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Confidence high as manufacturers prepare for prosperous future

17 May 2022

MACH 2022, the most significant gathering of manufacturers in the UK post-pandemic, lived up to its billing by proving to be a major stimulus to investment, writes James Selka

ARRIVING AGAINST a backdrop of growing cost pressures on manufacturers, MACH 2022 proved businesses were prepared to see the value in acquiring the new plant and machinery capable of delivering much-needed gains in productivity.

This bore out much of what show organiser, the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) had been saying in the months leading up to the event. The association had predicted the show would be the manifestation of the growing appetite amongst manufacturers to invest in new machinery, and so it proved.

Walking around the halls of the National Exhibition Centre and talking to the various exhibitors, the confidence being expressed was palpable. Hearing what they had to say about the levels of interest and the business being transacted was very welcome and bodes well for the next few years.

Such optimism is best expressed by the exhibitors themselves, for example, Nigel Atherton, managing director of XYZ Machine Tools said: "From day one of MACH our stand was busy and the level of enquiries, and new orders resulting from the week are very encouraging. Our current levels of business are exceeding pre-Covid levels and there is little sign of buying confidence slowing down." XYZ generated sales in excess of £2.4 million during the exhibition.

Alan Pickering, joint managing director of Unison, was equally enthusiastic. He said: "Talking to prospective customers during the show, we gained the clear impression that confidence is back in manufacturing and that companies of all sizes are ready to invest in the machine tools and technologies that will help them achieve their goals."

Such was Unison’s success at MACH 2022 that it has already booked its space at MACH 2024, and rather than having two stands - one for Unison and one for Ingenium Integration with Nukon - as it did this year, in two years’ time the businesses will amalgamate their displays on one much larger stand.

Other manufacturers tell a similar story and a further indication of the newfound confidence surrounding the manufacturing technologies sector is evident from the fact that the MTA has sold more advance exhibition space for 2024 than for any preceding MACH event. Such a display of optimism, coming at a time when cost pressures on business are significant, sends out a very positive message, both to the manufacturing industry and the wider economy as a whole.

The Government said in its Spring Statement that investment remains a key driver of productivity growth and that by adding to the economy’s capital stock and improving the skills of the workforce, the economy can produce more with the same input from workers. 

Manufacturers appear to have embraced this ethos and while much of the optimism may be driven by the fiscal incentives currently available to the industry, there can be little doubt that investment in transformative manufacturing technologies and improved skills have consistently delivered higher productivity levels down the years and will continue to do so. 

With inflation continuing to rise, UK manufacturers must implement productivity improvements now in order to avoid having margins squeezed to an unsustainable degree. Now is the time to be brave and build on the impetus created by MACH 2022 to make the investments that will reap greater rewards further down the line. 

As we keep one eye on the future, another gratifying aspect of MACH 2022 was the growth in the number of students visiting the show, many of them attracted to the displays in the Education & Development Zone. These were specifically designed to attract young people and to show them how rewarding a career in manufacturing can be.

The zone, sponsored by Sandvik Coromant, featured stands from Airbus Defence & Space, University of Wolverhampton Formula 3 Race Team, Vex Robotics, the Bowers Group Mobile Metrology Centre, F1 in Schools and the Engineering Development Trust (EDT), a nationwide educational charity which offers young people (9-21 years) active learning experiences in STEM-related careers.

Just as with investment, we must build on this interest to ensure we secure the next generation of young engineers to the industry. In this way, we can help to sustain the future of the industry and make UK manufacturing into a major force on the global stage.

So, as we bid farewell to MACH 2022, we look forward to MACH 2024, which takes place between 15-19 April at its longstanding home, Birmingham’s magnificent NEC. It’s never too early to plan, so save the date now. I look forward to seeing you there.

James Selka is CEO of the MTA 

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