Looking back over 2018’s UK manufacturing M&A activity
Over the last six months we have been pleased to see UK manufacturers largely ignore an at times frustratingly and unjustly negative political and industry commentary, by delivering modest but sustained growth and consistently adding jobs. Our last industrial sector report showed a roaring second quarter to 2018, with 127 deals, materially ahead of every quarter since.
Order books are strong and the critical PMI for UK Manufacturing scored 53 or above in every reported month except one in 2018. To put this into context, we dipped below 50 in both 2013 and 2014 and as recently as 2016. Industry commentary has implied that the strong score of 54.2 in December was principally driven by customers stocking up ahead of Brexit, but the score isn’t actually that out of line with the H2 average.
It is clear trade acquirers and investors remain positive on UK manufacturing as deal volumes in H2 2018 were ahead of the same period last year (234 deals vs. 220) and multiples achieved were also marginally higher.
In fact, 2018 included a veritable wave of M&A involving some of the UK’s largest manufacturers. The year started with the completion of the most significant deal of the year, the acquisition of GKN by Industrial improvement specialist Melrose PLC, following a hostile process late in 2017. Two other major UK PLC’s were then acquired in March. First, electronics manufacturer Laird PLC was picked up by Private Equity Fund Advent and then Fenner PLC, a world-leading manufacturer of conveyor belts, was acquired by Michelin of France for £1.3bn.
- Ferrari revealed as the world’s strongest brand, fighting off global tech giants
- Airbus unveils the construction of its new A220 manufacturing facility
- Toyota and Panasonic reportedly partner to produce batteries for electric vehicles
The second half of the year saw the remaining FTSE 100 manufacturers active in selling or demerging units. First, Rolls Royce sold its commercial marine business to Norway-based Kongsberg for c.£500mn, securing valuable cash during a difficult period for its world leading aero engines business. Next, Smiths PLC chose to call time on a proposed merger of its prized Healthcare division with ICU Medical of the US and instead announced that the business will be demerged and become a stand-alone listed entity.
2018 also saw a good level of outward bound buyside activity from our biggest manufacturers. The highlights were arguably DS Smith’s £1.6bn acquisition of Spanish packaging group Papeles y Cartones de Europa and Weir Group’s £900mn acquisition of North America process equipment parts manufacturer ESCO Corporation. The latter acquisition is in line with the Scottish FTSE 250 engineer’s increasing focus on its world-leading mining and aggregates equipment business.
International technical manufactures also came into the spotlight at the end of 2018 with deals such as the sale of Cursor Controls to discoverIE Group plc and the sale of Chess Technologies to another listed buyer, Cohort plc. It was particularly pleasing to see two UK plc’s investing in these high IP and heavily international technical manufacturers. Shortly after Livingstone closed the Chess deal they garnered some good press coverage as they kindly lent one of their world-leading anti-drone systems to Gatwick Airport to allow the airport to stop its drone-related problems and get people heading off for Christmas on their planes. Gatwick has since installed Chess’ technology in the wake of the drone incursion in December.
Despite ongoing Brexit negotiations, the manufacturing industry remains an attractive place for investors
Fluent.ai x BSH: Voice Automating the Assembly Line
Fluent.ai has deployed its voice recognition solutions in one of BSH’s German factories. BSH leads the market in producing connected appliances—its brands include Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau, NEFF, and Thermador, and with this new partnership, the company intends to cut transition time in its assembly lines.
According to BSH, voice automation will yield 75-100% efficiency gains—but it’s the collaboration between the two companies that stands out. ‘After considering 11 companies for this partnership, we chose Fluent.ai because of their key competitive differentiators’, explained Ion Hauer, Venture Partner at BSH Startup Kitchen.
What Sets Fluent.ai Apart?
After seven years of research, the company developed a wide range of artificial intelligence (AI) software products to help original equipment manufacturers (OEM) expand their services. Three key aspects stood out to BSH, which operates across the world and in unique factory environments.
- Robust noise controls. The system can operate even in loud conditions.
- Low latency. The AI understands commands quickly and accurately.
- Multilingual support. BSH can expand the automation to any of its 50+ country operations.
How Voice Automation Works
Instead of pressing buttons, BSH factory workers will now be able to speak into a headset fitted with Fluent.ai’s voice recognition technology. After uttering a WakeWord, workers can use a command to start assembly line movement. As the technology is hands-free, workers benefit from less physical strain, which will both reduce employee fatigue and boost line production.
‘Implementing Fluent’s technology has already improved efficiencies within our factory, with initial implementation of the solution cutting down the transition time from four seconds to one and a half”, said Markus Maier, Project Lead at the BSH factory. ‘In the long run, the production time savings will be invaluable’.
Future Global Adoption
In the coming years, BSH and Fluent.ai will continue to push for artificial intelligence on factory lines, pursuing efficiency, ergonomics, and a healthy work environment. ‘We started with Fluent.ai on one factory assembly line, moved to three, and [are now] considering rolling the technology out worldwide’, said Maier.
Said Probal Lala, Fluent.ai’s CEO: ‘We are thrilled to be working with BSH, a company at the forefront of innovation. Seeing your solution out in the real world is incredibly rewarding, and we look forward to continuing and growing our collaboration’.