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Engineering & Manufacturing 2020 - A Year In Review

Sarah Venning
engineering & manufacturing 2020

There's no denying that 2020 has been an extraordinary year, for both the engineering & manufacturing industries and the world at large. The events of 2020 seemed almost inconceivable just a year ago; everyday life has changed inexplicably in the meantime, along with the way that we operate as a sector.

Although this year will not be remembered fondly, there have also been some incredible achievements amidst the chaos. Here, we take a look back at the main events within engineering & manufacturing over the last twelve months:

Quarter 1 2020 - January to March:

The Contract Manufacturing Index reported significant growth throughout this period, with a rise in subcontract activity of 69%.

2020 got off to a strong start for the UK engineering and manufacturing industries. The Contract Manufacturing Index reported significant growth throughout this period, with a rise in subcontract activity of 69% compared to the preceding quarter. The machining market fared particularly well during this time, whilst the oil/chemical/energy industry saw a sharp rise in outsourcing that made it the largest contributor towards all subcontract spending during this time.

In February, Southern Manufacturing & Electronics took place at the Farnborough International Conference Centre. This event later became the sole engineering show to take place during 2020; nonetheless, this year's offering was as impressive as we've come to expect from Southern Manufacturing & Electronics. Over the course of three days, purchasers and exhibitors revelled in the opportunity to form new business connections, attend industry conferences and observe machine tool demonstrations.

READ: Southern Manufacturing & Electronics 2020 Review

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit UK shorelines during this period, which set the precedent for the remainder of the year. While cases started small, by March they had reached exponential numbers, leading to the UK government imposing a national lockdown on 24th March. This was preceded by a direct call to UK manufacturers to help produce enough ventilators to ensure that all patients could be offered proper treatment. As a result, the Ventilator Challenge was launched on 19th March - an impressive consortium of some of the biggest names in UK manufacturing, who came together with a common goal of producing life-saving medical equipment.

Quarter 2 2020 - April to June:

This period really was a test of the UK engineering & manufacturing industry's resilience.

The effects of the national lockdown significantly hampered activity for the UK engineering and manufacturing industries during the second quarter of the year. Many businesses were forced to furlough their staff and subcontract manufacturing activity slowed immensely. As a result, April and May - during which time, the national lockdown was in full swing - became a hibernation period for much of the UK manufacturing sector.

Once restrictions began to lift, activity within the UK engineering market started to show signs of life. Although not reaching pre-lockdown levels, June's data from the Contract Manufacturing Index reported much higher outputs than April and May, hinting at a slow but steady recovery for the industry at large.

READ: Will COVID-19 Lead To Reshoring Within UK Manufacturing?

All of the UK's engineering shows due to take place during the second quarter of the year were forced to postpone. This included MACH and Subcon, amongst other, smaller shows.

This period really was a test of the UK engineering & manufacturing industry's resilience. Instead of growth, many businesses spanning all sectors focused on survival through the pandemic. These new, unprecedented circumstances were unlike anything we had ever encountered before and not all businesses were fortunate enough to make it through to the other side. However, the growth shown during the latter part of this quarter serves as evidence to the fact that much of the industry survived, which, in itself, is a remarkable achievement under the conditions.

Quarter 3 2020 - July to September:

Ventilator Challenge UK made their final shipment of 72 ventilators on 5th July 2020.

The start of the third quarter of 2020 brought with it a great achievement for the UK engineering & manufacturing industries. Ventilator Challenge UK - the consortium of manufacturers who came together in March to produce ventilators for the NHS - made their final shipment of 72 ventilators on 5th July 2020. Coincidentally this date also marked the NHS's 72nd birthday and the disbandment of the consortium, which included companies such as McLaren, Ford, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Smiths Healthineers and Inspire Healthcare, to name but a few. The increase in production meant that ventilator manufacturers Penlon and Smiths healthcare were able to ramp up to thirty times their normal capacity. As a result, the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium manufactured an incredible 13,437 ventilators in just fifteen weeks.

READ: Ventilator Challenge UK - Over 13,000 Ventilators Manufactured In 13 Weeks

Elsewhere in the industry, activity showed marked growth in comparison to Quarter 2. The Contract Manufacturing Index for Quarter 3 reported a rise of 150% against its predecessor and more impressive still, it grew by 49% in relation to the comparable quarter of 2019. This shows that the subcontract engineering industry was no longer just surviving - it was thriving. An increase in reshoring due to the global pandemic spelled good news for UK industry, which flourished in spite of the trying times it continued to endure.

However, the further postponement of a number of engineering & manufacturing trade shows signalled that the market was far from 'business as usual'. TCT3Sixty - formerly known as the TCT Show - was forced to delay until 2021, having originally been scheduled to take place at the latter end of the third quarter. This was particularly disappointing given that 2020's event was due to be TCT3Sixty's premier show under its new branding.

Quarter 4 2020 - October to December:

With the second lockdown lasting only four weeks, we're hopeful that this will not impact the sector as dramatically as the first.

Although at the time of writing, this quarter is not yet over, it has certainly proved to be a turbulent period for both UK manufacturing and the country overall. The last remaining trade shows during this period once again had to postpone; Advanced Engineering, which had been billed to still go ahead as recently as September, finally delayed until 2021. Northern Manufacturing & Electronics was not as fortunate as its southerly counterpart and also had to postpone until next year.

READ: How Has a Global Pandemic Shaped the UK's Subcontract Purchasing Landscape?

Whilst the industry had been going from strength to strength since the events of the second quarter, a second national lockdown imposed on the 5th November may have slowed activity somewhat. With the second lockdown lasting only four weeks and seeming much less strict than the first, we're hopeful that this will not impact the sector as dramatically as previously witnessed, though the release of the Contract Manufacturing Index for the fourth quarter in early January 2021 will shed more light on this area.

With the first few doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine given in the UK on 8th December 2020, the country is hopeful that life can start to go back to normal in 2021, although this still remains to be seen. In the meantime, the resilience and resolve of the UK engineering sector during such a tumultuous period cannot be understated; the achievements of the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium and the grit of the industry proves that we have a manufacturing institution to be proud of.


About Sarah Venning

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with eight years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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