When cheaper became better
An interesting observation from Roy Gandy in this month's interview is that the demanding requirements of the automotive industry could be behind general improvements in the capability of the supply chain. Unquestionably this is a factor, but I think the winds of change started blowing a good decade earlier, at the end of the last millennium.
Back in the 90s, I spent a good deal of time working in the electronics industry. It was a time when the UK was full of computer and large scale electronics manufacturing sites. Towards the end of the decade the Chinese option emerged and attracted the majority of the high volume work. Even some of the lower volumes moved East as ‘made in China’ seemed to add a certain kudos that appealed to certain corporate egos, as if ‘made in China’ provided a ticket into an exclusive club for international companies. The effect was that industry was decimated in the space of only a few years and those that were left were those who provided something different. The battle ground became not whether you could do something cheaper, it was whether you could do it better.
And this is where I think the broader engineering sector finds itself now. The ‘can do’ mentality was borne out of necessity. As engineering departments shrunk, dependency has been placed on suppliers to fill in the gaps – rather than an engineer being expected to be an expert in every kind of widget, now the widget expertise lies with the widget supplier. Expertise and the willingness to work with the customer’s design team, are what differentiates between a good and an average supplier. And if suppliers are to survive they need to be able to provide engineering firms with those essential tools.
Our competent and compliant supply chain therefore is a not a happy coincidence but the product of our times and, as we look forward to a post-Brexit Britain, this strong supply chain will prove invaluable.
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