It is fantastic to see UK Manufacturing enjoying a renaissance especially in the Plastic Injection Moulding sector where we have a new buzz word called ‘reshoring’. I can’t help wondering though whether too many businesses were quick to sell out to what was perceived to be the ‘Holy Grail’ in manufacturing in the first place. I wrestle with this question that is rarely asked…
Why was there such an urge to damage the solid and long standing industry by selling UK manufacturing short and buying from the Far East in the first place?
Of course there were many reasons but primarily in our own industry the low labour rate and shortened lead times to initial samples had a huge bearing on the decision making process. These are very valid reasons but did those UK businesses that made the commercial decision to source their manufacturing and production overseas not consider the long term effects? In plastics the 1990’s & 2000’s were hugely damaging to the industry in the UK and it is now apparent that businesses who outsourced may not have considered whether the Far Eastern suppliers could sustain the advantages they were offering for the long term. This would seem a short sighted approach but then I ask myself why was it that these companies saw this as the answer?
I believe it may stem back to the education system and the thirst for knowledge in this period about emerging markets. If students come out of education and into industry with the perception that the way forward is to produce offshore rather than continue to support this great British industry sector then it seems only natural that when they are in the position to make decisions they will go with what they have been taught.
Now it is important that markets do emerge as it creates competition and encourages us to invest in our own resources but whereas the governments in those countries aided their rise there is a feeling that our own leaders made it harder in the UK. It certainly became harder to borrow money, the education curriculum steered students to believe that UK manufacturing was in decline and the training facilities started to close down through lack of funding. It is well documented that the reduction in apprenticeships has been a major factor in the skills shortage we see today so when you combine this with the teaching of the times it is not surprising it was a hard period for manufacturing.
Another question is whether our industry helped itself out during these difficult periods? Precision engineering companies and our own toolrooms were being closed, reducing the number of skilled people required forcing them to find new careers and established UK plastic moulders opened their own facilities in low cost European and Far Eastern countries. I can fully understand why businesses made these commercial decisions and many offer a very good service to their customer base. At Pentagon we made the decision to continue to offer a full Toolroom in the UK to support our Mould Shop, but also supported our customers on the very rare occasions when they insisted on Far Eastern manufacture of the tooling with a managed service. Pentagon has never actively advertised this fact and we purposely buried the service as much as we could within our website. Although we are staunch supporters of UK manufacturing you cannot thrive by closing your eyes to the threats to your business!
We closely monitor the quotations we provide to both prospects and customers and find that we lose some projects solely on price. When we drill down into the reasons behind this it is more often than not because our competitors are sourcing the tooling in the Far East and moulding in the UK. This doesn’t always provide a level playing field in the quotation process when the main driver is cost but it is understandable. Buy British is a strong slogan and one that many buyers now see as important in the supply chain network, but do they actually ask where their tooling is to be made? If you are truly buying British then surely the whole manufacturing cycle should not leave these shores….
As I referenced earlier competition is hugely important for companies like Pentagon that are in it for the long haul and want to maintain a reputable business that offers a comprehensive service. Would we be in such a good position today if there weren’t UK companies that source their tooling overseas? I think the answer is probably no as it is important that there is choice through the supply chain and there is certainly not one business model that fits all.
We have a strong customer base and have enjoyed steady growth through difficult times. It is with great pride that we shout about the merits of producing in the UK at trade shows, through social media and with student visits to our facility. Over the last two years we have implemented a major re-investment program to expand our Toolroom, install dedicated facilities for post moulding operations and packing as well as centralising our quality and manufacturing offices to help us to meet the demands going forward. The buzz word of ‘reshoring’ is certainly referenced in many enquires that we are receiving and in the discussions we are having of late so this can only be a good thing for UK manufacturing.
We also foresee huge benefits to working with forward-thinking companies such as PlastikCity (www.plastikcity.co.uk) who strongly promote UK plastics manufacturing and the excellent suppliers working within it. PlastikCity is helping to get the ‘reshoring’ message out to the masses and enable prospective customers find the required resources. Coupled with our own marketing efforts, we see massive potential.
As the industry in the UK continues to prosper I am sure we will see more companies expanding through investment in equipment, training their staff and offering career opportunities within manufacturing. The future looks bright for the UK manufacturing industry and we are very proud to be a part of it here at Pentagon Plastics.
Paul Edwards – Pentagon Plastics Ltd on behalf of PlastikCity