Supply chains were put under more stress in April, compounded by rising raw material costs and other inflationary pressures.

Public sector
The government announced in March that the NHS is being given a new legal duty to prioritise climate change and the environment in all its activities. This is bound to impact procurement and upgrades to existing facilities. It’s also expected to put pressure on NHS procurement teams to switch to 100% renewable energy sources.

At the same time, the MPs on the Public Accounts Committee published a report warning that the government lacks a plan to spend the extra funding for the NHS in ways that will improve patient care. Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said cash would be needed to upgrade “dangerously crumbling facilities” and clear the growing backlog of people awaiting treatment.

“There are always new pressures on the public services so it’s vital to partner with suppliers who are agile and transparent about the whole supply chain, especially when it needs to deliver sustainability as well as value for money,” said Damian Wynne, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components.

On a slightly lighter note, the Royal Mint announced plans to turn old mobile phones into gold. Using technology developed by Canadian company Excir, the new plant will recover precious metals from e-waste like mobiles, tablets and PCs at the Mint’s site in Llantrisant, South Wales. Excir says 99% of the gold can be recovered.

Utilities and power
Water companies face renewed action by the regulator over failures to meet sewage treatment standards. Industry regulator OFWAT says all but one company has at least one water treatment works that does not meet the requirements of their environmental permits.

US-based venture capital firm KKR and Australian infrastructure firm Macquarie are reported to be considering buying UK Power Networks. The utility, which owns and maintains electricity lines across London, the South East and East of England, won Employer of the Year at the Utility Week Awards last month.

Energy storage is a vital part of the transition to net zero, smoothing out fluctuations in supplies from renewable sources. Last month the government announced that 24 projects, from thermal batteries to converting energy into hydrogen, will share £7 million in the first round of funding from the £68 million Longer Duration Energy Storage scheme.

“Energy security is not just about new sources of power. It’s also critical to maintain existing and converted equipment, which means the industry needs dependable suppliers who can respond rapidly to changing needs,” said Chris Cruise, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components.

Process manufacturing
Work has started on building what is claimed to be the UK’s largest drinks packaging factory to make recyclable aluminium drinks cans. The Ball Corporation plant, which features rainwater harvesting and machinery emissions controls, will use 20% less energy and 70% less water than a conventional factory. The company is also selling its business in Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Upmarket chilled food maker Charlie Bigham’s has been named Food Manufacturing Company of the Year for its environmental process improvements which have reduced the firm’s water, energy and packaging use., which organised the awards, quoted one of the judges as saying: “This entry ticks all the boxes: customer, quality and skills with environment and efficiency initiatives and continued focus on developing the business through investment and innovation.”

Craig Stasik, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components, said: “Charlie Bigham’s food manufacturing award demonstrates the value of keeping all your processes under review to maximise efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint.”

Manufacturers faced the highest raw material cost increases since 1980 in the first quarter of 2022, according to the latest Make UK/BDO Manufacturing Quarterly Outlook survey. The survey found that although the industry is seeing robust orders, output is falling due to supply chain disruption.

Richard Graham, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components, said: “Rising raw material costs put pressure on margins and reinforce the need to maximise efficiency. Condition monitoring enabled by the Industrial Internet of Things will be critical to delivering an efficient maintenance programme to meet this challenge.”

Electric vehicle battery manufacturing start-up Britishvolt, which is building the UK’s first Gigafactory in the North East, has signed a memorandum of understanding to provide power for Aston Martin’s first electric cars, due to launch in 2025. Britishvolt, which says Gigafactory will start production in late 2023/early 2024, has also signed an agreement to develop a “transparent and lower carbon” supply chain for nickel sulphate from Indonesia in line with its ESG commitments and principles.

The South Terminal at London’s Gatwick Airport reopened last month after being closed for two years due to the pandemic. During the shutdown, ISS, which holds the facilities contract for the entire airport, maintained essential staffing and serviced dormant machines and equipment. For the reopening, ISS conducted a deep clean, recruited and trained new employees, procured over 200 sanitiser stations and re-engaged specialist hygiene suppliers.

Transportation and defence
Transportation and defence is likely to be the only sector of UK manufacturing to contract in 2022, according to the Make UK/BDO Manufacturing Quarterly Outlook. The report said the sector has struggled to return to growth because of changing consumer habits and rising fuel costs, but added that increases in defence spending or greater demand for travel could reverse the negative trend.

The UK Government announced its refreshed national shipbuilding strategy in March, which it said promises a £4 billion boost to the industry. Included for the first time is a 30-year procurement pipeline for all types of government vessels that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said would “give industry a much clearer demand signal about what we are trying to achieve with our procurement programmes”.

“Challenging times for transportation and defence industries demand agility and innovation. It’s vital that their suppliers share those attributes too, to respond to fast-changing demands. So their supply chains must be as agile as they have to be,” said Greg Sharp, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components.

Freight train operator DB Cargo UK has appointed a new Head of Asset Management and Maintenance. Jon Harman, who is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, was previously Head of Fleet for First Bus. He has more than three decades of experience in engineering and started his career as an RAF engineering apprentice. Harmon will be responsible for DB Cargo’s UK fleet of 228 diesel and electric locomotives and 5,000 wagons that carry 37 million tonnes of freight each year.

And finally… a date for your diary. Make UK has named Thursday 7 July 2022 as National Manufacturing Day. Firms are being urged to open their doors to the public to showcase the best of British manufacturing.