Show preview: Subcon, 14 – 16 Sept 2021, NEC Birmingham

4 min read

Subcon returns to support in-person networking as UK manufacturing sector prepares for a post-pandemic future

This month (14-16 September), Subcon returns to the NEC for the 44th time, heralding a much welcome return to business events and reinforcing the value of meeting face to face for the UK’s manufacturing and engineering sectors.

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The 44th Subcon will mark a welcome return to face to face industry networking

Subcon is the UK’s leading subcontract manufacturing supply chain show and its return as an in-person event comes at a pivotal time as UK manufacturing businesses of all sizes recover from the impacts of COVID-19, adjust to operating outside the EU and face a myriad of challenges and opportunities.

Appetite to get back to doing business in person couldn’t be stronger: the show’s headline sponsors are IAMP and SCS Concept Group and more than 80 per cent of stand space is now sold with over 200 companies expected to exhibit, including Hoffman Group UK, Wilson Process Systems, Oldham Engineering.

Three shows in one

Subcon is free to attend for anyone working in UK manufacturing and engineering, and visitors also gain free access to two further co-located events: The Engineer Expo and - new for 2021 – the popular Manufacturing Management Show (MMS). The Engineer Expo provides UK engineering professionals with the latest in-house manufacturing and design solutions alongside cutting-edge developments in advanced engineering technologies.

Created by the publishers of Manufacturing Management magazine, MMS delivers attendees with everything they need to know about running a successful manufacturing site under one roof. From maintenance to materials handling, CI and skills, IT to health and safety, MMS showcases a multitude of topics, curated specifically for senior manufacturing leaders from across the UK.

Together, Subcon, The Engineer Expo and MMS will deliver a unique and relevant event for the UK’s manufacturing and engineering industry, bringing the best suppliers, the latest innovations and practical advice to help build new partnerships and optimise business strategies.

Forward-looking conference content

In addition to discovering new suppliers and solutions at the exhibition, Subcon features a high-end, three-day conference with forward-looking content curated by Manufacturing Management and The Engineer magazines including panel discussions, and keynote addresses from Make UK CEO Stephen Phipson, Made in Britain CEO John Pearce, Manufacturing Excellence MD Paul Bell, NMITE associate professor Nadia Kourra, and many more.

Collectively, they will discuss everything from the UK’s role in low carbon motoring and green mobility, how to master the post-pandemic recovery, addressing mental health in the workplace, and how attracting more young people to the industry can have a positive impact on the sector’s health, wealth and productivity.

Focus on innovation

Visitors to the Subcon Conference Theatre will also be lucky enough to see the Subcon Launchpad Award presentations. After a powerful launch in 2019, The Launchpad and Launchpad Awards return for a second outing at Subcon 2021 to provide start-ups and entrepreneurs throughout the sector with a valuable platform for sharing innovation and earning much-needed recognition and brand awareness among thousands of engineering and manufacturing professionals.

Up to eight businesses under three years old will be given a free stand in the Launchpad area, offered expert advice and marketing support and automatically entered into the 2021 Launchpad Awards where they’ll be allocated a five-minute slot to present their innovation to a panel of expert judges including Subcon event director Gordon Kirk and chair Jon Excell.

Judging panel chair Jon Excell said: “We’re very excited about the return of the Launchpad competition. Its debut in 2019 uncovered some truly inspirational and potentially game-changing UK engineering innovators and disruptors spanning a range of sectors, so we’re really looking forward to welcome it back and seeing this year’s crop of entries.”

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A packed conference program spread across two theatres will feature expert speakers from across industry

For visitors attending September’s Subcon, the Launchpad is a unique opportunity to view leading-edge innovation which can drive up productivity and boost competitiveness.

Subcon event director Gordon Kirk added: “Young businesses have faced extraordinary challenges as they have sought to bring ingenuity to market over the past year. It’s important that Subcon continues to provide a platform that focuses on the next generation of innovators and showcases their contribution to the future of industry and the UK’s global competitiveness.

A strategic opportunity

“Subcon is a strategic opportunity for companies throughout the manufacturing supply chain to meet face-to-face, reconnect and secure business growth and a timely and unique platform for any UK manufacturers looking to source or develop a robust and localised network of UK supply chain partners,” added Kirk.

“The past 18-months has been unprecedented and Subcon will shine a light on the untold challenges and opportunities this industry is facing, including the supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic and how that has served to highlight the true value of a reliable, local supply chain offering short lead time and better quality.”

More than half of UK manufacturers hit negatively by pandemic

Over half of UK manufacturers polled in July 2021 by Subcon been impacted quite or very negatively by the pandemic. Budget cuts, job losses, customer disruption, chip shortages and supply chain issues were among the reasons cited.

On the flipside, 17% of the 81 respondents were not impacted at all, and almost one quarter profited from Covid, including 9% ‘very positively’, thanks to increases in sales, sector growth including medical supplies, and the opportunity to pivot online.

When asked how long they believe it will take for UK manufacturing to recover, they said:

  • 38% - within 12 months
  • 26% - within 3 years
  • 4% - within 5 years
  • 3% - never
  • 22% no losses

When asked how they believe the pandemic has changed UK manufacturing over the last 18 months, they said:

  • 62% - it’s increased the need to protect our supply chains
  • 52% - are sourcing more locally
  • 31% - it’s increased inter-company collaboration
  • 25% - have improved employee wellbeing provision
  • 10% - increased sustainability

“The results of this year’s survey really do tell a tale of two halves,” said Subcon event director Gordon Kirk.

“While more than half suffered negatively from the pandemic, nearly a quarter profited and 22% experienced no losses. In addition, 40% believe UK manufacturing will make a full recovery within 12 months and there have been many positive outcomes including a move to more domestic sourcing and increases in both sustainability and employee wellbeing services.”

Subcon, The Engineer Expo and Manufacturing Management Show will be run in accordance with Government guidance on COVID-19, ensuring a safe and comfortable environment. Visitor registration is open now at