FORD, comprising Ford Component Manufacturing Ltd and Ford Aerospace Ltd, is an award-winning engineering operation based in South Tyneside, which celebrates its centenary this year. The company is a highly successful specialist in the precision machining and pressing of components and assemblies for the aerospace, defence and other related high-technology industries.
Third generation chairman, Geoff Ford, is in no doubt about the sense of achievement involved. “My grandfather began the business in February,1910, with two members of staff, and since then, we’ve survived two fires, two world wars and numerous recessions. We’ve also had to reinvent ourselves several times over the decades and I believe that every reinvention was virtually a new start.
We enjoy manufacturing for a myriad of reasons: it’s never dull, there are always fresh challenges and I feel that we have a serious responsibility as the creators of the original wealth, without which the economy, or society, could not function.
We must also be at our most flexible to take full advantage of the “new economies” which could give the North East a unique opportunity to help shape the future. I believe we can replicate the imagination, innovation and inventiveness, so strongly associated with our past and apply them to our future.
We need to focus on the image of manufacturing, which does not have a positive feel to it. There is an enormous range of career opportunities available to people of all ages, including sales, purchasing, finance, IT, quality, HR, engineering and administration. We are very fortunate to have Blue Venture in South Tyneside, which is our Education Business Partnership, led by the inspiring Gillian Bulman. Blue Venture are working with individuals such as Janet Elsy to promote manufacturing in our borough to students of all ages in our schools.
We also need to give real impetus to the Diploma opportunities now available to young people, especially in manufacturing and product design, along with engineering. The government’s drive on apprenticeships, if it’s genuine, should also help us ensure a constant flow of talent into manufacturing. The Engineering Employers’ Forum (EEF) is doing a tremendous amount of work to address the skills issue, which may yet be our greatest challenge.
It must have been his appreciation of the importance of manufacturing which caused my grandfather, Robert Ford, to set up in business in 1910. We intend to continue to repay his faith in manufacturing.”
Ford Aerospace, despite having to trim its workforce during the current recession, has invested more than £450,000, so far in 2010, on equipment, has embarked on a Continuous Improvement Programme with the Manufacturing Advisory Service, and has signed up to a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Newcastle University to improve production of its laminated shimstock product, called Easipeel.
Ford Aerospace’s operations director, Mark Podmore, is putting the finishing touches to an ambitious three-year plan. Mark commented, “We have not escaped the effects of the recession, but we are determined to be in shape for the recovery, when we fully intend to increase our market share, based on our performance, and our ever-increasing product range and services.”
Ford’s other arm, Ford Component Manufacturing, whose principal activity is presswork, numbers several household names among its customer base, including North East based automotive supplier, Freudenberg Technical Products, as well as Caterpillar, JCB, Komatsu, Bombardier Rail and US fastener specialist, Anixter.
Ford Components have benefited from a £150k GBI grant from ONE to help fund, among other things, a CNC laser cutting facility.
Both Ford companies intend to exploit market share opportunities, come the recovery, by being the best in their fields. Geoff Ford and Mark Podmore agree, “We’re determined to make it happen.”