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Ongoing support in times of change

20 July 2017

The last 12 months have seen huge changes in the political and economic landscape. In this report for AirUser, Vanda Jones, executive director of BCAS considers what has happened over the last year, shares her thoughts on what needs to happen moving forwards, and outlines the crucial role that a trade association plays in providing industry with a platform to voice its opinions

In times of political and economic uncertainty trade associations such as the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) become vital as policy makers beat a steady path to their door to understand the challenges faced by their members. BCAS provides industry with a loud and impartial voice and gives it a reference point that can affect future export policy.

There is no doubt that industry is feeling the impact of uncertainty at the moment, although looking at the statistics the economy has not shown the overall downward trend that some would have us believe. That said, we will need to keep a watchful eye as we proceed through the Brexit negotiations, face the fallout from this and then decide how as an industry we need to respond.

Insert Figure 1.  Gross Domestic Product:  Quarter on Quarter growth: CVM SA %.

Evidence of business holding up is also seen from the statistical bulletins from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). These present the monthly estimates of the Index of Production (IoP) for the United Kingdom production industries.  

The IoP measures output in the manufacturing, mining and quarrying, energy supply, water supply and waste management industries and, again, we have a fairly flat trend with April 2017 showing a very similar output to January 2015.  

Crucially all of these industries are significant end users of compressed air systems.

Insert Figure 2.  IOP: B-E: Production: CVMNSA


Twelve months ago, Brexit had just happened and BCAS members reported a more cautious approach to business. Now is the time to look to the future. Companies do not like uncertainty and the management of events through this key period is vital if we are to mitigate the consequences and make the most of any opportunities.

BCAS tracks machinery sales and air compressor sales by volume and distribution performance which allows us to track the market on an immediate and long-term basis.

Insert Figure 3. Compressed Air Market Place.

In the short term, there is no doubt that the wider industry took a deep breath with the uncertainty of Brexit as can be seen from our distribution index; although its long-term view was to continue to invest and place orders for more air to be delivered to UK production plants. This is a good sign for industry generally as compressed air is a bellwether of how companies view the future.

It is also worth noting that BCAS is the only UK trade association that represents manufacturers, distributors and end users of compressors, vacuum pumps, pneumatic tools and allied products. It means that it reports on and can track the needs of the entire supply chain for compressed air to the United Kingdom, Europe and overseas.

Standards and Regulations

Looking forwards it is particularly important that industry has a united voice to help influence a changing political climate.  As a Society, BCAS has worked through several periods of significant change since its inception in 1930.

Now more than ever the work of BCAS in international standards and legislation will be critical as we work through the Great Repeal Bill. One of the most important areas to watch will be divergence – we already work in a complex environment where businesses struggle to understand their commitment to legislation and with more businesses being European and global entities, further complexity will only add to the cost of production and maintenance.

For businesses, the challenge of making sure that the UK voice is heard is important as it will influence how equipment is designed in the future. It is fair to say that the UK has punched above its weight in Europe in this area compared to how much it exports.

In this global era of manufacturing, BCAS continues to be a strong voice in legislation by working as partners with Pneurop, Orgalime and CAGI.

Future activity 

One area where legislators and non-government organisations will continue to voice concerns for many years to come is competence.  

Recent tragic events focus the mind on our own industry and its lack of regulation.  It is still a surprise that as an industry we do not have a system of regulation, such as in the gas industry or the lift and escalator industry, where engineers have to be qualified to work on equipment.

There is a framework under the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations:

•  Requirement for a written scheme

•  A competent person to sign off on the scheme

•  An examination regime with review times set

Surely having evidence that your engineer is qualified and competent would give authorities and end users more confidence. Perhaps a register of written schemes would also ensure that businesses are brought up-to-date of any changes and advised of any risks to help improve their systems’ safety. This is one of many areas of work that BCAS will be supporting the end user on over the coming months.

Creating a safer working environment around vacuum emissions is already actively supported by BCAS committees who work to make information more transparent by producing guides and documents to remove the mystery from buying technology.

Ensuring competence is critical, and our new President has come into office with a mandate to enhance the training and development ethos within BCAS.  As a result, the society is currently increasing its team so that it can work more proactively in this area.  One of its first challenges will be to introduce engineer apprenticeships and the new training and development working group will take this as one of its first projects.

End user support

As part of this focus on users of compressed air, BCAS conducted a survey to clearly understand their needs and clarify its own objectives.  One of the top requirements from a trade association was providing useful information and advice plus training. It is therefore worthwhile visiting the BCAS website – www.bcas.org.uk – for guides and factsheets which are free to download, or alternatively ask your supplier.

One shocking result from this survey was the number of respondents who expressed absolutely no confidence in non-BCAS suppliers of compressed air equipment and services. More than 19% scored their non-BCAS supplier either 0 or 1 out of 10 for legal compliance relating to health and safety or environmental compliance and 15% scored either 0 or 1 out of 10 for value for money.  

BCAS members showed no such levels of dissatisfaction across any of the multiple factors asked, and scored significantly higher satisfaction ratings across the board – including value for money. The fact that members can access industry leading information and advice has clearly maintained their position as a trusted and leading provider within the industry. Details of the survey results can be viewed on the BCAS website.

Industry 4.0

In addition to asking end users to rate their suppliers, the survey also tackled future developments and asked respondents to assess the importance of Industry 4.0 to their business. Surprisingly, the survey revealed a certain amount of indifference to the rise of this new digital technology, with only 24% of respondents stating that it is very important at the moment.

Is this a case of reality overcoming hype, or is it simply due to a lack of awareness about what Industry 4.0 can achieve?

BCAS’ view is that this current trend towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies can only help with energy efficiency, maintenance before failure and therefore improve both service levels and costs moving forwards. Today a smart factory or production facility is available as an after-fit – so you do not have to wait to change your compressor to take advantage of this new technology-led revolution.

In conclusion, in a pre- and post-Brexit world, BCAS is – and will be – more relevant than ever in helping its members and end users pull together as the country moves through the formal separation process from the EU. Industry-specific training, technical and legislative advice and thought leadership are at the front of BCAS’ strategy as the society grows to meet the challenging needs of the future.

If you want your voice to be heard and help choose the shape of your future, then there has never been a more important time to be a member of a trade association.  www.bcas.org.uk