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Known by Association by guest blogger John Swain

Posted on: Dec 3rd

As a young man, heading a small company struggling to survive, I had little time or interest to get involved with trade associations. I can no longer recall what prompted me to have a change of heart, but I think it was around the mid-eighties I decided to test the waters and join the Metal Finishing Association (this has since been incorporated into the Surface Engineering Association).

Almost immediately I was drafted onto the Membership Committee and made to feel appreciated. I should explain that the majority of the MFA members were made up of electro-platers and coaters of one form or another. We were somewhat the black sheep, because we didn’t add something to a surface, quite the contrary, we removed a fine surface layer for very good reasons. More on that later.

Three years after joining, I found myself chairman of the MFA. Being a black sheep was of no hindrance, as much of the discussions hinged on matters like health and safety, environmental concerns and employment legislation in general. Over 20 years later, we remain active members of the Surface Engineering Association, (SEA). This has involved me personally in an investigative visit to Germany to establish differences in floor-shop managerial qualifications in the metal finishing industries (Germany was my home for over 5 years when I was in my twenties). I still attend regular briefing sessions at Westminster with some Lords and Members of Parliament on issues affecting the finishing industries.

I ask the question of the members, why are they in the SEA? Many will answer it is because of early alerts to the introduction of both new legislation and new regulation, which could impinge on their daily working practices. If that alone is it, I think they are missing a trick. More on that later.

We joined the British Stainless Steel Association (BSSA) when it was still the British Stainless Steel Fabricators’ Association. (I don’t have the T-shirt, but I still have the tie to prove it!). After a couple of years, I found myself sitting on the Council’s Committee as one of the representatives for ordinary members, as opposed to those representing producers and stockholders. Again Iwas destined to become chairman, in fact I was the last chairman of the BSFA before it changed its name to BSSA.?

I suppose my mission was to surreptitiously advertise my company’s name and the services it offered. Very few engaged with stainless steel were familiar with electropolishing 40 years ago when we first formed our company. I mentioned earlier that the process we operate removes a fine layer from stainless steel surfaces. The end result is a clean, highly reflective, micro-smooth finish. Applications for such a finish range from small surgical implant stents to the polished radiator grills on a range of Bentley cars.

With regard to our membership of the Association of Welding Distribution, we are the relatively new kids on the block. What do we hope to gain from membership? As well as operating sub-contract processes for treating metals, we also produce and sell a large range of chemicals. Amongst these is a range of pickling products for cleaning stainless steel welds. Being the only known UK company manufacturing pickling pastes, we saw an?opportunity to extend our market through membership of AWD.

On this page I have tried to analyse the reasons behind our membership of trade associations.There is, however, another important aspect of membership, which goes beyond paying an annual subscription and receiving the odd useful, relevant information. To get the maximum benefit from your membership, you need to get involved with your Association, rather than stand on the side-line. Attend conferences, seminars and regional meetings and mingle and network with others in your industry. Pass on positive items about your company’s activities for possible publication in the Association’s website or magazine. If you have the time, volunteer to sit on one of the committees and let your voice be heard, as well as making new friends.

There is no doubt that Trade Associations serve a useful purpose, but in order to obtain the full benefits on offer, you have to make an effort. Regard it as a two-way partnership and play your part in helping to achieve a successful “marriage”.

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