There’s a feeling simmering under the surface of the business community that if we’re not careful we’re going to let the politicians and economists talk us into a recession.

Ok, so Brexit is the elephant in nearly every boardroom and there are few clues as to how this long-running saga will eventually play out. Uncertainty is not great for long-term confidence and planning, but it also shouldn’t be the start of the death knell for UK industry.

All of PP Control & Automation’s clients are reporting strong growth and full order books and its customer list spans a wide and varied list of sectors, ranging from digital printing and food processing to machine tools and aerospace. The West Midlands-based company even build control and automation systems that ultimately milk cows.

“We always feel our business offers a great insight into the general health of the UK manufacturing economy and we are confidently planning for in excess of 15% growth over the next twelve months. This isn’t speculative, this is firm schedules for demand,” explains Tony Hague, PP Control & Automation’s CEO.

“All the talk of a slowdown is a little premature, yet if we’re not careful we can quickly talk ourselves into a recession and that’s not going to help anyone. The focus for us is on investment in our people, investment in our processes and investment in our capital equipment, starting in 2019 with a £200,000 spend on a new state-of the-art automated cable preparation line. This will deliver the latest crimping technology and improved connectivity solutions for our customers.”

He continues: “The bigger concern is companies being over cautious and planning for a period of potential decline and then, if/when a deal is done, volumes instantly rocket and firms aren’t in a position to meet increased demand. The opportunity for growth is then simply lost. Agility and responsiveness are what it is now all about.

Whichever side of the divide you fall on, Hague feels that strategic outsourcing - something PP Control & Automation excels in - could deliver a vital competitive advantage.

If you are pursuing business resilience, the ability to focus and invest in your core competencies, whilst working in collaboration with a partner to adopt part of the manufacturing process that is not necessarily a core activity, can be a game-changer.

Benefits include reducing production and sales lead times, reduced total cost of manufacture, greater security of supply and the chance to ride the flow of fluctuating volumes without the additional burden and costs associated with labour, increased inventory and the need to invest in additional overheads and infrastructure. Ultimately, managing risk without compromising capacity and market responsiveness.

“It has been proven that strategic outsourcing can help companies manage a volatile marketplace as it places the emphasis on the partner to manage peaks and troughs,” adds Hague.

“That’s something we relish and are perfectly set-up to deliver. It doesn’t work for everyone and there needs to be a lot of groundwork undertaken to ensure the partnership actually benefits both parties.

“We have increasingly been talking to clients about how they can plan for the future and the focus always comes down to giving them the ability to concentrate on what they do best. If there are elements of their business that we can do better, then it makes perfect sense to introduce us into the supply chain and manufacturing process.

“As a result, management teams don’t have to make difficult decisions about investment in capital or adjusting workforce numbers. Let us manage the risk on your behalf.”

On the flip side of the coin, strategic outsourcing is also proving increasingly popular for firms who are rapidly growing and need to keep pace with customer demand.

Take PP Control & Automation’s relationship with ABG International for example, a partnership that stretches back more than nine years.

Developing an open partnership and identifying where PP engineering ‘know how’ can add real value to the design and development of control and automation systems for digital printing machines has made an already successful business more efficient, reduced lead times and helped it scale up quickly to take on the raft of new orders it is winning.

“We have grown 50% over the last five years and this would not have been possible without the support of PP Control & Automation,” points out Phil Robson, operations manager at Bridlington-based ABG International.

“Traditionally, our control panels had been designed so that they were remote from the machine and were hard wired to and from the panel to the machine. This wasn’t ideal and, within weeks of the partnership starting, we were exploring alternative solutions and an answer wasn’t long in coming.”

He went on to add: “PP’s design for manufacturing team and ABG engineers redesigned the controls architecture so that we now use modular controls that can be easily configured to give the customer greater flexibility when specifying different features of the machine.

“Working together, we will manufacture up to 250 machines this year, with plans in place to increase this to 300 as more firms tap into the benefits of digital printing.”

Global expansion

2018 has been a milestone year for Hague and his management team after he helped oversee a deal that saw Ardenton Capital Corporation invest and take a major stake in the organisation.

The former MD also became a significant shareholder and chief executive officer as part of the deal, whilst founder David Fox continues to impart his 40+ years of industry experience in the role of chairman.

The injection of funding came just a few weeks after the company announced a string of new contracts to take its turnover for 2018 to £24m, including exciting first orders for an Icelandic based OEM and new projects for customers in the scientific and power generation industries.

“We have very ambitious expansion plans that are matched by Ardenton, with the deal providing stability for our customers and security for our employees. It also gives us a fantastic platform to invest in the future and in taking our manufacturing capabilities to even more international customers,” continues Hague.

“Our reach is truly global and we are just as comfortable supplying electrical control systems and sub-contract manufacturing solutions to clients in North America and the EU as we are to customers in the UK.”

He concludes: “A concerted digital marketing drive has seen us generate enquiries from all four corners of the world and we fully expect to pick up a number of new ‘wins’ in countries we’ve not previously worked in over the next eighteen months.

“The language may be different, but the benefits of strategic outsourcing are still clearly understood.”

PP Control & Automation