SAY the word manufacturing and most people think of the Midlands or the north of England.

You may be surprised that the south-east now represents the biggest manufacturing region in the United Kingdom.

Government statistics show the area, which includes Hampshire and Surrey, generates about 25% of UK manufacturing output, contributing around £30billion a year to the economy.

The influence of this part of the UK is predicted to grow, especially in advanced engineering.

Organisations like the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) have an important role to play.

A Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) report shows that on average the MAS is delivering added value worth £85,000 for each company receiving support.

MAS specialists have helped some companies to improve productivity by up to £600,000.

The DTI-sponsored MAS is run by EEF South, the regional engineering employers’ association, with the support of the South East England Development Agency, the Business Link network and other organistions.

A manufacturing specialist is located in each county.

In Hampshire the service is led by Neil Fedden, who has helped companies take positive steps towards implementing a lean manufacturing culture, resulting in productivity improvements.

Mr Fedden, who previously worked as an

engineering, manufacturing and senior projects’ manager in the injection moulding, electronics and car industries, said: “I love the diversity of the companies we work with.

“One day you are working with a traditional engineering company and the next looking at putting best manufacturing practice into a horticultural company.”

He said a major challenge facing Hampshire manufacturers was controlling costs while meeting the demands of an increasingly varied consumer market.

“This is where tools like lean manufacturing come into their own — the ability to reduce lead times gives companies a real competitive edge,” he said.

He advised manufacturers never to overlook the talent within their own organisations.

“In nearly every case where we have achieved significant improvement the ideas generated have come from within the organisation and we have simply helped the team develop them,” he said.

For information on the service, available to small and medium sized manufacturing companies, call 0845 609 2121.