Showcasing the Best of Welsh Business

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A New Manufacturing Membership. A New Meeting of Minds.

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The very first Manufacturing Wales Members Meeting was held last week, bringing together the principals from AB Glass, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Ministry of Furniture, Modplan, Shufflebottom Ltd, Stately Albion and University of South Wales, together with founding members Oliver Conger of Rototherm, Andrew Evans of SPTS Technologies (a KLA company) and Alison Orrells of The Safety Letterbox Company.

“The kick-off meeting for the independent voice of manufacturing in Wales”

This inaugural event, sponsored by founder member Penderyn, represented the ‘kick-off meeting’ for the independent voice of manufacturing in Wales – a collaborative community that gives a  platform to a diverse range of manufacturing leaders and business minds from across Wales, in what Frank Holmes, Chair of Manufacturing Wales, described as “a unique forum where we can help each other and develop this network to harness the Corporate, HE and FE wisdom and expertise that makes manufacturing in Wales such an important and high-value sector.”

In the first of a two-part review of this historic meeting of manufacturing minds, we detail the thoughts of the new members – and what they expect to gain from being part of this pioneering community.

“To lobby as a collective and share best practices”

New member Alan Brayley, founder, owner and managing director of AB Glass explained why he is so excited about joining Manufacturing Wales:

“When I set up AB Glass 30 years ago, there was very little organised help or support for our sector in Wales. At the age of 31, after 15 years in the glass manufacturing business, I bought a van and knocked on the doors of builders to see if they needed any windows made for the projects they were working on. Today, our business employs a 40-strong full-time permanent workforce and 20 sub-contractor installers – working on projects as varied as the Liberty Stadium and state-of-the-art hospitals – and it’s clear that manufacturing in Wales, more than ever,  needs a collective voice.

“I’ve already got a great feeling about this group of people”

“We’re currently growth mapping with the Welsh Government” continues Alan “and there’s some very good stuff in Ken Skates’ Manufacturing Action Plan for Wales – but we can’t look to government to drive our sector, and this is why I’m so excited about being part of Manufacturing Wales, to lobby as a collective and share best practices. I’ve already got a good feeling about this group of people and they’re already making a practical difference to my business, as we’re currently building a new storage until to free up manufacturing space on the shop floor – and Oliver Conger has shared with me the Lean practices that have made Rototherm so successful. That’s a great example of how we can share knowledge and give the whole membership a competitive advantage in our respective sectors.”

“Embracing an ecosystem” 

Graham Hirst, Founder and MD of the Ministry of Furniture was equally effusive about the potential that Manufacturing Wales can help realise:

“We were born from the remnants of the Remploy business, which was the largest employer of people with disability in the UK. I led the MBO in 2014 and we have kept social aims at the heart of what we do, growing from an operation that made office furniture to one that today creates inspirational interiors, helping businesses of all sizes achieve the best use of space. We’ve kept the spirit of Remploy alive in many ways, adding a recruitment operation to our business, helping people into work and connecting employers to people who will perform a great role if they’re given a chance. It’s that type of ecosystem thinking that we need to embrace – and that’s why I’m delighted to be part of Manufacturing Wales. “

“A network being built by manufacturers for manufacturers”

For David Burles and Heidi Sachs of Modplan, being part of a network that’s built by manufacturers for manufacturers was an opportunity not to be missed:

 “We’ve been growing our business since 1973, diversifying over the years to today’s 165,000 square feet of varied manufacturing processes, expanding across many sectors, exporting to Europe, Scandinavia and beyond; and working through the pandemic to create innovations such as our safety pods used for people to meet safely in residential homes – but even though we’re a mature and successful company we still meet obstacles, like any other business. We’ve been looking for an organisation like Manufacturing Wales – and we’re delighted that it’s now here. It’s important that an organisation like ours which employs 240 people and has invested in a 12,000 square foot training centre capable of developing people right across the work cycle, from induction to apprenticeships, can continually learn and share knowledge. Being an employer of choice is paramount to our growth and success – and knowing that we’re members of a community committed to skilling up and continually improving is so important to us.”

“Drawing strength from the bigger manufacturing picture”

Alex Shufflebottom of Shufflebottom Ltd likewise welcomed the emotional and practical support that Manufacturing Wales brings at a time of great uncertainty and perhaps even greater opportunity:

“We’ve grown a strong market presence in the manufacture of steel-framed buildings, diversifying from farm buildings to houses, schools, churches and corporate headquarters such as the one we have just completed for The Range. But with continual growth comes the need to continually invest – with our new cut and drill line being the latest enhancement to our business. We have exciting plans for our company and a team that now numbers 80 people. So it’s good to know that we can understand the picture in the broader manufacturing sector here in Wales – and draw strength from it.”

“The power of building local supply chains”

Graham Hurd of Stately Albion stressed the power of building local supply chains for a resilient manufacturing sector in Wales:

“We’ve worked with Modplan for many years and we value close win-win relationships that helps grow the local economy. As Europe’s oldest park home manufacturer we’ve been able to develop our operation to even include our own mill that produces bedroom furniture and soft furnishings, but it’s still critical to have strong partnerships that add real value. Building those partnerships is one of things that I’m looking forward to as a member of Manufacturing Wales – and Oliver has already helped me with a fantastic idea of how we can bring alive and embed training processes into our organisation, based on his practical experiences in building a learning culture at Rototherm.”

“The importance of partnering with innovation”

The importance of continual learning and development was a key thread in the conversation, so it was heartening to hear from two emerging academic powerhouses on how they are working with manufacturing companies in Wales to help them innovate and win.

“Our own knowledge and expertise here at Cardiff Metropolitan University extends across many diverse industries – from manufacturing to services – encompassing design, education, food, health and a wide range of other sectors”

explained Matthew Taylor, Cardiff Met’s Director of Innovation,

“and we work with companies in many different ways, too – providing everything from Business Services, Consultancy and Contract Research, to SME support and even the funding of opportunities to collaborate.

“We work very much in partnership to help manufacturers make that all-important strategic step change – and that can involve improving existing products, developing new products, streamlining manufacturing processes, implementing new business strategies and expanding into new markets. We’re also producing an incredible range of graduate talent with the AI, software and digital skills that will be needed by manufacturers in Wales. My job is to make sure that accessing all of this is easy for business – so I’m always here and available for you, the members of Manufacturing Wales.”

“We’re completely open to collaboration through our gateway”

Forging collaborative relationships with industry partners is a subject close to the heart of Professor Paul Harrison, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Engagement at the University of South Wales, who enthused:

“We were delighted to become an affiliate member of Manufacturing Wales, contributing our expertise to shared goals in education, research and innovation. We have a breadth of expertise in disciplines relevant to the sector – including engineering, digital and supply chain – with areas of key innovation including our hydrogen research centre in Baglan and our oil and gas testing facility in Merthyr Tydfil.

“We’re completely open to collaboration through our USW Exchange which offers a gateway for any member of Manufacturing Wales. You don’t need an appointment to find out more – just drop in, have a coffee and let’s talk about what can be done. And, like Cardiff Met, we’re also producing the talent needed for this sector – in Cyber, AI and Robotics, as well as electronic, design, avionic and civil engineering, making sure that we have the talent pipelines to build a sustainable and dynamic manufacturing sector here in Wales.”

With the introductions over – and hopes and ambitions out in the open – the meeting moved to a round-table discussion of how the group can work together to optimise immediate opportunities and overcome any current challenges; and we’ll be detailing that discussion in the second part of our review of Manufacturing Wales’ inaugural membership meeting.