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Subcon 2018 Review

Sarah Venning
Stand at the Subcon Exhibition

Subcon returned to the NEC in Birmingham this month for its forty-second year. Running from the 5th to the 7th June, it also marked Qimtek’s fifth year of exhibiting at the event. As with the two preceding shows, we were once again pleased to be able to offer our purchasers access to the VIP Buyers Lounge, providing a retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the show complete with complimentary drinks and snacks.

Subcon 2018 co-located with The Engineer Expo, bringing two industry events together under one roof. It also partnered with Automechanika - a show that caters specifically for the vehicle production and automotive aftermarket sectors, providing a third additional opportunity for manufacturing buyers and suppliers to meet. Therefore, it’s no wonder that Subcon attracts such an impressive turnout of industry professionals over the course of three days.

My visit on the Wednesday coincided with Qimtek’s third annual networking lunch - a two hour event that centres on introductions between manufacturing purchasers and suppliers of subcontract engineering services. Historically, this is the day that attracts the most footfall and so I planned my visit accordingly to see the show in its full glory (and absolutely not because of the free champagne on offer in the Buyers Lounge).

Qimtek’s UK Manufacturing Zone

My first stop upon arrival was to our very own UK Manufacturing Zone, where we exhibit alongside our members to showcase the best in British manufacturing. There was certainly plenty of activity taking place around our stand and without the trademark orange polo shirts that our team have sported for the last two shows, it was difficult to tell them apart from the numerous visitors who had stopped by for a chat. Not wanting to make a nuisance of myself, I decided to move onto the stands of our members, who all looked equally as busy.

Blackhill Engineering were positioned directly to the left of the Qimtek stand. As a bespoke heavy fabrication and heavy machining company specialising in mild steel, stainless steel and carbon steel projects, Subcon’s target visitorship aligns directly with their business offering.

‘We were aware that some of our existing customers would be visiting, but we’re also trying to promote our capabilities to new clients in various sectors,’ explained Paul Downer, Business Development Executive. ‘We’ve already received an enquiry from a company specialising in the space exploration sphere, so we’re excited to see where that goes.’

‘Subcon attracts a diverse range of visitors and that’s exactly what we aim to be - diverse.’

As it transpires - the aforementioned space exploration company was one of twelve enquiries that Blackhill Engineering received on their first day of the show, which serves as testament to their excellent reputation within the field, as well as their versatility as a subcontract supplier.

Blackhill Engineering’s sister company, SC Innovation, had also experienced positive results. As the design and testing arm of the esteemed SC Group, they regularly exhibit at a range of different industry events. I spoke with Stuart Ship, Sector Lead of Special Projects, who informed me that Subcon is one of three shows at which they are exhibiting within June alone (alongside the Scottish Nuclear Supply Chain Event in Dunblane, as well as WNE, which takes place in Paris from the 26th to the 28th June).

‘Blackhill Engineering suggested that exhibiting at Subcon might be good for us,’ Stuart elaborated. ‘The footfall has been good today and we’ve generated lots of new leads at our stand.’

‘Next year, we might look at having a combined stand that showcases the full package of services we offer as a group.’

After leaving Blackhill Engineering and SC Innovation to speak with their other visitors, I dropped by the stand of JK Design & Manufacture, who were also exhibiting within Qimtek’s UK Manufacturing Zone. Having recently invested in powder coating and wet spray painting plant to compliment their existing profiling and fabrication capabilities, JK Design & Manufacture had decided to attend Subcon as a means of furthering their recent expansion.

‘We had our best year ever last year,’ said Jackie Wilson, Managing Director. ‘We’ve gained a few new customers through our Qimtek membership and by exhibiting at Subcon, we’re hoping to continue that growth.’

‘We’ve had some genuine visitors to the stand from a range of industries. Our ethos is that we look after our customers and provide the best service possible - this is universal across all markets and allows us to encompass a range of sectors.’

It was obvious that JK Design & Manufacture had paid close attention to the aesthetics of their stand, resulting in a simplified, yet welcoming space to speak to their prospects. Jackie explained that they were keen to create a great first impression that accurately reflects the quality of their services; evidently, they achieved this in spades, with a steady stream of visitors circulating every time I passed by.

‘You only have seconds to get your message across,’ she says. ‘It’s important that you can communicate it within a single glance to your stand.’


I always find Subcon’s selection of conferences to be extremely informative and engaging, so I packed my schedule with no less than four to attend throughout my time at the show.

I kicked off with a talk hosted by Martyn Jenkins at EEF, who provided insight into the economic outlook for UK manufacturing. He reported that whilst 2017 had been an exceptional year for our national industry (undergoing an expansion of 2.5%), the ‘peak’ is now behind us. This is not to say, however, that it’s doom and gloom from here on out, only that expansion has slowed - indeed, the forecast for 2018 remains positive, with an estimated 1.9% growth. Here at Qimtek, we publish our own findings in our quarterly CMI report, so it was especially encouraging to hear that our data mirrors that of the industry at large.

My second conference, entitled ‘Advanced Manufacturing for SMEs’, was delivered by Joey Powis at KW Special Projects. He shared with us how digital manufacturing processes - that is, processes that are software-driven such as additive manufacturing - have allowed KW Special Projects to develop their offering and bring an enhanced level of complexity, as well as cost savings on small batch runs, to their customers.

This has also extended to composite tooling, which, when 3D printed, is far more cost effective than production via traditional methods. In fact, digital manufacturing has contributed towards KW Special Projects making advancements within the field of printed Braille, bringing it up-to-date with industrial inkjet technology.

Next up on my agenda was Kat Styles, Thermal Engineer at Airbus Defence & Space, who gave a fascinating talk on the ExoMars programme; an international collaboration that aims to launch a deployable Rover vehicle to Mars, in order to analyse the soil for organic material, i.e. life.

To be successful in its mission, Kat explained, the Rover must be able to withstand a range of obstacles such as extremely low night temperatures, dust storms, high levels of radiation, and unknown terrain. It was incredible to hear how these challenges are being anticipated and addressed within the design of the vehicle, and I found Kat’s presentation of the subject to be particularly captivating for both myself and her audience at large.

Lastly, I stopped by to hear Paul Adams, Head of Aerospace at Vendigital, deliver his talk entitled ‘Reshoring - could it work for you?’. This is a subject I have written about in the past and I was very intrigued to hear Paul’s point of view. He walked us through the shift in mindset from low-cost country sourcing in the 1990s (a focus on price alone), to best-cost country sourcing in the 2000s (which takes additional factors into account, such a risk, continuity, and logistics), through to local country sourcing - the prevalent attitude within the past five years.

According to Paul, local country sourcing has a range of new considerations such as value-add, speed of change, and close situation to the point of use. It also takes into account the rise in labour costs overseas, as well as the importance of ethical supply chain policies. This change of attitude bodes well for reshoring as a whole, meaning that the UK subcontract engineering market can perhaps anticipate an influx of homegrown business as a result.

2018 - A Successful Show?

Whilst it’s too early for the attendance figures to be released, everyone that I spoke to seemed to have had a positive show, with plenty of conversations taking place on both sides that were conducive to the desired outcome of new business.

The feedback overall seemed to also centre around quality over quantity, and many of the exhibitors I spoke to remarked on the authenticity of their visitors’ interest.

We’ll be keeping our ear to the ground for the success stories that we’re sure will follow, and would love to hear feedback from anyone who attended - whether as a supplier or a purchaser.

Did you attend Subcon 2018? What were your experiences? Leave us a comment below!


About Sarah Venning

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with six 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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