The way the world does business is changing. Gone are the days when the UK was producing 40% of world manufacturing output. Today, China takes the top spot as a production powerhouse.

It is now the world’s largest manufacturer, its output totaling $2.0 trillion. Figures that are being used to rebuild and expand the old Silk Road between Europe and China with the so-called Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

The UK’s strong reputation in services and advanced manufacturing makes it perfectly suited to meet the needs of China’s dynamic economy.

For plastic manufacturers especially, the BRI presents huge engineering and partnership opportunities.

Technical trade moulder Broanmain Plastics is already taking advantage of this increased connectivity by utilising the best of both manufacturing worlds. In doing so, the company is helping customers to meet tight production deadlines and lower costs without compromising on quality.

Offshore Toolmaking, Reshored Production

Instead of producing thousands of units of a component in China, Broanmain helps its clients to design and make the master tool via its Chinese toolmaking partners. It then brings production of the component back to its UK workshop.

Not only does this deliver significant savings, but it also speeds up the production process, increases the quality of the finished item, enables just-in-time production and boosts the UK economy.

Providing a strong example of how manufacturers can work within the ongoing BRI scheme, the company has strong trade connections with China and reputable toolmaking workshops, forged nearly two decades ago.

A Helping Hand

Dealing with a country where the culture, language and working practices are so removed from domestic manufacturers can be a daunting prospect.

However, thanks to its global approach to manufacturing, Broanmain is able to manage the entire toolmaking process on behalf of its clients from start to finish.

“From our UK office, we assist with the initial design of the component, which we send to China where the tool design is created. Our in-house engineers then scrutinise the Chinese design and make any changes,” explains Broanmain’s operations director Jo Davis.

“Once the customer has signed off the tool design, our Chinese partners manufacture the tool. Crucially, it’s made from a number of different parts rather than one solid piece, which enables us to access any insert if we need to make changes further down the line.”

Samples are then sent to Broanmain, which they review with the customer. Any final modifications are made before the finished tool is shipped to the UK, ready for Broanmain to begin manufacturing the component at its Surrey facility.

The benefits of offshoring the toolmaking to China and reshoring ongoing production of the component are multiple

By realising the convenience and cost efficiencies gained by reshoring moulding close to UK sites, the export price differential as a result of shipping and reduced holding inventory has prompted many manufacturers to switch to domestic moulding companies observes Broanmain.

Quality, not Quantity

Another benefit of shorter runs and local production is increased quality and quicker reactions if they require customisation. Jo explains: “If there’s a problem with the component or consumer trends dictate a change, our customers can call us, or even visit us at our factory, talking to us in the same language, in the same time zone. Our in-house workshop engineers can amend the component and run off a new batch, dispatching it within 24-hours. Waste is kept to a minimum and production schedules aren’t affected.”

Broanmain’s involvement from the start of the toolmaking design process pays dividends further down the line, too

“Toolmakers aren’t moulders so will often make a tool without understanding the molding parameters,” explains Jo.

“We consider what the final component will look like, the materials it will be made from, and even the machines it will be made on.”

With Brexit looming large, keeping production on home ground is more important than ever.

“Without the help of our Chinese toolmaking partners, many of these UK projects would have been dead in the water, or the whole manufacturing process (not just the tool) would have been sent to China,” claims Jo.

“Instead, we’ve created ongoing manufacturing work here in the UK”

The set-up provides optimism for future UK-China trade relations, as it shows where the two powerhouses can offer clients the benefit of a unified process.

Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.