Manufacturing companies come together to discuss industry opportunities and challenges

Mar 10, 2020

Saffery Champness Chartered Accountants, QuoStar, and NatWest Bank held their inaugural Manufacturer’s Forum dinner in Wimborne, Dorset on 4th March.

The dinner was chaired by Dr John Knowles, former Managing Director and Chairman of DEK – now ASM Assembly Systems, a world leading manufacturer of capital equipment for the electronic assembly industry.  The evening saw Dorset manufacturing business owners, from a variety of sectors, come together to discuss the issues and challenges facing their respective industries.

Local leaders from industries ranging from precision engineering, to food & drink, to plastic moulding shared their thoughts and experiences in an open forum. Discussions covered a broad range of concerns and issues affecting their companies and the local region, including:

  • Technological changes affecting the sector around automation and Artificial Intelligence, including when investment is needed and how to ensure that these new innovations actually help improve productivity and margins.
  • Environmental and sustainability challenges facing businesses, and how these can and should be embraced. This included building energy efficiency in capital projects; the issue of packaging in the food and drink industry; and reducing plastic generally.
  • The Coronavirus outbreak, with many feeling that widespread concerns are out of proportion and that the pandemic virus won’t affect operations within a business, such as sales, finance and logistics, as staff can work from home. It was acknowledged, however, that it will adversely affect the shop-floor.
  • Government grants and funding initiatives, and the importance of knowing how to take advantage of financial help that is available to business, like research & development tax credits.
  • The benefits and experiences of appointing a non-executive director to the Board to assist in strategy and bringing some wider views and experiences to the table.
  • Attracting and growing the next generation of manufacturing experts, which generated a passionate discussion from all guests. Most agreed that to be able to bring school leavers and graduates into the industry, the expectations and working culture of different generations have to be managed and accommodated within business models.
  • How a business owner must build the right team around them to ensure their final exit objectives can be realised.

Saffery Champness Partner, Roger Wareham commented, “What we heard from our guests confirmed that our manufacturing businesses are on the verge of significant change. With many relying historically on labour provision from within the EU, the government are clear that this will be less viable going forwards. To bridge this gap, investment in technology is going to be required. This, in itself, contains significant risk and many business leaders are facing the challenge of not only financing such investment but consideration of how the workforce they employ will need to ‘skill up’ to be able to maintain the right skill set to maintain and grow their businesses into the future.

“We are very pleased that the dinner was such a huge success. It achieved exactly what we wanted in respect of an open forum for local manufacturing business owners to share their experiences, discuss challenges and explore various themes currently impacting the sector. This is the first of a series we are planning and we look forward to welcoming more business owners to future events.”

Robert Rutherford, CEO of QuoStar, said: “Having spent over 20 years working directly with leaders within the manufacturing and engineer sector, it’s clear to see that many are isolated from their peers. In my experience peer-led groups really benefit leaders and their businesses; from opening their eyes to innovation and new ideas through to dealing with day to day operations, supply chain and HR issues. It’s very powerful to bring together hundreds of years of experience to discuss events and opportunities whilst also assisting in solving each other’s challenges. QuoStar really benefits from the insights gained from these events; seeing where current issues and opportunities lie and where technologies, systems and our expertise can add real value.”

Dr John Knowles, concluded, “It was an enjoyable night that couldn’t have come at a more vital time. The challenges faced by manufacturers today may feel overwhelming and a successful business of today will look very different than that of tomorrow. By creating a diverse platform to talk through these issues together, we were able to cover a significant ground on the night, including issues such as innovation, research and development, and strategic recruitment. It’s by no means plain sailing for today’s manufacturer, and it’s events like these which are essential to getting through rocky patches ahead.”