Having taken place slightly later the previous year, 2018 saw Southern Manufacturing resume its normal slot at the beginning of February, making it the premier event in the manufacturing industry’s calendar. Over the course of three days, the show brought together buyers and suppliers of subcontract engineering services, with the aim of establishing new professional relationships that benefit the supply chain and propel the industry forward. I made my annual pilgrimage to the show on day two, which is generally accepted to be the busiest of the three. I was excited to see Southern Manufacturing in full swing, especially given its recent move into the purpose- built FIVE Exhibition Centre in Farnborough, bringing to an end the weather- related issues it suffered whilst housed under temporary structures. Somewhat ironically, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I joined the stream of visitors making their way from the car park to the venue.
Why Southern Manufacturing?
Southern Manufacturing is famed for being the largest regional show dedicated to subcontract engineering, with both the aerospace and automotive industries heavily represented in historic visitor samples. It has attracted a vast range of household names in previous years, who have used the event to establish new contacts in various niches of the subcontract market, including precision machining, fabrication, plastics, and casting. It’s the electronics arena which really sets Southern Manufacturing apart however, as it offers a dedicated section where suppliers of such services can network with their purchasing counterparts.
Here at Qimtek, we decided to exhibit at Southern Manufacturing this year, alongside Subcon and Advanced Engineering. Having visited their previous events, it was clear that Southern Manufacturing’s visitor demographic aligns with our Drop, Drop, SOURCE! Service, giving us a great platform to introduce ourselves to purchasers who may not already be familiar with what we do.
Walking the Floor:
Personally, I always really enjoy Southern Manufacturing for its buzzy atmosphere - a factor which was even further amplified within its new home at FIVE. The moment I stepped inside and tried to get my bearings, I was instantly struck by just how large the show has become; the entire hall filled with stands, navigated by studying a double-page floorplan within the exhibition catalogue.
I wanted to make the Qimtek stand my first port of call - no easy feat when you’re terrible at reading maps and scaling an environment so large. My first mistake was to try to read the floorplan upside-down - an error that only became apparent once I reached the wrong side of the exhibition hall. A shameful twenty minutes after arriving, I finally located our booth. Awash with activity, there were already a number of visitors engaged in conversations with our team, so after waving a quick hello, I decided to leave them to it.
Wandering around the maze of kiosks, there was lots to be seen. The first thing to catch my eye was a small statue of a horse, in exquisite detail, displayed proudly on the stand of Open Mind Technologies Ltd. As a CAD/CAM solutions provider, the statue in question was actually machined from solid using their software! Taking a look at the intricacies of the piece, it’s no wonder this horse was flaunted in prime position - it’s truly mind-blowing what modern technology can achieve.
Another aesthetically-pleasing stand was that of Industrial Plastic Fabrications Ltd. I took a few minutes to chat with operations director, Bill Bloomfield, about the range of 3D printed, machined, and fabricated plastic items adorning their display cabinet - in particular, a transparent hand revealing anatomically-correct muscle and bone structures underneath.
Being the area for which Southern Manufacturing is especially well-known, I devoted a lot of my time at the show to perusing the dedicated electronics section. Southern Electronics hosts companies offering a wide range of services and products in this arena, from PCB and cable assembly, through to components, testing and accompanying electrical enclosure manufacture.
Ibrahim Chamali and Nick Tarling, from Wurth Electronics Ltd, really opened my eyes - or rather, narrowed them as I squinted to see - to just how small PCB assembly components can be. Some of the items on their stand could easily be mistaken for a fleck of dust when in fact, they are complex parts used within the wider assembly process.
So, how were they finding the event?
‘Wurth has been exhibiting at Southern Manufacturing for the last ten years, maybe even longer,’ Nick explained. ‘It’s always been a good show for us - we get a good turnout of people coming to see us.’
‘This year seems to be a lot busier and the new venue is a really nice environment to be in.’
This sentiment was echoed by Paul Ray, managing director of RN Electronics. Specialising in EMC testing and ensuring their client’s compliance with regulatory requirements, RN Electronics represents a different niche, but with similar successes in the Southern Manufacturing sphere.
‘It’s a really good show, probably one of our favourite shows to exhibit at,’ Paul explained. ‘This year, we’ve already had a few interesting people come by the stand, so we’re hopeful we’ll gain some new customers.’
Spread across two different rooms, Southern Manufacturing 2018 offered its visitors a broad scope of seminars. A multitude of industry-specific topics were on the agenda, from sales techniques and employee engagement, through to CE marking, lean manufacturing and patenting. I always take the opportunity to attend at least a couple of seminars where possible, as it’s rare to have direct access to field experts and their carefully crafted wisdom. Having pored over the schedule earlier in the week, I had earmarked three that piqued my interest and pre-booked myself a place on each.
First up was Ailsa Carson’s talk on what makes a world-class manufacturer. Ailsa is from Onsite Insights - a company that champions best practice and innovation, and works with some of the biggest names in the UK manufacturing industry. She delivered some fascinating insights into how manufacturing organisations can achieve world-class, from adopting a company culture that mirrors its values, to embracing the fourth industrial revolution through the use of smart machines and smart products. With 70% of workers on average actively disengaged in any given company - as we were informed - it seems that organisations of all sizes and structures could benefit from Ailsa’s guidance, in order to pursue bigger profits, satisfied customers and happier employees.
Next on my agenda was a ‘must-know’ guide to the new GDPR laws, as given by Dave Smith from the B2B data powerhouse, Corpdata Ltd. Taking effect from the 25th May 2018, the new GDPR laws are an evolution upon the Data Protection Act, redefining what is classed as personal data. Given that every business holds at least a certain amount of this information, the new laws are not exclusive to a single industry, and instead affect companies indiscriminately across the board. With serious consequences facing those that breach the new regulations, it’s extremely important that all businesses are well-versed in the new GDPR laws and implement measures to ensure that they are compliant. All of this can appear both daunting and confusing, but Dave managed to simplify the pending regulations and offer tangible solutions to his many attendees.
Lastly, I visited a seminar given by Qimtek members GW Martin and ‘fiercely’ independent software consultancy, Thinkers. Managing director Stuart Yalden - along with Martin White from Thinkers - explained how their two organisations collaborated to find an ERP system that ticked all of GW Martin’s boxes, helping them to win new customers and improve visibility across the shop floor. With the dawn of 4IR, ERP systems have become something of a hot topic in the industry and owing to the vast range available, it can be difficult for organisations to know exactly what they’re purchasing and whether or not their chosen system is fit for purpose. By breaking the process down into a series of demos and encouraging staff to buy into their vision, Thinkers were able to pinpoint an ERP package that aligned with GW Martin’s wishlist, bringing them closer to their long-term goals.
Should I visit/exhibit?
If you’re a purchaser or supplier of subcontract engineering services - particular if you’re based in the south of the country, then you should definitely pay Southern Manufacturing a closer look. The show has really come into its own in recent years and the range of offerings makes it an interesting day out, with plenty of potential for lucrative business introductions.
To find out more, or to book your stand for 2019’s event, please visit www.industrysouth.co.uk.