Another year, another crop of shining examples of manufacturing excellence. According to the statistics, the UK's manufacturing industry is in recession. Maybe so - yet our winners are not only robustly profitable but, in a few cases, have requested that we avoid publishing precisely how much money they make. How are they doing this? Focusing on excellence is part of the answer. When times are hard, wasting capacity and resources on poor quality or low levels of productivity is a short-cut to ruin.
And with customers whose resources are stretched, the ability to respond quickly and imaginatively to their needs is vital. But that has always been the case.
What's new about some of this year's winners is that they have re-thought their strategies over the past two or three years, and increasingly positioned themselves within profitable niches. Take Linpac, joint winner in our Household & General Products category. Making cardboard boxes is mundane, one might think - but Linpac prospers by offering much more. Such as boxes that don't jam up customers' packing lines; boxes with dimensions chosen to maximise the amount of product that can be packed on a truck; and boxes that can be assembled faster, saving precious seconds on high-speed packing lines. Or take Southco, our Factory of the Year, which specialises in hinges, handles and latches for industrial equipment. This focus enables it to offer no fewer than 20,000 variants, embracing widely different technologies, and incorporating patented innovations. Its mastery of the niche is so absolute that even the giant automotive manufacturers come to it for designs. Needless to say, the business is highly profitable - and being privately owned, has investment freedoms not given to publicly held companies with shareholders to pay.