Manufacturing SMEs in Cambridge UK and the wider East of England are still reporting increased sales and predicting future growth despite recent reports of an industry downturn.Fifty-six per cent of respondents to the latest Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) National Barometer have seen orders grow in the last six months, with 52 per cent anticipating a further upturn between now and the end of the year.
Nearly a third of the companies surveyed are looking to create new jobs, 53 per cent are expecting the size of their workforce to stay the same and 65 per cent are seeking to boost their turnover through exporting in the next 18 months.
There does appear to be a slight softening in the marketplace with 40 per cent of respondents seeing an increase in enquiries compared to 43 per cent in the last barometer.
The number of companies considering investment in new machinery and premises over the next six months is also slightly down from 35 per cent to 32 per cent.
Martin Coats, MAS area director for the East, said: “The results are still showing positive signs of growth and expansion, although there are indications among SME manufacturers in the East of England of a more cautious outlook going forward.
“This is not unexpected when you consider the recent economic forecasts and, historically, it takes a little longer for the slowdown to cascade its way down the supply chain and to the smaller companies.
“However, we have to make sure we don’t talk ourselves into another downturn. The National Barometer features responses from key decision makers at over 700 companies, representing more than 28,000 employees.
“It is carried out quarterly, giving us a smoother picture of sentiment as opposed to some monthly findings that can be swayed by external influences, such as the Jubilee. And the majority are saying to us they are growing and expect this to continue over the next six months.”
Business Minister Mark Prisk was impressed. He said: “This latest MAS Barometer shows that many small manufacturing firms across the UK are growing and expect to continue to grow despite the challenging wider economic environment.
“The Government is committed to helping manufacturers make the most of the opportunities for growth and job creation through our continued investment in MAS.”
Export was the specialist focus for this report and, despite turmoil within the Eurozone, 65 per cent of firms are aspiring to increase international orders, with more than one in 10 expecting to boost turnover by 50 per cent or more between now and 2013.
Tecvac UK, which employs 66 people at its Cambridge facility, was one of the companies questioned.
The advanced coating and heat treatment specialist will add £250,000 to its £4m turnover this year after continuing to win contracts for the aerospace, automotive and machine tool sectors.
Richard Burslem, site director, said: “All of our contracts are focused on added value manufacturing and this is reflected in the high performance work we do for some of the world’s most demanding markets, including aircraft turbines, Formula 1 cars and pharmaceutical tooling.
“These are not standard ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions. You buy from us because our coatings can increase durability, fuel efficiency and, in many instances, just withstand severe temperatures and conditions.
“Export, both direct and indirect, is worth about 50 per cent of the business at present with end users in the Eurozone, Japan and the United States. This figure will increase over the next year.”
Tecvac, with the support of the Technology Strategy Board, has undertaken several high profile R & D projects and has recently added three extra people, including a PhD scientist, to increase its dedicated team to eight.
They will be responsible for continually developing new processes, three of which are currently being rolled out at its Buckingway Business Park site.
Milltech Precision Engineering, which employs 38 people at its factory in Norwich, is also defying the macro-economic gloom.
The machining and assembly specialist is 35 per cent up on sales this year with a number of new contract wins in offshore gas and energy.
Managing director Mike Ottolangui, said: “The last 12 months have been very good to us and we’ve picked up work across the various sectors we operate in, including in energy, optical and hydraulic systems, as well as general commercial.
“Our ability to supply one offs and prototype work, as well as meeting volume production demands has been crucial in attracting new business. The recent £600,000 investment in CNC machinery has also ensured we are able to compete internationally on cost.
“We anticipate turnover to be £3.5m by end of 2012 and we’ve already taken on seven new people to cope with demand. Going forward, there are signs of longer project lead times and a bit of softening in the marketplace, but, put simply, we’re focused on expansion.”
• MAS, which is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, works for manufacturers and through experienced advisers can help shape strategy, create new products, reduce waste and review supply chains.
Companies can take advantage of a free review that identifies key priority areas and funding is available for improvement projects focused on increasing efficiency, developing new products, strengthening supply chains and boosting sales.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Martin Coats