Shop Clever, Shop Local

by | Apr 23, 2024 | Machinery

Whilst this headline may be found on ads designed to persuade shoppers of the benefits of visiting a local grocers, it applies equally, says Jade Engineering’s Sean Mackey, to buying aluminium frame production tooling

We are a global economy, of that there can be no doubt. And with slick marketing matched by clever logistics, it has become second nature to buy goods that are often – usually? – manufactured on the other side of the world, without blinking. But now and again we are given cause to reflect on just how fragile our commercial ecosystem is. The most profound of such scenarios was of course the Covid epidemic but other unanticipated quirks of circumstance, weather, incompetence and simple bad luck, include the Ever Given container vessel that got stuck in the Suez canal on 23rd March 2021, halting a massive $60 billion of trade, much of which will never be recovered.

Sean Mackey

However, Acts of God and general happenstance are also compounded by the machinations of man, such as Britain leaving the EU, which has left importers and exporters of goods to and from mainland Europe with considerable additional ‘difficulties’ which, whilst overcome, add to cost and time. All of these, says Jade Engineering’s Sean Mackey, make it difficult for him to understand why aluminium window fabricators and their systems suppliers, continue to bring production tooling and simple machinery such as punch tools, across international borders.

Sean explains why he is so exercised by this: “At Jade Engineering we manufacture such products, from simple cutting heads and milling heads to custom designed and engineered punch tools for aluminium frame fabrication. And we supply the majority of aluminium frame makers in the UK and Ireland. But, there remains a number of fabricators who, led by their systems houses – usually overseas based – that bring in new tools as well as sending tools for refurbishment, from and to companies overseas. And that doesn’t make sense, as you might imagine, to us at Jade Engineering.”

Their sentiments are understandable of course, if only from the perspective of a business losing sales to another business. But upon closer examination Sean’s sentiments tend to make sense: “We are located in Coventry, in the centre of the country, one and a half hours from the majority of window and door manufacturers in the United Kingdom, but a few hours’ van journey from all. We have a reputation for producing tooling and machinery that matches the quality of anything else on the market and actually, better than most. And yet a number of producers continue to import and expert their aluminium tooling.”

Despite his protestations Sean does not believe there is any negative agenda, but mostly a matter of habit: “When a company is based on mainland Europe or even further afield, they have their own established networks and suppliers and it is natural to continue trading with these when setting up in a new market. Once established however, it makes sense to look around, to fine tune to the new local market. We talk to hundreds of fabricators of course, who we regularly supply with PVC-U tooling and who have taken on aluminium fabrication. And they are able to compare the logistics of local supply of tooling and related operations and that of their aluminium, overseas based sysco. And they are frustrated with the delays incurred by importing tooling.”

Whichever side of the Brexit line one stands politically, importing from the EU is often fraught with complexity and added cost, something that is compounded greatly when refurbishment cycles are involved: “Sending tools, such as punch tools for example, back to the European manufacturer for refurbishment doubles the logistical issues,” reflected Sean, “with greater difficulties experienced with EU borders than, for example, China and the Far East. However, although relatively rare, sourcing from the Far East carries with it extremely long lead times and the constant perils of weather, politics and other unpredictable events.”

All of which begs the question: Why does any company continue to bring tooling from overseas? “Of course, for many overseas-based firms they are making money at the gates of their home factory,” explained Sean. “They want to oil the wheels of the larger corporate beast. But all too often, they simply have not considered the implications of buying locally against their traditional extended supply routes. Either way of course, the impact is felt by the fabricator whose production is negatively affected by delays in replacement tooling. 

“It’s not a case of ‘Buy British’ out of patriotism. It just makes sense,” concluded Sean.  

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