Leading success in UK manufacturing

UK manufacturers are thriving, having come through a challenging couple of years.

Two business leaders talk about how they are revolutionising the industry.

Simon Thomas, MD of Asset International

The company manufactures plastic pipes for the water and construction industry, mainly for carrying wastewater. It’s a manufacturing process and product that’s unique to the UK but it was developed in Finland in the late 1980s. We manufacture under licence from Finnish company KWH.

In the first three years of manufacture, we were taking a scattergun approach, trying to service each and every market sector out there instead of focusing on one. We’re really only a one-product company in that we only make plastic pipes. However, where we’ve been clever is to shape the pipes to take us into different market sectors.

We’re producing a vast number of tailored or bespoke products that are unique to each and every project – that’s where innovation comes in and it’s why we brand ourselves as a solutions provider.

When we go to market, we need to be innovative and unique. It’s a very conservative and traditional industry, and if we can do something a bit different, it attracts attention. I’m from an area of Wales where the primary industry was
coal mining, so I’ve had first-hand experience of what it’s like for the manufacturing industry to be taken away.

The feel-good factor that manufacturing tends to bring to an economy is gone, I believe. It’s a very steep hill that
manufacturing industry has to climb to get back to where it should be within this country.

We don’t seem to be proud of our manufacturing heritage, and because of that our reputation has suffered globally.

Nevil Hall, joint MD of Millers Oils

We are a general lubricants company that has three main ranges for automotive, industrial and commercial vehicles. The company is  independent and still family-owned.

When I joined nine years ago, it was short of investment. We invested heavily in research and development (R&D) at the point when everybody else was shutting their R&D facilities.

It is our work in motor sport that has brought us to prominence. We developed the automotive side because there was a clear requirement for high-quality products in the motor racing sector. What has got us to the pinnacle of the sport is our use and development of nanotechnology engine oils, which arose as a direct result of searching for ways to emphasise our technical capability.

There is an enormous difference in size between nanoparticles – engineered particles that are incredibly small – and the particles in other oils. Nanotechnology has clear benefits for racing teams that run the same cars under the same circumstances – they’re instantly seeing three times the gearbox life.

I’m not aware of anyone else in Europe using nanotechnology. They’re developing it, they’re talking about it, but I don’t believe there’s anything else on the market. What I think we’ve done is disrupt the market with this technology. This company has doubled its turnover in the past five years from £12.5 million to £25 million.

The plans are to continue to invest heavily in R&D and also in manufacturing techniques to improve efficiency. At the minute we’re quite buoyant.

We took the opportunity to consolidate, expecting that business would be flat, but it has continued to climb for us. So I’m quite hopeful about British manufacturing. After all, it is our second biggest industry.


Ellie Duncan

Ellie was a features writer for What Investment magazine and our sister publication Business XL from 2010 to 2011, before moving on to the Financial Times.

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