This month 25 years ago: March 1991

3 min read

Environmental legislation; investment boost request; Mitutoyo starts UK manufacture; Hurco in-house CADCAM development; rotary forging club; EU and national industrial policy in the news; machining centre developments

We comment on the introduction of environmental regulations via the Environmental Protection Act. To be introduced from April 1992, this, we say, is similar to German legislation dating back to the mid-80s. We are trailing. And the fact that Germany is to ‘ban’ degreasing chemical trichloroethylene from 1992 but that the UK will not take action till 2005 underlines this point, we say. (Trichloroethylene is today an Annex 14 chemical under REACH, meaning it “will not be allowed to be used, placed on the market or imported into the EU after a date to be set, unless the company is granted an authorisation” – 21 April 2016 is the current ‘sunset date’, but The Dow Chemical Company is seeking authorisation.)

In general, we say it looks like this country will not place a high priority on environmental policies.

This month we also ask whether the Chancellor will listen to industry’s call for a budget to boost investment. There has been no net investment in UK manufacturing in the 10 years from 1979 to 1989, the EEF says. And while the sector’s quality is better [after the shake-out], the organisation says the sector is too small to rectify the country’s trade deficit and support further growth. Manufacturing is 18% of UK GDP at this time (World Bank); it is 11% today (2014: World Bank).

In news this month, metrology specialist Mitutoyo is about to start production at its Telford factory, marking the beginning of European manufacture for the Japanese firm. Initial production will focus on hand-held electronic measuring equipment. Machine tool supplier Hurco says it will now develop its CADCAM software (TDM 3000) in house – this is DEC VAX mini-computer hosted software; a hardware and software package will cost £30,000 (£61,000 today). And the Nottingham-based Rotary Forging Club has been established and has a 200 tonne Heinrich Schmid rotary press at its disposal. UK industry has so far only scratched the surface of this process’s potential, the club says.

A European research project, SPRINT, is seeking to develop abrasive water-jet fettling of castings, with the UK’s British Hydromechanics Research Association (BHR Group today, an independent company) leading this.

European industrial policy also raises its head. The European Commission (EC) says that “The role of public authorities is, above all, to be a catalyst and pioneer for innovation; the main responsibility for industrial competitiveness must lie with firms themselves, but they should be able to expect from public authorities clear and predictable conditions for their activities.” That said, the EC adds that governments do have a major influence on industrial development, but that the main issue is “which conditions are necessary to strengthen allocation of resources by market forces”. The EC’s proposal is for a reference framework against which states’ activities can be measured, not a pan-European policy.

The Labour opposition has released its industrial policy document and calls for a “vigorous and supportive partnership between government and industry”, which is commonplace elsewhere. The party criticises the Conservatives’ hands-off, market alone, company self-interest-driven approach, but the response by one John Redwood is that Labour’s good ideas are already being implemented. Easier to claim were the government to have an explicit industrial policy, we say.

In features this month, machining centre developments are investigated. British machine tool maker FMT (long defunct) is forecasting that machines with 30,000 rpm spindles and rapid feeds of 30 m/min will be with us soon. The company is a horizontal spindle machine specialist.

The low-cost vertical machining centre (VMC) is now with us, with US firm Cincinnati Milacron, which has a major Birmingham manufacturing activity (long closed), producing Sabre 750 and 1250 VMCs (750 and 1,250 mm X-axis), while UK firm Kryle Machine Tools (long defunct) is producing 500 mm X-axis VMCs priced at under £40,000 (over £81,000 today). The Sabre 750 and 1250 models are £55,000 and £65,000 respectively (£111,500 and £132,000).

Events this month

  • Michael Jackson signs $65 million six-album deal with Sony Records
  • UK has fastest rising unemployment in European Community; unemployment now above 2,000,000 for first time in two years
  • UK’s Laura Davies wins LPGA Inamori Golf Classic
  • Edwin H Land, Polaroid camera inventor, dies at 81
  • Soviet Republic of Georgia endorses independence; Warsaw Pact dissolves
  • Commodore release Amiga multimedia appliance CDTV; has CD-ROM, no floppy drive