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Low-volume manufacturing, Brexit and net-zero: industry leaders' 2021 predictions

Professional Engineering

'Low-volume manufacturing is set to increase in importance': James Murphy, HLH Prototypes
'Low-volume manufacturing is set to increase in importance': James Murphy, HLH Prototypes

What will 2021 be like for the engineering industry? We asked manufacturing leaders their predictions for the year ahead.

James Murphy

Co-founder and vice-general manager of HLH Prototypes

“Recent years have highlighted an increasing appetite for low-volume manufacturing, and there is every reason to believe this is something that will continue into 2021. Demand for a more bespoke product exists throughout the supply chain, from OEMs right through to end-users, and this requires an agile approach in order to respond to this requirement.

“However, a collective belief among some manufacturers is that the low-volume production of functional parts doesn’t generate enough of a margin to be profitable. Responding to this, HLH Prototypes has worked with a number of UK-based companies to carry out this kind of work when they are struggling to identify home-grown suppliers. 

“With low-volume manufacturing set to increase in importance, and as the number of British businesses asking for this type of work rises, we will actually be opening our first UK facility in 2021. This will ensure lead times are minimised, and is indicative of the trend towards a more bespoke manufacturing supply chain.”

Professor Chris Dungey

Research director at the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland

“For the manufacturing sector, 2021 will be about recovery and opportunity. The National Manufacturing Institute Scotland has a significant role to play in supporting businesses in both these areas. We are focusing on solutions that will have immediate impact for companies. We are working on leveraging mature technologies from other sectors and translating for the benefit of manufacturing, particularly those supporting digital transformation such as augmented reality.

“The net-zero agenda will gather pace in 2021 and hydrogen and offshore wind are going to be very important parts so there are huge opportunities for UK manufacturing. Much of the technology for offshore wind is imported so we need to look at repositioning the UK manufacturing sector within that environment and establishing appropriate supply chains.

“I think there will also be a big focus on resilience in 2021. How do we make technology and supply chains more resilient, especially around key products and services such as PPE?”

Matt Sellens

Commercial director, Formaplex

“While the world has faced unprecedented changes in the last year, one constant remains – the drive for reducing emissions and increased efficiency through weight reduction. 

“Composites are really coming of age and this will only grow in 2021. For lightweight engineering specialists like Formaplex, this drive for energy efficiency and the major advances we are seeing in materials and processes add up to major growth opportunities.

“Traditional manufacturing processes will continue to be in high demand, and we’re also seeing growth in high-volume composite manufacturing processes using sheet moulding compound and wet pressing recycled carbon-fibre materials.

“We have seen the importance of innovation this year and this will be crucial for the sectors we work with, such as high-end automotive, medical, defence and oil and gas.”

Mark Venables

Managing director of Alloy Wire International

“I’m an optimist, so I’m hoping that 2021 will be a better year for UK manufacturing than the one we are currently trading our way through, but nobody really knows.

“Will Covid-19 still be as prevalent throughout the next 12 months, how will Brexit play out and how do we recover from the economic shocks of the pandemic? So many things outside of our control.

“What we’ll do is focus on what we do best, producing wire for more than 5,000 customers in 55 countries across the world. It is a tried-and-tested methodology that has seen us grow year-on-year for the last decade and, even during these 12 months, it has been an approach that has kept us on budget.

“Like many companies we have used the slight fall in activity to make operational improvements, upgrading our offices in the West Midlands, implementing more training and identifying areas of the business where we need more staff.

“These are important measures that will hopefully give us the platform to embrace new opportunities that will arise from an economic improvement in 2021.”


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 

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