FREIGHT BRITAIN: UK FOOD MANUFACTURERS PULL FORWARD ON ‘LOCAL’ MACHINE INVESTMENTS
Speed, proximity and short lead times are emerging as strong influencers to the Made in Britain rationale. Particularly in the food safety arena where delays to time saving inspection machinery is not conducive to productivity, compliance and brand protection.
As a British company using domestic suppliers to source materials and design, engineer, install and support machines locally, contaminant and checkweighing specialists Fortress Technology and Sparc Systems examine the competitive and cost advantages behind this accelerated reshoring drive.
Today’s food manufacturing world is in a very different place to how it was 20 years, and indeed 20 months ago. With the pandemic highlighting the fragility of international supply chains, Fortress and Sparc Managing Director Phil Brown has observed a definite shift in attitudes towards reshoring. With Asia and EMEA once considered the go-to-hubs for distributors of machinery components, materials and builds, rising wage costs, together with other export overheads, lengthy shipping delays, quality and IP issues has significantly influenced this reshoring reversal.
For engineering companies like Fortress and Sparc that continued to ‘deliver the goods’ even during the worst of the pandemic, having an established British R&D centre and manufacturing base has turned out to big plus. Rather than having a sprawling global supply chain, even when the largest economies closed their borders, Fortress continued to fulfil orders, attract new customers and maintain its agility. The companies even persisted with the successful development and launch of their new collaborative product range – the award winning Raptor checkweighing, combination and x-ray machines.
Closer to customers
Having traded off and championed the Made in Britain badge since both companies were founded, Phil now reports a steady increase in live enquires for food-grade x-ray and metal detection solutions from food factories seeking a swift turnaround. Emerging less scathed than many of its market peers, both companies – currently the only known UK manufacturers of all three food inspection disciplines – have been able to mitigate the rising costs of shipping and air freights, passing these cost savings directly onto customers.
“Even before Brexit, the weak pound and ongoing tariff negotiations prompted many UK food manufacturers to price up their import versus domestic sourcing options. A number made the conscious and pragmatic decision to source their food safety equipment domestically citing the need for greater resilience and proximity to the engineering support team,” notes Phil.
Absorbing the additional 20 percent in import tariffs from the start of 2020 provided further impetus for UK food manufacturers to strategically accelerate their equipment reshoring plans. An issue that several new Fortress customers bemoaned before switching their business to the Banbury-based company. “Uncertainty is really fuelling this trend and certainly now has a bearing on machinery investments. The risk of delays, the HGV driver crisis and diversion of cargo ships away from congested UK ports has further amplified the challenges,” adds Phil
Premium engineered products, faster bespoke builds and the ability to convey requests face-to-face with customers in their native language, are among the other reasons why over 48 percent of companies are currently anticipating increasing their proportion of work commissioned to UK subcontractors moving forward[i].
Balancing responsible sourcing and sustainability is another big motivation. Moving machinery across continents adds hugely to the carbon footprint. With commercial customers and their consumers demanding even higher sustainability credentials, every stage of the journey from sourcing materials ethically to build and installation must now be considered.
It’s often a question posed to Phil and the 15-strong engineering team located in the UK. “Our close vicinity to customers means we can flex and scale production up and down to meet demand. Apart from several electronic parts, all the components are designed and made within the UK. However, through Fortress Technology Inc. we also have direct access to global food safety intel and the lateral thinking that’s so critical to maintaining our reputation as a premium food inspection machinery supplier.” These shorter UK supply chains also means faster delivery of maintenance and repair parts, resulting in less machine downtime and consequently fewer production bottlenecks.
With 90 percent of Fortress inspection machines sold to food factories, the company’s Lifespan Guarantee helps to keep sustainability stakeholders happy. In built remote monitoring is another time saving and production-continuity advantage. During the COVID-19 pandemic, with workforces stretched and social distancing enforced, the ability to monitor the performance of a fleet of inspection equipment proved an invaluable feature for customers.
Phil concludes: “Despite the challenges of the last two years when the Covid hiatus saw many projects put on hold, pent up demand is now converting into an influx of new enquiries from domestic food manufacturers. The fact that our equipment is British made, using local suppliers, mitigates against the supply chain fragility that is affecting distributors of European equipment. Certainly, our customers are relieved to learn that the long lead-times and import delays reported across the sector aren’t an issue when dealing with us.”
[i] Subcon survey 2021