In January 2009 – not long after the global financial crash, Neil Clifton established Cube Precision Engineering with his partner, engineer, Neil Bannister.
Beverley met with Neil and his team, 26th September, at their factory on Cakemore Road, Rowley Regis with the following thoughts noted in discussion.
Privately owned, the award-winning manufacturing company offers design, manufacture, trial and low volume production of press tooling for a variety of industries. They also undertake extensive sub contract machining of component parts to the automotive, aerospace and defence industries. Specialising in large components, lifting capacity is up to 35T and heavy pressing up to 1k tonnes.
Cube Precision now employs 47 staff on day/night shift and is open 6 days a week. In 2015 revenue grew to almost £5m. They are passionate about manufacturing in the UK and particularly the West Midlands and are committed to growing and re-building the heritage and success of British manufacturing regionally and worldwide. Revenues from overseas have grown to 68% since inception and they were recognised as a regional finalist in Export Growth Awards. Working predominantly with OEM's and tier 1 suppliers in Turkey, Spain, Germany, with partnerships with Korean and German toolmakers for launch support for OEM’s such as Jaguar Land Rover and BMW.
Q: How has the business grown since you started?
A: In year 1 we turned over £892k and we have grown to reach almost £5m in the eight years since. The hardest part has been attracting the skills into the business. There doesn’t seem to be the excitement amongst school children about a career in engineering. Many parents don’t know about engineering. Teachers can’t get out of schools and young people can’t get out to visit companies easily. All seems to be held back by red tape.
It might make sense to start engaging with schools from a much younger stage. We need to inspire our young people to be the best – not just average - and when they come on placements we’re looking for those who have some ambition, motivation, a desire to make a difference. We are always looking for day staff and night staff both for our toolmaking and machining sections and we pay well – people can earn well over the average wage within five years of completing an apprenticeship. But people don’t realise the opportunities there are in our industry. Somehow we have to change the image and reputation of our sector.
Q: Who are your customers?
A: JLR, JCI, Timet, Rolls-Royce Aerospace, and Thyssenkrupp.are some of our core customers.
Through Superform we are making car body panels for supersports car manufacturers.
Q: How good are you and your customers at forward planning to build capacity for the future?
A: The Automotive industry are not so strategic about this. Timescales and margins are under pressure regularly so much so it’s hard to think long term.
We instilled in our staff from the day we started Cube Precision that they all need to be sales people. They need to build relationships with customers so that the customers build confidence in the business. On top of this we invest regularly in new machinery,
Q: How have you found it being able to access cash for investment and borrowing to grow?
A: We have used Regional Growth Funding for new asset purchases, allowing us to receive up to 20% in grant funding making new assets more affordable. We have also used Finance Birmingham and UKTI in conjunction with our bank providing cash flow during long term projects. They have actually invested in their staff by sending them to Warwick Manufacturing Group to gain an understanding of the industry.
Q: Is there much collaboration between competitors in your sector?
A: There are real cluster aspects to the way we operate. For example,one of our designers that we outsource work to is also used by 2 or 3 others manufacturers. Also, our steel supplier etc are all used by our competitors but we don’t find much collaboration between our competitors. We do work for each other but very rarely do we bid for work together.
Q: How has Brexit affected your business?
A: There was a definite slowdown on order placement in the 2 months prior to Brexit. Manufacturing is very sensitive to such changes, as it is to what the media says. Economic market conditions were and have been challenging but are certainly improving. We need certainty and stability. We have not had this recently. It’s difficult to plan for the future when it is like this. We need to know more about what arrangements there will be with Europe and the rest of the world, otherwise when we do find out there will be further uncertainty whilst everyone works out what it means for them.