Brexit and Covid – two words everyone, not least UK manufacturers, are sick of hearing! Times don’t get much tougher than this but despite the hurdles, Cheltenham based, ALS Mechatronic are also seeing a step change in the way UK manufacturers buy packaging machinery, control systems and automation.
Covid has created a surge in demand for pharmaceutical containers: sample pots, vials, medicine bottles, and those used in medicines manufacturing. Demand has boomed for hand gel, sanitisers, antiseptic wipes, bleach, disinfectants, and cleaning sprays, brought about as a result of greater public awareness of how easy it is to spread disease and the need for better sanitisation.
Now consider the effects of Brexit on manufacturing: like it or not there has been a huge reliance on low-cost labour for repeatable manufacturing processes, which had worked for companies to a degree, until many of these employees had to return back to Europe. This has prompted manufacturers to have to look more seriously at automation to fill that gap. But there also exists an even bigger problem that affects automation manufacturers, those supplying packaging machinery – the likes of palletisers, box packing machines, bagging and debagging machines, visions systems, conveyors and robotics for pick and place – and that is difficulties with component parts supplies. The UK imports a lot, and some companies import machinery from Europe and further afield, perhaps with the perception of it being cheaper, or maybe because that’s who they’ve always used and like us, never had the need to reassess the market. But now, and across the board shipping charges are increasing and new ‘handling fees’ are being added, overinflating the price of goods. Never mind the delays – try getting your hands on anything ‘chip’ based right now, such as drives and controls and you’ll struggle – apparently the phrase being used is ‘‘chipageddon”. This situation, however, is a more likely consequence of the pandemic and lockdowns, rather than Brexit as it is a global problem.
This perfect storm, means, it’s time for a resurgence in onshore manufacturing – but in order to compete with other nations, when our labour resources are finite, means automation is crucial.
Whether it’s a Brexit or a Covid thing or both, companies are making rapid returns to UK manufacturing and spinning up new production lines, Heinz and their Ketchup for example being a case in point and car producers too are reversing decisions to leave, realising the importance of the UK as a manufacturing base in order to meet local demand in light of the increasing trade hurdles. The government are helping spur this onshore manufacturing resurgence too, thanks to their new temporary tax relief on capital asset investments to help companies buy the likes of factory automation machinery.
ALS Mechatronic said: “We embrace challenges, we tout ourselves as ‘solutioneers’ after all. We’ve had to be nimble and look to smaller local manufacturers to supply our drives for example. We’ve discovered a great local manufacturer who too are starting to bring their manufacturing back to the UK for the very same reasons mentioned”.
“As a business, we’re putting a lot more effort into looking for local suppliers to support us and finding out just how much great stuff is out there locally without the big brand names. This exercise has been particularly helpful as we have experienced a dramatic increase in demand for our palletisers, especially from those manufacturers supplying Covid related products and needing to quickly scale their operations (with the added bonus that our palletisers have a compact footprint and are very flexible). We have also seen an increase in new enquiries from companies who like us have been forced to source goods closer to home and discovering that they can buy quality locally and in good time”