plastic injection moulding

Is reshoring the future for plastic injection moulding?

Following the 2016 referendum result, when the UK voted to leave the European Union, the value of the Pound against other leading currencies fell by over 10% and has never recovered.  The cost of imports has been higher ever since. 

On their own, the higher cost of imported industrial goods may not be an overwhelming issue.  Over the same period, however, the manufacturing sector has been faced with a series of challenges, including tariff disputes, geopolitical instability and the effects of climate change, manifesting themselves in extreme weather events.  These factors have all served to disrupt global supply chains, many of which have over the years become extended around the world with minimal resilience or risk protection. 

Then, along came COVID-19, which has had a potentially catastrophic and lasting impact on extended global supply chains. 

Bringing injection moulding home 

The impact of these industry-changing events has to be to drive manufacturing businesses to reassess their approach to the location and structure of their production operations and their supporting supply chains.  At the top of the agenda is the need to reshore – or at least nearshore – production to the UK. 

In the injection moulding sector, we’ve already seen the reshoring of the production of injection mould tooling – a process that has been accelerated by our hybrid metal additive manufacturing capability.  This has brought down the lead-time for tooling from several months for toolsets produced in the Far East to just a few weeks for UK engineered mould tooling.  The same technology has also enabled us to develop, test and prototype new techniques for producing complex injection mould tool inserts; for example, with conformal cooling without the need for machining or specialised tool inserts that dramatically improve gas venting 

One of the challenges for manufacturers in developing a reshoring strategy is the difficulty of recruiting skilled employees.  In recent decades the number of people employed in manufacturing, as a percentage of the total workforce, has fallen from 21.8% in 1991 to just 7.6% in 2019 (ref ONS).  The GMB Union estimates that in the last ten years the UK has lost over 500,000 jobs, many of which were highly skilled engineers, machinists and technicians, with a corresponding loss of many years of collective knowledge and experience. 

Clearly, if a manufacturer is to reshore part or all of its production operation it is either going to have to find skilled staff or local suppliers that offer specialised services, creating an integrated local supply chain – something that should have far greater resilience and responsiveness, with lower risk, than the traditional extended global model. 

The good news is that in the UK we are fortunate in having many small but highly specialised manufacturing business, capable of providing the support required.  For example, as a UK injection moulding company, we regularly work with customers to provide a range of specialised services that go far beyond the production of injection moulded parts. 

These range from: 

  • Advice and practical assistance on design for manufacturing; this includes a choice of plastics and tool design, to ensure that your injection moulded parts are produced to the best possible quality, that they’ll perform exactly to specification and can be moulded at the most competitive cost. 
  • Tool design and engineering, including the development of specialised inserts such as conformal cooling and gas venting to improve part quality and cycle speed. 
  • Advanced robotic systems for high volume injection moulding, to minimise manual handling, reduce costs and improve productivity. 
  • Part and sub-system assembly, testing, customised packing and delivery to minimise the number of operations that your UK team need to carry out and improve time to market. 
  • Complete project management, to reduce the load on your team, shorten project lead-times and enable you to offer an even better service to your customers.
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