Tim Johnston sits down with Nicholas Cox Head of event production at The Manufacturer. @TheManufacturer

Engineering Update & The Manufacturer Catch up to discuss many topics within the UK Manufacturing sector. 

Q: I can’t wait for the second The Manufacturer Smart Factory Expo in November, if last year is anything to go by I am sure it’ll make for another great event! What can visitors expect this year?


Smart Factory Expo (SFE) was a great success – the country’s largest dedicated 4IR/Industry 4.0 gathering brought together over 3000 participants from across the country.

2017 is going to be bigger and better, as we move to Liverpool to tap into the country’s biggest manufacturing region, the North West. There are over 3000 manufacturers in the vicinity of Liverpool alone, with a further 346,000 people directly employed by industry in the region, contributing £23.7 billion of output.

Liverpool and the surrounding local authorities, combined with central government, have been eager to showcase the North West’s digital manufacturing ecosystem – and some of the biggest players in UK manufacturing, such as JLR, Siemens, Alstom, Astra Zeneca, Unilever, are generously opening their doors to exhibition attendees.

As we focus on the future of UK manufacturing, 2017 will see the expo divided across four content zones – Smart Factory, Industrial Internet, Digital Transformation, Industrial Automation.

In addition to this strong thematic focus – other new features for 2017 include:

  • Innovation Alley
  • Mentor Clinics
  • Solution Theatres
  • VIP Lounges
  • Manufacturer Tours



 Q: It looks as though there will be plenty of competition for “The Manufacturer of the Year Award 2017” at November’s The Manufacturer MX Awards ceremony. How do you decide the winners, with such stiff competition?


The judging for The Manufacturer MX Awards is incredibly rigorous. The three-stage process, all involving independent experts and adjudicators comprises a self-assessment by those companies entering, a site visit and validation by a team of judges, followed by a further round of analysis and comparison. Last year, our judging team travelled nearly 10,000 miles across the breadth and width of the UK in search of the winners. Once decided, it’s a closely guarded secret, I can assure you only one or two people from our team know, so it’s as much of a surprise for us as it is for the winners!


The whole process is of huge value to all those involved, not only those that take home an award on the night. The opportunity to host a site visit and receive the judges’ initial assessment report and an insightful judges’ report post-visit is a priceless tool for companies striving to be the best in class. All short-listed companies are also included in The Opus, our coffee table publication that is sent to heads of government and supporting institutions throughout the UK and Europe. So, it’s certainly not just about sharp suits and champagne on the evening of the 16 November!


Entries for 2017 awards are open now, visit themanufacturermxawards.com for more details.

Q: We have seen strong export markets recently; this is obviously great for UK manufacturers. Do you think we will see this trend continue?


Absolutely! However, we must bear in mind that the recent weakening of the pound, although great for many UK exporters, can’t be relied upon in the longer term. Almost 25% of our exports still rely on imported materials.


The route to sustainable, long-term growth for UK manufacturers (exporters and suppliers into domestic markets) will be through a combination of:

  • Homegrown innovation, improving productivity levels and output
  • A robust Industrial Strategy that supports investment by SMEs
  • Private and public sector collaboration in tackling the ongoing skills gap


We are in uncertain times, no one knows what the next five years will look like. Brexit, geopolitical uncertainty, even the future of the United Kingdom is up for debate. But with disruption comes opportunity, and despite any doom and gloom in the mainstream media, UK manufacturing has always had an optimistic outlook. I have every faith that the sector will continue to grow, to create new highly skilled jobs and to export goods and services to support ever-rising global demand for the “Made in the UK” seal.