The 2019 engineering exhibitions calendar got underway this week, with Southern Manufacturing taking place from the 5th to the 7th February at the Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre. Southern Manufacturing is the largest regional show dedicated to subcontract engineering, meaning that it always enjoys a good attendance from both visitors and exhibitors alike. Bringing an end to the winter lull, it consistently proves itself to be a refreshing event with the activity to match, making it a show that I look forward to year on year.
Southern Manufacturing - An Overview
For those who aren’t familiar with Southern Manufacturing, it’s an annual event that takes place over the course of three days. With an all-encompassing focus on subcontract engineering services and products, it brings the industry together on a regional level, offering a platform for buyers and suppliers to network and discuss upcoming requirements. Electronics is a specialist area for Southern Manufacturing and it offers a dedicated electronics zone - Southern Electronics. However, it’s important to understand the wider scope of Southern Manufacturing, as it doesn’t limit itself to exclusively electronics-based services – instead, this is an add-on as opposed to the main focus.
By the time I arrived at 9:45am on Wednesday, there was already a long queue of visitors snaking its way out of the entrance. I had heard reports that although Tuesday’s turnout was abundant, it was comprised of mainly non-buying visitors. Evidently this was not the case for day two, during which time the show stepped up a gear for those exhibiting. Once inside, I found the various corridors chock-full of visitors, with many actively engaged in conversation with those waiting behind the stands. The right target audience is vital for any event to succeed from an exhibitor’s standpoint, so I was relieved to see the shift towards productive business conversation.
The expanding size of Southern Manufacturing has been visibly evident during recent years. The show itself covers a vast amount of floorspace, with every area of the hall dedicated to enhancing visitor experience. Indeed, there is a lot to absorb during your visit and great care had been taken by many of the exhibitors to showcase their unique offerings. From a talking robot in front of the stand of linear motion specialists THK, to a giant interactive tablet housed in one of Mid-Fab Developments’ enclosures, visitors enjoy a range of aesthetic and hands-on exhibits that keep the atmosphere fresh and exciting.
One such area was the machine tool section, where a range of lathes, machining centres, 3D printers and laser cutters were all fully-operational. I found myself slightly hypnotised by a Brother multi-axis machining centre on the stand of machine tool technology specialists Whitehouse, and managed to chat to applications engineer Ian Hayes about his experiences at the show so far.
‘I’ve been with Whitehouse for eighteen months and it’s my first show with them,’ he explained. ‘As a company, it’s our first show for over ten years and it’s been really beneficial so far.’
‘The footfall has just got busier and busier over the course of the event, which we’re extremely impressed by. As a result, we’re thinking of exhibiting at more shows moving forward, as it really seems as if it’s working well for us.’
Joseph Llewellyn, external account manager at non-ferrous metals stockholder Aalco, reported a similar experience. As seasoned exhibitors, Aalco have held a presence at Southern Manufacturing for several years, which serves as evidence to their success at the show.
‘Today has been much busier than yesterday,’ Joseph told me. ‘We’ve got a good feeling about tomorrow too and hope it’ll be even busier.’
As well as identifying potential new customers, Aalco use Southern Manufacturing as a way to increase brand awareness, recognising the importance of longer-term relationships alongside those with a short conversion.
‘For me personally, the networking side of the event is the most advantageous,’ Joseph elaborated. ‘It’s not very often that you have so many people in the same room that are from the same or similar industries, and getting to know what everyone does is really beneficial.’
Lastly, I stopped to talk to Steve Pritchard, sales manager & engineering specialist at BCAS, who similarly sees the show as a dual opportunity for short and long-term business . Offering complete compressed air and vacuum solutions, Steve told me that 2019 was their second year exhibiting at Southern Manufacturing.
‘It’s been a lot busier this year than our last time at the show,’ he explained. ‘Today in particular has had a really high footfall, so we’re confident that we’ll see some good results.’
‘We’re looking to speak to visitors from a variety of industries, which Southern Manufacturing is really good for – we may also look to exhibit at other events later in the year.’
Given the inclusive nature of Southern Manufacturing when it comes to the different aspects of subcontract manufacturing services and products, their seminar programme has a comprehensive range of topics to match. From electric vehicles and CE marking, through to lean principles, 3D printing and supply chain innovation, you would be hard-pushed not to find a seminar that aligns with your business interests.
Unfortunately, one of the seminars I was due to attend was postponed until the following day; however, I did attend two others during my visit and found myself extremely impressed with the content on offer:
It Is Rocket Science! UK Space Engineering for the New Space Economy – Michael Loweth, Oxford Space Systems:
Having previously attended a seminar given by Oxford Space Systems at Advanced Engineering, I was intrigued to find out more. Oxford Space Systems are specialists in the field of satellite technology and have developed a range of deployable booms, antennae and structures that save vital space on launch flights. Michael Loweth delivered a fascinating insight into their latest developments, which correspond towards an emerging preference for smaller satellites, facilitating improved communication.
He explained that by partnering with origami specialists, they have been able to design groundbreaking new satellite equipment which withstands the intense vibration and acceleration experienced during launch. Now – looking to the future – Oxford Space Systems are assessing the viability of an entirely deployable satellite that would completely revolutionise the field.
Despite being one of the fastest-expanding UK companies, Michael stressed that if they are to make further headway, then it is essential that more people lend their individual talents to space technology. He encouraged removal of the stigma that portrays this sphere as one with a specific set of skills assigned to it; instead, he insists that there is room for much more than rocket scientists within space technology and this diversification is more than just desired – it’s essential to its continued development.
Delivering Industry 4.0 – Getting SMEs to Wake Up to the Next Revolution - Mark Knowlton, Locate in Kent:
There’s no denying that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, meaning that manufacturing companies of all sizes need to embrace the developments to stay on top of their game. Mark Knowlton from Locate in Kent – a company that offers free support to businesses that are looking to locate or grow in the county – used local examples of SMEs who have used 4IR principles and technology to overcome their individual challenges. One company Mark referenced were able to reduce their energy costs, as well as their carbon footprint, by identifying equipment that was unnecessarily using electricity; another business used 4IR technology to address capacity issues and implement a paperless quality system.
Whilst Industry 4.0 is largely seen as a development which is exclusive to larger companies, Mark stressed that this is absolutely not the case. SMEs are equally able to utilise areas such as the Internet of Things, big data and augmented reality – and there are a variety of time and cost-saving benefits up for grabs by those that do.
What About Southern Manufacturing 2020?
Whilst the dates for 2020’s Southern Manufacturing event are still to be announced, it will almost certainly follow in the footsteps of its predecessors as a highly-worthwhile time investment for buyers and suppliers alike. Although its dedicated subcontract electronics section – Southern Electronics – has sometimes seen Southern Manufacturing billed as an electronics-centric event, this is absolutely not the case. In fact, Southern Manufacturing encompasses a variety of different niches, meaning that both visitors and exhibitors are likely to find what they came for.
Whether you’re buying or supplying subcontract engineering services, plant & equipment, software, or consumables, then it’s definitely worth considering Southern Manufacturing as part of your 2020 marketing or purchasing strategy.