Ep. 89 – Machining in the United Kingdom with Joe Reynolds of MTD

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode in a multi-part series in which we’re interviewing people in the machining world outside the United States. Our first stop was England, where we interviewed Joe Reynolds.

Joe is Director of MTD, a company with several popular websites based in the UK that market prominent machine tool builders and inform people in the machining business on the latest news and technology. He also refers to himself as a “Swarf Guru,” so of course we had to interview him!

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(3:20) Joe shares his background. Originally, he was an engineer and did a 6-year apprenticeship. He worked in sales with a few American companies before starting his own tooling company. Then at the EMO trade show 10 years ago he met Paul Jones, founder of Machine Tool Direct (MTD), which would be later known as MTD. Together they have grown the business to a staff of around 25 people. 

(4:35) Joe explains that MTD is a marketing company for machine tool companies as well as other industrial products firms. Joe says they work with Europe’s largest and most familiar CNC machine tool companies. 

(5:05) Joe describes how MTD works. Its websites focus on talking to people about CNC machines and other machine shop products. The sites feature tons of videos showing the products in action. MTDCNC.com is the most popular.

(7:40) Joe talks about the MTD Podcast. He says that anything that happens in the four walls of a machine shop is a good topic for discussion on the show, from the technology and tooling, to the people behind the scenes. 

(9:20) Joe debunks Noah’s preconceived notions about the UK machining industry. Noah says he has heard that the UK is no longer a major manufacturing center these days. Joe says that UK mainstream media would agree with Noah’s assessment. However, he says a deeper knowledge of the business reveals that manufacturing is massive in the UK. He says it represents 20% of the country’s GDP and nearly 80% of its total exports. He says the average annual salary in the machining field is about 32,000 Sterling, which is above the national average across all industries. He says the country has fewer factories, but they are more efficient. He says the UK is still lagging behind some other countries in Europe as far as adopting automation. 

(12:00) Joe claims that “approximately 80,000 businesses are doing something with a piece of metal in the UK.” He also mentions that the UK is working at improving certain disparities in the industry, including the fact that just 1 in 8 women are employed in manufacturing. He says the country is also struggling with an aging workforce. He says before the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation was 20,000 people short of the skilled labor needed to support the industry.

(14:00) Noah talks about his preconception that there is an occupational “caste” system in the UK. Joe says that this may have been true in the past, but things are changing for the better in England. Joe says that 20 years ago his peers questioned him going into engineering. He also reports that the perception of machinists is improving in the UK. He says there are more apprenticeships and more people are realizing that factories are cleaner and the money is good. 

(18:15) Joe talks about how the country is coping with COVID-19 and how that has impacted the machining industry. He says the government intervened with what it calls a furlough scheme. He says things aren’t as bad as you read in the papers, and that much like in the US, machining companies in the UK range from really hurting to doing well. 

(19:30) Joe describes the Ventilator Challenge, implemented by the UK government in response to the shortage of ventilators. He says the country’s manufacturing sector quickly produced 14,000 ventilators. The initiative helped some companies through a difficult time.

(20:20) Noah and Joe discuss Brexit. Joe claims 50% of people think it’s a good thing while 50% do not. He says the consensus is that it would be best if the country leaves with a deal. He says a good outcome would be the loosening of restrictions on relationships with countries outside of the EU and on exporting to those countries. He says some people believe that the UK doesn’t get enough out of the EU to justify the money it contributes to it. He says fewer companies are leaving then expected because of Brexit. 

(23:30) Joe talks about major companies with factories in UK, including: Boeing, Nissan, Ford, Toyota, Lotus, Jaguar, and Rover. He also lists aerospace companies such as Boeing, Airbus, and Spirit Airways. He says that Boeing chose to build a factory there, even when it knew that Brexit was coming.

(25:20) Joe says the UK is a good place to start a business. (see video) He compares machining company startups in the US to those in the UK. He says he sees a lot of US machining companies starting out in home garages, which is very rare in the UK. He says in England around 60% of machine shops are SME (small to medium enterprises) and have less than 10 people on staff. He says there has never been a better time to start a machining company in the UK, even with the COVID-19 pandemic. He says it is easy to borrow money and find grants, and machine tool dealers will sell machines with deferred payments and zero deposit up front. Joe asks Noah if the American Dream is real. Noah says that many Swarfcast listeners would say that it is. Noah says Americans have a tendency to lump all foreign countries together, which doesn’t provide an accurate picture of businesses overseas.

(30:00) Joe says that a lot of reshoring of manufacturing is occurring in the UK. He says it was already happening due to automation and robotics, as well as rising labor costs in China, and COVID-19 has accelerated the trend. 

(31:00) Joe says that revenues at his company are up and his websites are doing well despite COVID-19. 

(32:00) To view Joe’s various websites, visit MTDCNC.com (machine tools), MTDMFG.com, swarfandchips.com, and MTD.network (supply network). The MTD podcast is available on all the podcast platforms.

Question: Is America still a good place to start a business?

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