DTI under fire despite tooling technology drive

Car component makers are to fight an initiative they claim encourages companies to move their business out of the UK and source parts from eastern Europe.

Angry car component makers are to fight an initiative they claim encourages companies to move their business out of the UK and source parts from eastern Europe.

A delegation from the British Turned Parts Manufacturers Association is to meet DTI officials next month, to put forward their case against the government’s Automotive Directorate Total Package project. The scheme, intended to foster partnerships with Czech and Slovak suppliers, is resulting in UK firms being undercut.

Major concerns

David Norman, spokesman for the BTMA and co-owner of turned parts manufacturer Alphatool Productions, said the organisation is very concerned by the initiative, which it believes encourages its members’ customers to set up production in Central Europe. ‘We’re not going to be driven out of business. We’ve got so much expertise but it’s drifting away,’ he said.

The BTMA is believed to have asked the Machine Tool Technologies Association for support, although the organisation was unable to confirm this.

Meanwhile, the DTI said it is to back a move to bring more business into UK tooling suppliers in the face of growing competition from cheaper suppliers in the Far East and Eastern Europe.

In a launch event scheduled for 4 April, a raft of initiatives will be announced aiming to boost the competitiveness of the UK’s mechanical engineering sector — by encouraging more toolmakers to offer rapid prototyping and low volume sample production as part of their services.

UK companies have been keen to rubbish the quality of tooling work from many suppliers in low-wage economies, with rumours circulating of British firms winning orders to fix mistakes in imported tooling after it has been delivered.

Despite such claims, purchasing bosses at many major global manufacturers are increasingly placing orders overseas — and the tooling industry in the UK is suffering as a result.

And in a hard-hitting report out last year, the DTI said that the UK’s tooling sector (which is dominated by small firms) lags significantly behind rivals in the US, France and Germany in productivity.

The new Rapid Product Development Initiative, backed by the DTI and trade body the Gauge and Toolmakers Association, is part of a £1.5m programme aimed at countering this productivity gap, and will aim to prove the benefits of technologies such as 3D CAD and rapid prototyping for toolmakers.

‘To date, too few smaller companies have seen the need to embrace rapid product development methods and use modern technology,’ said Steve Eyles, GTMA chief executive.

Lucrative business

The move is part of the quest by most engineering firms to find more lucrative business.

There is a logical link between rapid prototyping and toolmaking, Eyles said, with prototyping the first step in the transition between concept design and manufactured products, and toolmaking as the next stage.

Many companies have added prototyping to their range of services, while others that started out as rapid prototyping bureaux have expanded downstream into toolmaking.

The initiative will start with a series of regional seminars during 2001. For further information contact Peter McCree, peter.mccree@com-met2005.org.uk