Nick Cowley explains how companies that keep their manufacturing in the UK can reap competitive and financial rewards
The recent crisis in the UK steel sector has meant that many industry commentators are speculating that UK manufacturing is in dire straits. As a result of this, and pressures from the post 2007 financial environment, many companies are outsourcing manufacturing overseas. However, relinquishing control leads to product quality that drops in line with costs.
If you were to believe everything that you read in newspapers, you would be forgiven for assuming that UK manufacturing is dead. In reality, the UK remains the eleventh largest manufacturing country in the world, generating an output of almost $219bn (£147bn) each year.
That said, the rise of the global marketplace has meant that much of the UK’s industry is based on the import and export of materials and products. China, considered to be one of the great economic success stories of recent times, is one of the key players in UK international trade. In fact, exports to China doubled in the past five years and, as of 2014, were worth £14.1 million.
These figures only tell part of the story. While the export of products offers some benefits to the economy and can reduce material costs for manufacturers themselves, they are in fact detrimental to product quality.
One of the theories for China’s impressive economic success is that of quality fade, a concept that means increased profit margins through a gradual decline in product quality itself. This means that end products of consistently lower quality begin to flood the market, often without business owners knowing that lower grade materials were used.
There is also a question of certification. UK certifications for good manufacturing practice are some of the most stringent in the world, with accredited inspection and testing ensuring that products comply with all regulatory standards. Road plates, for example, must meet strict load-bearing tests before they are approved by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and certified for safe use on roads.
It is for this reason that MCL Group Industries manufactures all of its products in our own facilities in the UK, allowing for complete control over all materials and processes in the production of our composite road plates, meter boxes and kiosks. It’s only by keeping tabs on every stage of the supply chain that we can ensure the highest degree of performance and quality.
One of the problems that have haunted composite materials in the past is that some source materials were unable to deliver the reliability and strength required for use in construction and infrastructure environments. As a result, there is a perception that composite materials are inferior to steel alternatives.
However, MCL Group Industries is a perfect example of how this perception can be changed. We've spent over 25 years building meter boxes to the highest specifications. Our use of strong, well engineered materials, combined with an easy to install design has made us the supplier of choice, with our meter boxes approved and installed by all major utility companies. This is is why our products account for 90% of the UK meter box market.
Talk of the decline of UK manufacturing will inevitably continue, as will the attractiveness of lower cost exporting. However, companies that take control over the manufacturing process and materials sourcing themselves will be able to reap the rewards and breathe life back into the manufacturing industry.
Nick Cowley is, group managing director of composite materials specialist MCL Group Industries.