Following reports of a thriving manufacturing sector in the UK, and a still weak pound, Jonathon Harker asks the cycle industry for their perspective on whether the sector is smashing expectations – or otherwise...

INDUSTRY OPINIONS: Boom time for UK manufacturers?

“I fear that UK manufacturing is not in a position to ‘smash’ a great deal at present. I believe strongly in British manufacturing’s capability, ingenuity and competitiveness, but do not believe that from one year to the next UK manufacturing can ‘turn around’. We remain one of the strongest manufacturing economies in the world (I think currently number six) but we have neglected this sector for some time and there is no quick fix.

"If UK manufacturing is to really become World Class, make up the ground it has lost and then look to compete with Germany, USA and China there is plenty of work to do. We need to rebrand ‘Manufacturing’ as a career so it becomes aspirational once more (most 14-19 year olds see manufacturing as grubby, low salary work, which it is anything but) and in parallel put in place outstanding education to bring on the next generation of workforce, while also developing and nurturing the manufacturing we currently have.

“And how tough is it being a manufacturer in the UK at the moment? We have been very fortunate to be working in a growing sector and have seen strong demand through what has been a tough recession. My belief is that if in the UK we focus on bulk (expensive to transport from China), degradable (such as food that needs to be produced close to the point of use) and innovative (world beaters, best in class that we are good at) manufacturing we have a lot to play for. The future for our sector looks promising but the global competition is getting better all the time so we cannot rest on our laurels.”

“I think that UK manufacturing is still in for some tough years ahead. With the relocation of industrial heartlands abroad over a decade ago, manufacturing in the UK has undergone radical transformations.

“UK based manufacturing companies simply adapted or vanished. This has led to companies embracing the manufacturing advantages of the Far East, while utilising the wealth of experience and expertise derived from many decades trading within the industry.

“If you asked me personally, do I think that UK manufacturing will ever recoverfully, then the answer is no. I don’t think this is doom and gloom, however. More a natural migration of manufacturing due to growing foreign markets.

“Companies such as Clarks have risen to these challenges and as a result are still in business and expanding. There does seem to be more optimism in the industry this year, and we are seeing the signs of recovery and growth. Markets and market demands however are increasingly fluid and growth is directly linked to this ability to adapt and cater for these requirements. At Clarks we have been listening to our customers, and working increasingly closely with them, which has paved the way for continued product development and innovation. With new ranges including a grips range as well as hydraulic hoses through to bottle cages, Clarks has diversified and we are continuing to grow our core business in both OEM and aftermarket areas.”

“The vast majority of bicycles produced for Europe and the USA are manufactured in Taiwan and China, and labour costs in these countries have been steadily rising.

“Add in the uncertainties of China’s currency exchange mechanism and you start to see a trend which will continue. The UK is becoming more competitive in comparison, and this certainly factored in our decision to move a significant portion of Gocycle production over from Taiwan to the UK two years ago.

“Simply, we felt we could produce the product in the UK for equal or less than the cost to produce it abroad, but have improved control of quality, service, and delivery.

“Gocycle is a hi-tech electrically powered hybrid vehicle – different from a traditional bike; this literally means it requires better technology, engineering expertise and quality control than traditional welded tube bike production. Gocycle has been designed for automated production, and the UK is way ahead of Asia in this area.”

“We have seen a significant increase in demand compared with this time last year. However, we feel that a lot of this demand is due to the supply chain re-stocking to more realistic levels after reducing stocks over the previous year.

“It is difficult being a UK manufacturer. I think the number of companies manufacturing parts here illustrates that. However, we still believe we have a lot to offer in terms of quality and innovation and our biggest challenge is to continually try and improve every aspect of our operation to be as efficient and as competitive as possible. I don’t believe we are suddenly going to find our labour rates on par with Asia, but we feel as long as we can continue to innovate and improve then there is an advantage to controlling the manufacturing process in-house here in the UK.”

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