Mapping the engineering supply chain

Julia Moore, CEO of the Gauge & Toolmakers Association (GTMA) explains how ReshoringUK - a collaboration of leading industrial engineering associations - can assist manufacturers in connecting with trusted, accredited suppliers.

In response to the downturn in the aerospace and automotive sectors during the early days of the pandemic, the Gauge & Toolmakers Association (GTMA) turned its focus to opportunities in the medical, rail and space clusters. Recognising the high manufacturing skills of the SME supply chain in the aerospace industry we set up Cluster Groups to focus on how our members’ skills could transfer cross industry sectors to meet the requirements of manufacturers.

The UK defence sector and space industry are areas that are opening to SMEs with a string of actions designed to attract new companies into the supply chain.   A case in point is our GTMA member, Thomas Keating, who designed and manufactured an antennae for the NASA/MIT TROPICS ‘Pathfinder’.

GTMA has been following the opportunities in the defence and security industry with growing interest. GTMA’s chief technical officer, Dr Alan Arthur believes that “the significant changes in the way the MoD is procuring services and products will provide more opportunities for UK-based manufacturers”.

Tracking these contracts GTMA alerts the Cluster to target these projects. This is in addition to our analytic service that informs members within an hour to the company landing on their GTMA on-line profile. A new ‘Defence and Security industrial Strategy’ published by the Government, along with a separate Command Paper focused on cyber defence provides an additional investment of £24 billion over the next four years.

Benefits of collaboration

During the early days of ‘lockdown’, the speed of adjustment of SMEs to move to new industry sectors was very evident to manufacturers, who perhaps recognised that they had lost touch with their UK supply chain.

It is important that manufacturers are aware of this skill to respond and how this important ability is available to deliver solutions for the future. Over the last eighteen months, Reshoring has gained emphasis to address the future requirements of a post-Covid and Brexit UK. Where this occurs manufacturers will shorten their supply chains, provide opportunities to interface quickly with suppliers and seek technical skills and innovative solutions, as well as life-time component manufacturing support. It will safeguard against currency fluctuations, import costs blockages at ports, aid remanufacture to reduce end of life, and implement design changes more effectively.

The key is keeping pace with technology and the speed of change, and it is here that the collaboration between the manufacturer and the supply chain can succeed and provide quality, reliability, and technical support through ‘early supplier involvement’ in the UK through collaboration.

The development in technology is an important part of where GTMA is focusing attention. Our strategic decision is to reduce risk by investigating alternative manufacturing processes to enable the engineering companies to support manufacturing whether in composite tooling, or additive manufacturing for large structures for the aerospace industry; alongside artificial intelligence and digital technology, all essential tools for SMEs to meet the requirements and demands of manufacturers as we go towards 5G.

Building blocks to growth

GTMA sees the collaborative network ReshoringUK as building block to a growing network for manufacturers to find closer collaboration and deeper networking opportunities to unearth the UK’s true potential. Skilled companies work in highly specialised industries, but their skills and techniques hold transferable skills for other sectors and the opportunity of working together on advanced engineering projects with Universities and Catapults and manufacturers is vital for the sustainability of the UK as a manufacturing nation.

This mindset is already taking roots. According to a recent survey by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO, two thirds of UK manufacturing businesses are planning to introduce dual or multi-sourcing for key components to avoid the future supply chain disruptions which we have seen over the last two years.

Currently, the reliance on overseas suppliers is high. However, the impact of the pandemic on the world has alerted manufacturers to recognise the seriousness of multiple disruptions to their global supply chains.

Julia Moore, CEO of the Gauge & Toolmakers Association

Manufacturers must also protect themselves against the increasing costs of trading tariffs. Ever since manufacturers began outsourcing production to more competitively priced overseas economies, there has been a race to the bottom. However, the overseas price advantage that enticed many businesses just a decade ago has been progressively eroded with rising wages in low-cost economies, an increasing home consumer market, and substantial increases in freight charges.

Of course, we’re not expecting all UK manufacturers to move to local sourcing nor have we the capacity in the UK, but a new world order is required to address future risks. We are experiencing many global shocks and we believe that many manufacturers see these increasing not only with the effects of climate change disasters, but uncontrollable events such as the speed of future pandemics, and the inherent threats for our security with the political world order. 

Knowledge is power

ReshoringUK has partnered with smart manufacturing software specialists, Valuechain to connect and promote cross-sector industry association members to drive sustainable growth for UK manufacturers. Through >£4 million innovation funding from the European Commission and Innovate UK, Valuechain has developed the many-to-many intelligent clustering platform – iQluster which is focused on the needs of manufacturing SMEs.

Valuechain’s CEO, Tom Dawes said: “iQluster has the potential to become the Facebook of B2B connectivity, collaboration and communication and our partnership with ReshoringUK will accelerate our industry engagement strategy. We have successfully deployed iQluster in many cross-sector networks around the world to provide a bottom-up engagement platform that incentivises SMEs to actively maintain their profiles and connect with industry partners. An important differentiator compared with other B2B platforms is how iQluster connects with Valuechain’s supplier and customer portals to provide members with upstream and downstream collaboration. Furthermore, through our sister company Fitfactory we are able to offer freemium productivity apps in return for active SME engagement.”

Valuechain has been collaborating with West of England Aerospace Forum (WEAF), Northeast Automotive Alliance and Rail Forum Midlands through an Innovate UK-funded ACCESS (Accelerate Cross-sector Collaborative Ecosystems and Sustainable Supply chains) project. Furthermore, Valuechain and WEAF have developed the Digital Productivity Diagnostic and Road mapping tool, which will also be available to ReshoringUK Cluster members.

There is a great opportunity to develop ReshoringUK to the next stage digital platform with Valuechain. The benefit of this collaboration will enable the Reshoring network to grow and bring real benefit to industry.

In the words of our Patron, Baroness Burt of Solihull: “The development of the Reshoring initiative is to encourage engagement with our manufacturing supply chain and to recognise the strength, skills and innovation available to manufacturers in the UK”.

www.gtma.co.uk

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