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Manufacturing: We must be proud of the 'new breed'.

Byline: John Revill Manufacturing Editor

This year will be remembered as the year that saw the strong emergence of a new breed of automotive supplier, according to an upbeat assessment of the sector from Accelerate.

The supply chain initiative, which assisted over 800 companies across the West Midlands, believes that the challenges of the last 12 months have ensured that the businesses still up and running are now best-in-class and often performing ahead of anything the rest of the world can offer.

'Sertec (Birmingham) add further credence to this argument,' said David Malpass, senior operation manager.

'The company is the largest independent pressworker in the UK was one of only 12 international suppliers to walk away with Ford's Gold Worldwide Excellence Award, a stunning testament to its quality, efficiency and ability to work with the major car manufacturers, such as Jaguar and Land Rover.'

He added: 'We should also be justifiably proud of the achievements of Morgan and its army of local suppliers. During the course of the last year, the revered manufacturer has worked with a host of West Midlands companies to showcase its new Aero8 at the major American motor shows, securing a full order book in the process.'

Analysts will point to the huge steel crisis as the abiding memory of 2004, which, at some stages, saw costs almost double and delivery become scarce due to China's overwhelming appetite and burgeoning economy.

This, when compared with the enlargement of the EU and the growing threat from Slovakia and Poland, made many regional suppliers adopt a more innovative approach to remaining competitive.

'It was a case of getting management teams to work smarter, faster and leaner, all the old cliches,' said Mr Malpass.

'Using our Networks and support from the likes of PDS and the Technology Innovation Centre, we have been able to develop new systems, strengthen supply chains and even look at ways of investing out of the problem.

'One example is Vernier Springs, based in Redditch. When faced with a 100 per cent rise in the cost of steel, the company realised that the only way to meet customer demand was through investment in two new automotive spring forming machines, which nearly quadrupled efficiency at its Edward Street plant.

'Technology has also been another key driver, with suppliers clearly recognising the need to embrace six-sigma, high voltage systems and the latest manufacturing resource programmes.'

Managed by Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Accelerate has identified this demand and teamed up with the likes of TRW and the SMMT Industry Forum to launch specialist centres, which not only provide a collective learning environment, but also give SMEs cost-effective access to the latest expertise and research facilities.

Rachel Eade, programme manager, said: 'We have continued to build on the work and partnerships created over the last seven years, with a further 800 companies accessing financial and strategic support through supply chain improvement projects, networks or business and capital equipment grants.

'There has also been a number of other notable achievements, including 70 individuals gaining NVQ levels 2-5 through the European Social Fund project, millions of pounds of new orders generated via the Made in the West Midlands coalition and our Annual Awards programme gaining domestic and international plaudits.

'With the automotive sector still accounting for 5.2 per cent of the region's GDP and responsible for over 100,000 jobs, Accelerate has a major role to play in its evolution and will shortly be finalising its funding streams for the next four years.'

CAPTION(S):

Rachel Eade and David Malpass of Accelerate with Nick Paul, chairman of Advantage West Midlands
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 30, 2004
Words:600
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