After an unexpected hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK's engineering exhibitions calendar once again resumed this week with the 2021 instalment of the Subcon show. This long-anticipated event provides manufacturing buyers and subcontract suppliers with a chance to establish mutually-beneficial business relationships; furthermore, it also offers the industry a glimmer of normality for the first time in over eighteen months.
As with their previous shows, Subcon 2021 co-located with The Engineer Expo and the Manufacturing Management Show, making the trip to the NEC in Birmingham more than worthwhile for visitors. With three fantastic events under one roof, it's safe to say that Subcon 2021 will very much follow in the footsteps of its predecessors in delivering a comprehensive show that caters for all corners of the engineering industry.
Subcon's last show, back in 2019, felt like a smaller affair than in previous years and I was curious as to whether this would prove to be an anomaly. Coupled with the extra precautions that come with attending an exhibition in the wake of a global pandemic, I found myself wondering what to expect as I made my way to the NEC on day two of the exhibition - traditionally the busiest day in terms of visitor attendance and activity.
READ: How To Get the Most Out of Post-Pandemic Engineering Exhibitions
Exhibitors, Visitors & Face Masks:
The Subcon show was already very much in full swing by the time I reached the exhibition hall, with visitors bustling down the aisles and browsing the individual stands. The floor plan did seem much more condensed in terms of exhibitor numbers; however, that's not to say that the show lost any of its appeal as a result. With safety being the number one concern for both the show organisers and those in attendance, perhaps a scaled-down affair proves more reassuring than the larger offerings of circa 2018. Nonetheless, if it wasn't for the abundance of face masks, you could be forgiven for forgetting about the pandemic - a refreshing change to the mood of late.
It was clear that Subcon had once again succeeded in catering to visitors with all manner of subcontract requirements.
My first port of call was to Qimtek's own stand, which was already surrounded by visitors receiving demonstrations of our Drag, Drop, Source! Service, as well as the new-and-improved buying and supplying platforms within our new website, launched in May 2021. It was great to see such an influx of activity at such an early point in the day, especially given the perceived hesitation of many people to participate in larger gatherings. Indeed, I don't really think that anyone knew what to expect when it came to visitor numbers, especially given the more compact size of the show, so it was a relief to see that so many people had decided to pay Subcon 2021 a visit.
After making my way around the floor and sampling the stands on offer, it was clear that Subcon had once again succeeded in catering to visitors with all manner of subcontract requirements. From machining and fabrication, through to plastics, electronics and casting services, there seemed to be no stone left unturned when it came to bringing together the best products and services that the UK subcontract engineering industry has to offer.
Along the way, I stopped to speak to Alun Cox, works director at Pontypool-based turnkey engineering company PRV Engineering Ltd. Offering a wide variety of services, from CNC and multi-axis machining, through to water jet cutting, fabrication, finishing, installation and almost everything in between, PRV Engineering covers the whole spectrum of engineering services, making them a great match with an event like Subcon. In fact, it would probably be easier to tell you what PRV Engineering don't offer, as their portfolio is just so extensive!
"This is our first year back at Subcon in four years," Alun told me. "We've had a lot of success with the show in the past and under current conditions within the industry, it provides us with an opportunity to see what's going on and hopefully attract some new projects for us to work on."
When it came to their success so far, Alun was very open about the quality of conversations they'd managed to have. "We've had a few canvassers come past the stand, but we've also had some great leads that we're hoping to develop," he explained. "Of course, we won't really know the outcome of the show until we get back and start communicating with some of the people we've spoken with, but I do feel positive that we will win business as a result.
"I've really enjoyed my time at Subcon so far, so I do like to hope that we'll be back next year."
Click here to visit PRV Engineering's website
Another company I spoke to was Precision Component Services Ltd, a sliding head and multi-axis CNC machining specialist based in Gloucester. With the ability to machine any material and catering for both small and high-volume requirements, Precision Component Services Ltd offers their customers a cost-effective service with no compromise on quality. In fact, they also manufacture turned components for use within NHS ventilators - proof of the high standard that they adhere to within their work.
Although the visitor numbers were perhaps smaller than in recent years, the visitors walking through the door were decision makers in a position to place orders.
Sales manager Matthew Mallett was on hand to tell me about their experiences at Subcon so far. "We've been exhibiting at Subcon for almost a decade," he explained. "It's in a great location for us and the price is reasonable, plus we've won a lot of business from the show in the past."
"This year, the turnout has definitely been a case of quality over quantity," he continued. "Yesterday we had some great enquiries and today has been really good as well - there is definitely a lot of potential."
"We're here to look for new, regular customers that place orders on a monthly basis, so we're hopeful that the show will pay for itself based on the conversations we've had so far."
Click here to visit Precision Component Services Ltd's website
Amongst the companies exhibiting at Subcon 2021, there seemed to be an almost unanimous verdict that although the visitor numbers were perhaps smaller than in recent years, the visitors walking through the door were decision makers in a position to place orders. As events such as Subcon traditionally attract a wide audience - from buyers, through to engineering students and those who are simply looking for a day out of the office - it seems that the smaller numbers are nonetheless concentrated in the right areas, meaning that exhibitors were very positive about the show's potential and their conversion rates in the weeks and months that follow. Indeed, Subcon 2021 has certainly been a little different to its predecessors; however, it certainly has not shed the formula that brings both visitors and exhibitors back here time and time again.
READ: Your Guide to Engineering Exhibitions in 2021
Conferences & Seminars:
During my time at Subcon, I was fortunate enough to find the time to attend three different conferences advertised in the programme. Having researched the lineup prior to my visit, I was pleased to see that once again, the seminars on offer reflected a wide variety of engineering niches. I personally feel that the importance of keeping your ear to the ground is paramount and there is no better way to do this than to hear directly from the industry experts.
Reshoring: Why, How and Who Can Help? - Sandii Smith, Qimtek & Andy Sandford, Engineering Capacity:
With a current trend towards reshoring, the longevity of national sourcing efforts were up for debate.
Hosted by Qimtek's own sourcing manager Sandii Smith and Andy Sandford from Engineering Capacity, this lively discussion forum also featured Troy Barratt from Contracts Engineering Ltd and BAMUK Group, Richard Halstead from the Manufacturing Growth Programme, Dr Pam Murrell from Cast Metals Federation and Darren Pritchard from Foundry Training Services Ltd. Together, the panel discussed the issue of reshoring and ways in which the UK can encourage its own manufacturers to adopt national supply chains. With a current trend towards reshoring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, as well as impending carbon levies on imports, the longevity of national sourcing efforts were up for debate, as well as strategies to drive and solidify this trend amongst UK OEMs. With plenty of interesting perspectives and ideas from different niches within the engineering and manufacturing sectors, this forum provided attendees with plenty of food for thought surrounding the present and future status of reshoring, at a time where the UK is putting old challenges to bed and tackling newer ones head-on.
Advancing To Industry 4.0 - The 5G Factory of the Future - Oliver Swift, BAE Systems & Will Maden, Miralis:
Within safety-critical industries such as defence and aerospace, it is vital that components are delivered and stored within optimal conditions.
Industry 4.0 is still one of the hottest topics within the manufacturing industry, with many companies now making strides to incorporate automation into their production, quality control and administrative processes. This fascinating seminar, given jointly by Oliver Swift, manufacturing technology team leader at BAE Systems and Will Maden, director of research at Miralis, gave a brand-new insight into the factory of the future and how the use of 5G could reinforce seamless interactions between the various technologies that Industry 4.0 encompasses. Within safety-critical industries such as defence and aerospace, it is vital that components are delivered and stored within optimal conditions so as to avoid damage. The focus of the seminar fell upon a sensor called the Thingy 91, which can be placed within a box of components during shipment and storage, and will provide in-depth feedback to operators regarding the environment that the components have been subjected to. Furthermore, the Thingy 91 can also alert operators when one of the pre-set tolerances - such as temperature, humidity, air pressure and vibration - is close to being broken. This remarkable sensor also has geofencing and location tracking capabilities, as well as being able to register shock events, such as a package being dropped.
Cyber Security In Manufacturing - Sean Sutton, PwC UK:
With our increasing reliance upon technology comes a critical need for second-to-none cyber security.
With our increasing reliance upon technology comes a critical need for second-to-none cyber security - especially in an age where cyber attacks against manufacturing companies are peaking. Sean Sutton, partner of cyber security at PwC, delivered a hard-hitting seminar that illustrated just how crucial the need for cyber security is against the modern technology-focused backdrop. Ransomware is on the rise, with hackers realising how lucrative an attack on a manufacturing company - which completely relies on operational technology - can be. As well as crippling production, hackers have also been known to target safety systems, endangering the safety of operators in an extremely sinister ploy to extort manufacturing businesses for money. Although these possibilities are very concerning, Sean explained that there are plenty of steps that businesses can take to safeguard their systems, with many vulnerabilities commonly being attributed to company culture and a lack of understanding surrounding responsibility for operational technologies. Whilst many people may think that OT comes under the umbrella of IT, these are actually separate areas - this means that many people within operational roles are often not doing enough to ensure protection against hackers, who view OT as a more lucrative target than IT infrastructure. Further to this, Sean stressed the importance of having a tried-and-tested incident response plan, which could potentially save companies millions in the event of a cyber attack.
Should You Attend Subcon 2022?
Subcon offers a varied and interesting experience, with a wide variety of engineering services to explore.
If you're looking to increase brand awareness and build your customer base next year, then it's definitely worth taking a look at the exhibitor packages that Subcon offers. As a well-renowned and highly regarded event, Subcon are an old hand at ensuring that exhibitors come away with plenty of new leads and opportunities, making it a great place to network with buyers and meet your next big customer.
For visitors, Subcon offers a varied and interesting experience, with a wide variety of engineering services to explore. Whether you're looking to address one specific need, or you're simply interested in seeing what's on offer across the industry, then your time at the show will undoubtedly prove fruitful. In addition to a vast range of exhibitors, Subcon also offers a comprehensive seminar programme, giving you the opportunity to stay ahead of the manufacturing curve and hear from notable figures within the industry. These factors make Subcon an unmissable event, so make sure to mark it in your calendar for 2022.
For more information, please visit www.subconshow.co.uk.