Good news from four West Midlands manufacturers: first, RSD Pressings of Cannock

March 16, 2018

C & H Howe Limited was originally founded in 1940 as manufacturers of metal toggle fasteners to the metal box industry and in particular ammunition boxes during the Second World War. In 1962 the company was incorporated remaining in the same ownership until 1985 by which time it had also grown to be a market leader in the manufacture and supply of exhaust clamps. The new owners decided to invest and develop the company further into press work (forging, pressing, stamping, roll-forming of metal; powder metallurgy and robotic welding) with a key focus on supply into the automotive and building industries.

The company was renamed RSD Pressings by the owners and management of the business on 4th January 2016, following the building of a new purpose-built manufacturing facility (above).

RSD Pressings now supplies many of today’s leading car manufacturers, making components and assemblies for every part of the car: seating, sub-frames. cross car beams, bumpers and body.

As Made in the Midlands member Daniel Burton, Operations Director RSD Pressings, explained that since joining MIM in early 2016 as gold members the company has participated in 3 exhibitions. The exhibition’s move to the Ricoh Arena last year was seen as a big step forward and provided an ideal platform for the event to grow further, given its position within the country. He continued:

“Aside from the fantastic networking opportunities coordinated by MIM, one of the main reasons we joined was to raise the profile of the company and hopefully grow our customer portfolio in the process. The exhibitions provide an ideal platform for this to take place given the exposure they bring and we have been luckily enough to attract two new substantial customers to our business from the exhibitions alone.

Learn more via RSD Pressings’ impressive, information packed, well-illustrated website


Forthcoming good news re three other companies featured on this website earlier: WH Tildesley, Adi Group and Brooks Forgings





Post-Brexit, with an ageing workforce and a shortage of graduates with science, engineering or mathematics qualifications, effective training is needed for younger and older workers

February 18, 2018


In April 2017 an apprenticeship levy was introduced. It requires companies with a £3m payroll or above to pay 0.5% of it to the government in return for vouchers, which smaller companies can also access, to spend on apprenticeships . . .

The EEF’s summary – from the employer’s perspective

The FT’s Business editor writes: “It is now clear that the UK government’s apprenticeship levy simply isn’t working. Apprenticeships fell by more than a quarter in the last three months of 2017 year on year, having fallen by 60% in the previous three months. Since April, when the levy was introduced, there have been just 158,000 apprenticeship starts, compared with 269,000 in the same period a year before”.

Some universities are now offering degree apprenticeships

These offer the opportunity to gain industrial knowledge and practical, relevant experience by combining study with on-the-job training. Leeds Beckett University is one such provider for non-levy and levy paying organisations in Leeds City Region.

And at post-graduate level

The Engineering Integrity Society events have recently included Young Engineers Seminars in January 2018, July 2017, December 2016, for newly qualified engineers from different companies who are encouraged by more senior engineers to attend. EIS is a long established charitable society, which focusses on the areas of fatigue, testing and durability. EIS members have many years of experience in these fields gained through working in some of the best-known companies in the industry.

“The levy has led employers to recoup the cost of existing in-house training schemes by relabelling them as apprenticeships” 

This Times leader also points out: “Ofsted cannot cope and the reasons are not complicated. The new apprenticeships target has increased its workload but its budget has been cut by 38% over the last two parliaments: it stood at £200 million in 2011 and will fall to £124 million by 2020. Reversing this cut would be easy to justify if the apprenticeship levy were working, since this would in due course drive up wages and tax revenues as well as skills. But the levy is not working. It was meant to incentivise large employers to invest more in apprenticeships by requiring them to pay into a central fund from which they can claim back some or all of their training costs.”

MP Meg Hillier, chairman, adds that parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has found that private providers are paid with taxpayers’ money to deliver public services but that government sometimes fails to monitor the results or penalise those that do not deliver.

A number of private providers have failed – the most widely publicised being First4Skills (funded by the government’s Skills Funding Agency) – and including Talents Training and Shared Educational Services Limited – leaving the apprentices and the institutions which hired them in serious difficulties.

Undeterred, last month the Cabinet Office launched a policy paper: Shared Services strategy for government.

Mission impossible? “The government is seeking to boost the number of apprenticeships at the same time as slashing the budget for Ofsted who are responsible for enforcing quality”

This is the charge made in another Times article, by Joe Dromey, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, who has given evidence to the education select committee’s inquiry into apprenticeships.

The FT’s Business editor believes that the need for training and reskilling is imperative at a time when manufacturing is at a turning point, with the industrial internet about to revolutionise processes and business models and the integration and linking of big data, analytical tools and wireless networks with physical and industrial equipment. 




What have Liverpool and Arsenal football clubs in common with Music Magpie?

January 29, 2018


Football clubs were among the quickest to pay their suppliers. Liverpool managed an average of 27 days, beating Arsenal’s 35. Entertainment Magpie, as Music Magpie – an online reseller of CDS, DVDs and books – pre-owned, refurbished, and fully guaranteed –  was the fastest payer, averaging just five days, with 94% of invoices settled within 30 days.

Companies that have more than £36m annual turnover, an £18m balance sheet or 250 employees are now obliged to report to the business department twice a year their payment policies, practices and performance, due to concerns about the administrative and financial burdens faced by thousands of companies because they are not paid on time.

Small and medium-sized businesses may have to borrow to cover shortfalls and a shortage of cash can in extreme cases force them into administration.

SMEs are owed £14bn at any one time, according to the government. The Federation of Small Businesses says that late payment should be a top priority for government in 2018.  “FSB research demonstrates that a third of payments to small businesses are late with many turning to personal credit cards and overdrafts just to survive,” said Mike Cherry, the chairman.

Andy Bounds, Enterprise Editor of the Financial Times reports that filings at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) reveal late payment of suppliers.

Most UK businesses take more than 30 days to pay their suppliers, with the average as high as 113 days. Filings by about 200 businesses show that only 29% of them manage to settle their accounts within 30 days or less on average, and that only 52% of invoices overall are paid in that timeframe.

UHY Hacker Young, the national accountancy group, which studied the filings, said the figures showed the government’s transparency push has “yet to make any significant impact on the culture of late payment”. It was reported that some businesses had standard payments terms of 120 days.

  • DS Smith, the paper, packaging and recycling group, had one of the worst records. Its recycling arm took 113 days on average to pay suppliers.
  • Waterstones, the bookseller, took an average of 69 days.
  • Clifford Chance Europe (a law firm) took 73 days.
  • Conviviality, owner of the Bargain Booze and Wine Rack chains, averaged 56 days.

None of the major supermarkets has yet reported its figures. Companies have until January or April to publish the data.

The business department said its new small business commissioner, Paul Uppal, would oversee a new complaints system and help to tackle late payments, potentially delivering a £2.5bn annual boost to the economy.

Richard Lloyd-Warne, partner at UHY Hacker Young, said: “Multiple governments have tried different ways to get bigger businesses to pay on time, including allowing them to levy interest on late invoices, and the much-delayed creation of a small business commissioner role.”

The new duty to report was “a good step” Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said, but “changes need to go further to allow the naming and shaming of those businesses who are putting the squeeze on small firms”.




WM manufacturing opportunity: permanent magnets for wind turbines

December 23, 2017

Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris (FREng) is drawing attention to a recent article in the Guardian Review on wind energy giving an up-beat view of off-shore wind farms which, he agrees, are showing a lot of promise, particularly compared with the very expensive and increasingly problematic nuclear option. He comments:

“However, in this article, there was no mention of the vital role played by NdFeB-type permanent magnets in the direct drive generators provided by companies such as Siemens”.

The untutored writer consulted a second engineer who said that readers may have noticed wind turbines of rather different shapes starting to appear. The more traditional ones have a nacelle behind the rotor – the gearbox to convert slow rotation to a higher speed required by the generator.

He continued: “These gearboxes are expensive and heavy, bringing new problems to solve. One solution is the turbine with NdFeB, otherwise known as rare earth magnets. They eliminate the need for the gearbox, driving the generator directly at the speed of the blades. They can be recognised by a large ring structure behind the blades. (The traditional gearbox opposite has the low speed shaft to the left. It makes the high speed shaft to the right turn approximately 50 times faster than the low speed shaft.)

Stanford Magnets reports on the emergence – over the last two years – of commercial-scale & direct drive permanent magnet generator systems with the hub directly connected to the generator (right). Being direct drive, these turbines have significant advantages over the geared variety:

  • significantly increased reliability,
  • reduced maintenance costs,
  • reduced downtime for maintenance
  • improved efficiencies in the power conversion process and
  • greater efficiencies when wind speeds are not at full rating.

The second engineer warns that “engineering is always a compromise and there is a clue in the name RARE earth: these generators need a large quantity to make the magnets required. There is a limited amount of these materials and they are predominantly found in China”. 

Mineral reserves: resources known to be economically feasible for extraction economically and technically feasible to extract. Note that the New Scientist reports that in what is said to be the first detailed report on the country’s supply, the US has 13 million tonnes of rare earth metals –  but it would take years to extract them.


Professor Harris and his colleagues David Kennedy and Adrian Arbib end: “With this medium to long term threat to the magnet supply very much in mind, the West, including Europe and the USA, should recreate its previous manufacturing capacity for the production of NdFeB-type sintered magnets, start to exploit alternative rare earth reserves and develop and support NdFeB-type magnet recycling. Simply leaving matters to market forces will certainly not be sufficient”.






Updating KPM Marine 2013: John Clancy’s legacy fund, the BSBLF 

December 7, 2017

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy said earlier this year, “(Entrepreneurs) risk-takers are hugely important to the city economy, creating jobs and wealth. Given the right support, they can help us create inclusive growth across Birmingham, so I’m delighted that we’re able to support our SMEs through the new Birmingham Small Business Loan Fund.”

The Birmingham Small Business Loan Fund (BSBLF).is administered by ART Business Loans and supported by Birmingham City Council, Thin Cats peer lending platform and Unity Trust bank. It provides loans of between £10,000 and £100,000 for small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) in Birmingham that are unable to obtain any or all of the finance they need from high street banks.

KPM Marine, which we featured in 2013, (KPM safety products lead in global marine and automotive markets), has been able to use a BSBLF loan to provide working capital to help it take advantage of growth opportunities presented by recent shifts in the value of sterling.

KPM products and designs – in Mott Street, Birmingham – are the first choice of work-boat builders, military and rescue agencies throughout the world. Julian Morgan, Joint Managing Director of KPM Marine, said “We can find ourselves competing with some of the world’s largest manufacturers . . .  95% of our supply chain is based in Birmingham, which is not only good for the local economy, but also gives us greater flexibility, faster response times and better control over quality than sourcing products and materials from the Far East.”

In 2003 the Duke of York looked over Rikki Hill’s V24 ‘Bat boat’ under the watchful eye of Jules (Julian) Morgan, owner and design director of KPM Marine and founder member of Idea Birmingham.

Julian’s business partner, Joint Managing Director John Key adds: “We moved into the marine sector around 15 years ago and have developed our product range to include bilge pumps, engine reventilation systems, shock-mitigating seating systems and interior fit out modules. We are delighted to have won naval contracts on both sides of the Atlantic and in Europe. Our latest success is as part of the supply chain providing a fleet of up to 38 workboats to support the Royal Navy’s new flagship carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth”

Steve Walker, Chief Executive of ART Business Loans says: “KPM Marine is a good example of the type of business we are here to support – innovative and dynamic small to medium sized enterprises which are the lifeblood of the local economy, but which struggle to access finance from the banks.”

The BSBLF aims to lend £3m to Birmingham business over three years. To apply go to or call ART on 0121 359 2444.





Could Labour under Corbyn be the natural home for small business owners?

November 18, 2017

Ibrahim Dogus, an entrepreneur and chair of SME4Labour, wrote this article as part of a series in the run-up to the Budget on November 22. Extracts:

Small businesses are the backbone of their communities and, as the best councillors and MPs know, their support is vital to making a difference on the ground throughout the country. However, there are still some people who see a contradiction between a person like me – a small business owner, employer and entrepreneur – and my solid support for the Labour and trade union movement.

The reality is, small businesses thrive when their communities thrive. They prosper in a strong society where everyone pays their fair share and we work together for the good of all. This is why I have never seen my own aspirations in isolation from wider society . . .

I founded SME4Labour in 2015. I know there were many other small business men and women, self-employed and freelancers who share our socialist values, and I want them to feel that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is their natural home.

There is no contradiction between a desire for social justice, here and around the world, and a desire to build successful, socially-responsible businesses. And of course it is a two-way street. We will not win the next election without the active support of all sections of society, including the self-employed and small businesses.

SMEs are businesses with a turnover of less than £25m, fewer than 250 employees and fewer than £12.5m in assets. In Britain this accounts for 99% of the private sector, making up nearly half of private sector turnover, or £1.8 trillion. In total, SMEs employ more than 15.7 million people. 

These are the enterprises which provide local jobs, provide community facilities and pump wealth back into local areas.  It could be the takeaway industry, which I am keen to champion. But it could also be local hairdressers, motor mechanics, corner shops, cafes or laptop repairers. It could be the cutting edge digital companies designing new software or online retailers. It could be microbreweries or gin distilleries. Whatever shape or activity, these businesses are usually rooted in their communities, keeping the lights on late at night, and giving local people the chance to work. When it comes to politics, the people running these businesses should naturally gravitate to the Labour Party. They are the many, not the few.

We hear a lot about the “mittelstand”, the backbone of the German economic miracle. Here in Britain we have the “Brit–elstand” – the brilliant small and medium enterprises on which our economy relies. As Asia’s richest man Jack Ma has said, small businesses are to the economy what babies are to society. We need to invest in our small businesses just like we need to invest in our children. That is why at the election Labour pledged to:

  • Set up a national investment bank and regional development banks to help unlock £500bn of investment and lending, including from the private sector, to deliver the critical infrastructure and skills businesses need.
  • Reform government procurement to make sure that it supports good businesses and local industry.
  • Re-introduce the small profit rate of corporation tax and commit to no quarterly reporting for businesses below the VAT threshold, giving them the certainty they need to invest in their businesses.
  • Radically reform business rates to ease the burden on the traditional high street and town centres in an age of online shopping and to create a fairer system of business taxation for all.
  • Take action on late payment to prevent the exploitation of small and medium sized businesses to ensure every business, regardless of size has every opportunity to flourish.
  • Integrate our industrial strategy with our trade strategy so that they are joined up and complementary. Only by joining these two strategies together will we truly unlock Britain’s potential to create jobs, grow our economy and raise people’s living standards.

This adds up to an impressive offer to small business but could go further: the shadow minister for small business should be at shadow cabinet-level, not merely part of the shadow BEIS team.

SMEs are not just economically vital – they are the glue holding our communities together. If we are to change this country from the bottom up, we must do everything we can to support their development. Only then will we build an economy that works for everyone.  





Nov 1-2: Mechatronic Solutions launch the Podconnect at the NEC

November 1, 2017

We return to Mechatronic Solutions after this two year old post was selected by most of the visitors to this site last month – the majority coming from the United States.

A fact summary:

This company designed its first robot for the Morgan Matroc ariel assembly in 2000 and the  Kaizen workshop was developed in 2002, described on this site in 2015.  – see with Change Agent Andrew Thomas.

It now offers RoboPod, a standardised platform for robot applications that they say ‘represents a first in the industry’ used in these sectors:

and also automotive  aerospace, packaging, process automation and testing

Robopod have unveiled the Podconnect, an Automated Intelligent Vehicle (AIV) which – as its name suggests – has in-built intelligence and can operate autonomously. It connects machines and systems for ultimate efficiency: “Automated logistics and safe, efficient delivery of materials make the manufacturing environment work seamlessly with other functions”.

As well as these physical and logistical benefits, Podconnect provides detailed information back to managers; providing valuable statistics on performance, output, stock and flows. See a video here.

The Advanced Engineering Show 2017 is described as ‘The UK’s largest annual gathering of advanced engineering professionals’. It attracts professionals from across the UK and worldwide advanced engineering industries: including managers and directors as well as those specialising in fields as diverse as Research and design (R&D), Design, Test engineering, Production, Logistics and Procurement.

On 1st November, the 2-day exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham will see Mechatronic Solutions launch Podconnect AIV Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle plus a new Robopod brochure setting out information about the whole range.