Do not be fooled by anyone who tells you that manufacturing is dead in the UK. In fact, one company has decided to accelerate its growth by moving to a new building and opening up a new assembly plant for its metal detector business.

Fortress Technology has been operating since 1998 and has always had its European headquarters in Oxfordshire but, to date, the manufacturing had always been carried out in Canada.

However, recently the decision was made to invest £2m, move along Beaumont Road to a 10,500 sq ft facility and triple the headcount.

But why do this when many manufacturers, including well-known names such as Dyson, have been setting up operations in countries such as China, India or Eastern Europe, where labour costs are cheap?

Jokingly, managing director Sarah Ketchin suggests they must be mad — but there is real method to this madness.

She said: “The UK is the centre of the metal detection industry and we were gaining contracts and generating more sales.

“We were also aware of the risks with exchange rates, especially surrounding the Canadian dollar and imports were becoming more expensive.

“Lots of firms have gone to places like China but we felt the situation would turn full circle and already the Chinese economy is changing.

“Our carbon footprint was also too high, so it became more sensible for us to come here.”

It was also decided that Fortress could afford to fund the development, especially with a growing customer base in the UK and Europe.

Although sales are increasing, the Fortress philosophy is not about selling as many machines as possible but focusing on quality and customer service.

Ms Ketchin added: “That is more important and we are more in control of that by having the manufacturing here.”

Another worry for manufacturers in the UK is finding staff with the right training and background but, again, that has not proved to be a hurdle.

“All the people we have taken on are local and we have been really lucky with the calibre of people we have found here,” Ms Ketchin said.

The workforce has a wide range of backgrounds but north Oxfordshire’s tradition of engineering and component manufacture, for example in the car and motorsport industries, has provided a rich seam of talent.

Having grown rapidly and managed the change, Ms Ketchin is looking forward to seeing what her team, which has expanded from seven to 23 in the last year, is really capable of.

“We have had to learn how to make the product and one of our engineers went out to Canada, came back with the information and taught everybody else.”

A performance management system has also been put in place to give workers the opportunity to reach their potential and progress through the ranks.

The biggest market for Fortress is the food industry with metal detection vital to pick up contamination in food as it goes along the production line. This could come from any machine involved in the manufacturing process. The detector can pick up three types of metal — ferrous, aluminium and stainless steel.

If metal is detected, an alarm is sounded and the contaminated product can be removed from the process or production stopped altogether while the source is investigated.

The detector itself costs about £4,000 and is usually linked to a conveyor and customers, for example in the food industry, require bespoke fittings depending on the type of product. From taking an order to completion can take up to six weeks, with a typical overall cost of £8,500.

Many customers are suppliers to the major supermarkets and again having the new premises and manufacturing operation means they can visit and see how the business is growing which acts as a confidence boost for them. Other industries requiring a metal detection capability include paper, plastics and even food waste processors.

Fortress has now enrolled in the Government’s UK Trade and Investment Passport to Export scheme to help with expansion into markets such as Poland and India, providing what Ms Ketchin describes as another “step change” for the business.

An advisor has visited the company, something which has proved invaluable, and the push into new territories is starting.

All this is a far cry from the beginnings of Fortress Technology with Ms Ketchin based in the bedroom of her Fenny Compton home, while company founders Steve Gidman and Dino Rosati established the Canadian operation.

But since then Fortress has grown steadily moving in and out of a succession of units in Banbury starting with 500 sq ft and now occupying the Phantom Building which is 20 times that size.

Annual turnover is £1.6m and growing and expected to increase by ten per cent this year.

Firm evidence, if any was needed, that even in difficult economic times, manufacturing is alive and well in this country.