order to determine their true ability. Can anybody confirm this?
I attained an HND and it cost nowt, mind you that was 1968.
Just goes to show how the National Coal Board wasted money!!!!
I attained an HND and it cost nowt, mind you that was 1968.
Just goes to show how the National Coal Board wasted money!!!!

I worked for them for a while,Grimethorpe, buried ****ing millions they did, new coalgetting machinery walled up underground and never used!
I worked for them for a while,Grimethorpe, buried ****ing millions they did, new coalgetting machinery walled up underground and never used!
Oh, my dear heart, we shall have to get together and over a bottle of cold tea
and mucky fat doorsteps, we shall discuss Shearers, Treppaners and Westfahlenhobel' if tha' were a sparky, we could pummel our puddings over pictures of
CM4 and MDDR Panels.