The Advanced Precision Engineering Consortium (APEC) is one of a number of supplier consortiums that have been created with assistance from the Somerset Chamber's Hinckley Supply Chain Team to make the most of the opportunities around Hinckley Point C and other large infrastructure projects.
However, whereas the majority of these collaborations have been formed in response to a potential work package request, APEC differs in that it has been driven by a group of proactive companies prior to a specific requirement being identified.
The partnership between high precision engineering firms CAM Machine Components (CMC), Berry & Escott, TMB Patterns and Metaltech Precision has resulted in a ‘one-stop-shop' that can deliver a comprehensive range of skills and capabilities across a variety of engineering fields. It offers over 200 years' combined experience and a joint workforce of more than 200 employees.
The South West-based consortium was formed following various discussions at events linked with Hinckley Point C where it was identified that a collaboration of multi-skills would be required to handle any one project.
Chris Escott from Berry & Escott explains: “Early on it became apparent that the potential size of projects required for Hinckley Point C could be much larger than any one of our companies could handle, so after conversations at Somerset Chamber events it was decided that forming a new consortium would better equip us to manage these opportunities as well as share knowledge and experience.”
Mr Escott adds that the support received from the Somerset Chamber has been vital: “The Somerset Chamber has been instrumental in helping us set up this group, from the initial talks at the events to chairing the first meeting at their premises and the continued support at the following meetings we have had. They have provided invaluable advice and given us the impetus and direction to acquire new business in new sectors.”
All four companies within the group are on or have completed the ‘Fit For Nuclear' (F4N) process, ensuring they have the correct procedures and accreditations to be able to work in the demanding nuclear sector. Mr Escott explains that they have all learned a lot through this process, which has been pivotal in highlighting areas to strengthen within their businesses.
“Since the beginning of this journey we realised that early planning is essential to allow a steady progression towards being ‘Fit For Nuclear' so it does not become overwhelming. It's clear to see that with the new skills and training built up through this process, we are continually improving our business model.”
The F4N process has been a positive learning curve for all of the companies involved as Andrew Riste from Metaltech Precision affirms: “Nuclear is a totally different culture; route to market can be very difficult and painstakingly slow. By attending workshops we were introduced to the F4N programme run by the NAMRC. This is a must for anyone looking at supplying into this industry; it fine tunes your internal plans and processes to ensure you are prepared for any potential client coming through your door.”
To businesses considering collaborating for Hinckley or other large opportunities, Bill Colquhoun from TMB Patterns advises, “Make sure each company is diverse enough to support the opportunities. In APEC's case, for instance, each of the four businesses has specific core skills to offer different avenues of engineering talents on projects. Look at what you can offer and get involved.”
He continues: “Use the resources and advice available to you such as the Somerset Chamber and MAS, and be proactive with the advice given and your approach. Trying to win contracts or business from any large organisations can be a difficult task if you are perceived as not having the resources to cope. I think you need to take a proactive stance to look at ways to secure new business. For us this has never been just about the nuclear sector, although we do recognise it as a strategic goal, but there are plenty of large scale projects out there that we feel we could facilitate utilising the skills we have in the group.”
The companies involved in APEC are already benefiting from the collaboration by offering their joint expertise for projects when the opportunity arises, as Gervase Winn from CMC explains: “As a group, we are already seeing benefits from the consortium. By talking to each other – something we may not have done previously for fear of competition – we are now exchanging drawings on which to quote. The open approach, whilst initially of some concern, is proving to be the correct one and importantly we are within a whisker of each other when it comes to quoting a price.”
Asked what they would do differently if they could wind the clock back to when they first became aware of the Hinckley opportunity, Mr Colquhoun says: “Take the lead earlier. Each of the APEC businesses has the opportunity to supply excellent components and projects into the Hinckley supply chain. I felt we were holding back for someone else to press the button.”
Mr Riste suggests: “Push on with the F4N programme a bit sooner. There is a massive opportunity for the supply of machined components into the nuclear industry, not just Hinckley. Since being signed off and our details being placed on the NAMRC website we have seen a definite increase in tendering opportunities within this sector.”
To those businesses not already signed up on the Hinckley supply chain portal or involved with the project, Chris Escott advises: “Getting your company ready to supply the Hinckley project is quite a lengthy process but it's definitely not too late to get involved. We would recommend signing up onto the Hinckley supply chain portal to keep up to date with all the latest news and events, as this has helped us no end in keeping abreast of opportunities.
“Although it might appear that potential opportunities for your sector are a long way off, it pays to get involved early on so you are fully prepared for when that day does come. It can take quite a long time to obtain the right accreditations and, just as importantly, to instil the nuclear safety culture into your business and staff.”
Summing up, Mr Riste concludes: “Go for it. There are other collaborations that have already been formed off the back of Hinckley and already are proving to be successful. Get registered on the supply chain portal as soon as possible – you have nothing to lose and so much to gain.”
APEC will be exhibiting at the forthcoming Southern Manufacturing exhibition from 9-11 February on stand S98.