The South West: High Flyers and Niche Players
Credit: © Princess Yachts
The South-West’s distance from the manufacturing heartlands of England is indisputable and has led to a distinctive character in the area’s manufacturing profile. More than 170,000 people in the region work in the aerospace and advanced engineering sector. Nuclear power runs Aerospace a fairly close second. By Ruari McCallion
The aerospace sector experienced mixed fortunes during 2017. GKN Aerospace is on track to meet its target of closing its Yeovil, Somerset, factory by December 2017, with the loss of 227 jobs. The plant used to make airframes for the AW159 Wildcat helicopter and supplied them to OEM Leonardo, whose factory is right next door, who decided to take airframe construction back in-house. The government’s award of a £2bn contract for 50 new Apache helicopters to Boeing led to concerns that the very existence of helicopter production in Yeovil was under threat. Norman Bone, the head of Leonardo MW offered some reassurance in January 2017 when he said that he expected manufacturing to continue in the town “for decades to come”.
A few months later, in July, the Ministry of Defence announced that Leonardo would be confirming assembly of W159 aircraft in Yeovil. Norman Bone said that if the UK government selected AW149 helicopters as the post-2025 replacement for the Puma fleet, then assembly of those aircraft could be moved from Italy to Somerset.
The award of a £260m contract for Mode 5 IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) equipment for roll-out across land, sea and air military platforms will secure 150 jobs at the Leonardo’s sites in Yeovil, Luton and Edinburgh.
The Mighty Atom
The nuclear energy industry in the South West involves over 170 companies, nearly 78,000 employees and has revenues of £30.3bn. The dominant project for the next eight years will be the construction, installation and operation of the twin-reactor 3.2GW Hinkley C, the first new nuclear power station for over 20 years.
Costs are estimated to have risen, from £18bn to possibly as much £20.3bn, it was revealed in July this year. The reactors have also been delayed, which may account for £700m of that increase. EDF, the power supplier, said that it was still aiming to deliver at the end of 2025 and will start pouring concrete for the first reactor in 2019.
EDF has committed to 64 percent of supply chain contribution being from the UK. It said in September that it had signed £9bn of contracts with suppliers – including one with ABB Group for the main power transmission systems for the two reactors – since the overall contract was confirmed.
Honda confirmed in October that it remains committed to manufacturing in the UK, despite profits of the UK subsidiary falling 21 percent in the year to March 2017, while those in the European subsidiary doubled. It has invested around £2.2bn in the Swindon site since 1985 and currently has over 3000 employees. It has committed £200m commitment to the Wiltshire factory, to make it the global centre of production for the Civic 5-door. Output at the plant grew by 30 percent in the year to March 2017; in June 2017 it was announced that it is leasing an additional 402,000 sq ft (37,300) square feet of warehouse space adjacent to the manufacturing plant.
Honda’s very near neighbour, BMW Plant Swindon, employs 1100 at the site and is undergoing £25m in refurbishments to the buildings and press lines. It makes 90 percent of the pressings and almost 80 percent of the sub-assemblies, such as doors, bonnets and tailgates for the Mini. It also makes components for Mini Hatch and 5-door Hatch, and the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer MPV. It supplies BMW production in Oxford, at Nedcar in Born in the Netherlands (which is contracted to build the Mini, Mini Countryman and BMW X1), and other plants in Europe.
The UK has three high-profile companies operating in the luxury sports yacht sector: Princess Yachts, Sunseeker and Fairline. Two of them – Princess and Sunseeker – are in the South West.
Princess employs around 2500 people at its Plymouth manufacturing base. It reported a very strong start to the “Boat Show Season” in September at the Cannes Yachting Festival, with order books totaling a record £640m (€730m), 85 percent up on 2016.
It has announced that it will invest £100m over five years in product launch and business development strategies. Planned new products include the already-announced Princess 62, a “revitalised” v Class portfolio, three additions to the S Class range, and another six new vessels in 2018.
Further east up the coast, Dorsetbased Sunseeker is now owned by China’s Wanda corporation and returned to profit in the year ended December 31 2016. A reported £50m investment plan saw it create a total of 246 new jobs by January 2018. Revenues are up 10 percent and sales volumes by 15 percent; in September it reported that 90 percent of 2017 and 50 percent of 2018 capacity had already been sold. It has changed certain processes, including new product development, and has stated its intentions to expand at both ends of the scale, into larger superyachts and smaller performance models.
Niche markets and global players
Three West Country manufacturers in particular have achieved global presence from niche markets.
Watson Gym, headquartered in Frome, Somerset, is the world’s leading manufacturer of specialist strength equipment for gyms, health clubs and sports teams in the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and across the world. Its distinctive characteristic is quality and advanced, ergonomic design. Its dumbbells, for example, are completely solid; machined from stainless steel, with the shaft and bells welded together into a single piece. There are no bolts to shear or nuts to loosen, and the rotating grip is designed to reduce strain. In 2017 it invested in new premises that have more than doubled its production area.
Bola Manufacturing, based in Bristol, is the world’s leading manufacturer of bowling machines for cricket. It recently supplied the ECB (English Cricket Board) with 20 of its new TrueMan model, for use at English County cricket grounds. It features LED outline action images of bowlers running up to deliver a ball, whose spin and trajectory is controlled by onboard electronics, at anything up to 100mph. The company’s output also includes baseball machines, fielding equipment and a golf trainer.
Chapman Machinery is just an arrow’s flight from Tintagel, in Cornwall. Founder James Chapman began in 2010 fulfilling requests for various items that were needed by the local agricultural community. It now designs, manufactures and supplies equipment targeted at specialist farming and equestrian applications, from arena sand schools that need levelling to grouse moors that need cutting, and not forgetting an awkwardly-shaped meadow that needs its weeds brought under control.
Its levellers, mowers, weed wipers and bale transporters are all designed to be towed behind ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), 4x4s and utility vehicles – they don’t depend on large tractors for operation, which makes them affordable and adaptable.
The sale of Actavis UK, which manufactures generic medicines in Barnstaple, Devon, was announced towards the end of 2016. Indian company Intas Pharmaceuticals acquired Actavis UK and Actavis Ireland in a £603m deal through its subsidiary, Accord Healthcare.
The company was sold by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in line with requirements of the EU’s anti-trust regulations, subsequent to its acquisition of the Allergan generic business. Actavis generated over £250m of sales in UK & Ireland in 2015.