Is British Manufacturing Making a Comeback?

I work in an industry that uses metalworking machinery for cutting, folding and bending metal. Sometimes the machinery goes wrong…

One of the machines used is called a roller. Essentially, this is an electrically driven machine that has a set of three wheels, each wheel is on a shaft and rotates around lengths of metal fed into it. By clamping the wheels onto the length of metal, and applying pressure as the metal passes through, it bends it and the material comes out with a curve of desired radius. Unfortunately the material fed into the machine in this instance was too thick and caused the shaft of one the wheels to shear. Not good.

The machine in question is an AKYAPAK APK30 and the task of organising the repair of it landed on my desk. It needed to be fixed in a hurry as it was required to finish a project. So, no pressure then. I was given the broken component – it was a cylindrical shaft, about 50mm diameter and 300mm long, it had keyways (slots) machined into it and looked fairly intricate. It had snapped almost in half at one of the slots. Obviously a weak point, but this wouldn’t have happened if its maximum material thickness hadn’t been exceeded. Too late to do anything about that now.

I knew little to nothing about it and a quick search revealed that it was manufactured in Turkey and that there is a UK distributor. Phew. I contacted them on a Friday and explained my predicament and they said that they would check the UK stock and also check with the manufacturer. I was told that I wouldn’t probably hear anything until the Monday. Not good.

There’s a local machining company that I was aware of who have the facilities for making this sort of thing but I’d often discounted them because of the cost. Historically when a piece of machinery breaks, it’s always been cheaper to buy the replacement component from the manufacturer, even if it was imported. I’d seen this time and time again and have had things put on urgent delivery from places within the EU such as Italy and Germany. Considering the situation, I thought it was worth a punt, and took a 30 minute drive to the company in question and handed them the broken component and asked if they could copy it. They said for me to leave it with them and they would let me know.

They came back pretty quickly and said that they could do it in 2-3 days for £365 plus VAT. The reason why the could do this was that it wasn’t hardened; that means it didn’t require a heat treatment process which would add to the cost and time to complete.

I then got the price back from the Akyapak UK distributor which was £385 and approximately £90 carriage from Turkey and I would be waiting for 3-4 weeks.

I placed the order with the UK guys and had the component in my hand by the close of business on the Tuesday. They’d beaten their own time target, and the price of the imported component. I’m pleased and impressed with them.

Sterling is taking a bit of a battering at the moment and The Bank of America has likened it to an “emerging market” currency and word is that there is a flight from GBP into US Dollars and Euros. This means that the pound will weaken and imports become more expensive. Add into the mix the problems with goods coming through the trade barriers since Brexit and the delays are likely only going to worsen. This will probably go some way to explaining why it was cheaper and quicker for me to source locally, whether this becomes a continuing pattern will be interesting.

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