‘Buy British’ opens new routes - John Cameron

Supporting local businesses has become one of the defining trends during the coronavirus pandemic. From craft distilleries to community bakeries, the “buy local” mantra has echoed from the internet to the high street.

John Cameron is managing director of CB Technology

With borders closing and a surge in demand for electronic devices, the pandemic has also had a knock-on effect for global supply chains, with Brexit triggering added complications. Scottish companies that were reliant on suppliers in Eastern Europe or the Far East for components or products have been left to reassess their supply chains – and consider whether they too could benefit from the “buy local” trend.

Like so many areas of business, the pandemic has accelerated trends in manufacturing that were already present. Increasing geopolitical tensions and trade wars were putting pressure on supply chains, causing headaches for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that had become used to lowering their prices for customers yet still growing their profit margins thanks to the ever-falling cost of components.

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Suddenly, deliveries weren’t as reliable as they used to be, costs were beginning to creep up, and customers were finding a renewed hunger to “buy British”. OEMs have been left to ask themselves if they’re just using the global supply chain for the sake of it, rather than it actually bringing them benefits.

This trend towards bringing production back to the UK creates opportunities for electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies, and especially for nimble small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Scotland is well-placed to be at the forefront of this movement, thanks to the investment that’s been going on within our own industry and within our customers’ sectors.

For example, the Centre of Excellence for Sensing, Imaging, and the Internet of Things (Censis) in Glasgow has led a wave of technological breakthroughs, which in turn has triggered a surge in companies starting up. Me and my team at CB Technology in Livingston have been proud to work with a number of these businesses to help them bring their products to market.

That has involved drawing on experience gained in remote sensing and transmission technologies across the industrial monitoring and control sector for transport systems, building management and the oil and gas industry. It has also meant taking the time to listen to our clients’ needs.

Looking more widely, Scotland is already home to more than 80 companies working in the space sector. The value of the space industry north of the Border is expected to rocket to more than £4 billion by 2030, growing faster than anywhere else in the UK, while areas such as life sciences and robotics are also thriving.

In order to take advantage of this shift back to British manufacturing, EMS companies need to be flexible and responsive to their customers’ requirements. EMS firms should act like their customers’ in-house manufacturing departments by listening to their objectives and coming up with creative options, especially when it comes to navigating restricted supply chains.

“Buying local” can be about much more than sourdough loaves and craft gins. The next step is for companies to remove geopolitical risks from their supply chains by carrying out manufacturing locally too – and agile SMEs in Scotland’s electronics industry stand ready to capitalise on that opportunity.

John Cameron is managing director of CB Technology