Dozens of workers lost their jobs on the last day of the year after one of the oldest brass mills in the country collapsed.
All but 15 of the workers at Aldridge-based McKechnie Brass – thought to be the UK’s sole remaining brass bar producer – were made redundant after administrators were called in on December 30.
The company, which has a history that stretches back more than 140 years, said the collapse followed a period of heavy financial losses, as the fluctuating prices of scrap brass put margins under pressure.
Administrators made 60 of the 75-strong workforce redundant, and are in talks with several parties about selling the business.
Manufacturing experts say it is a sad day for the sector, as the firm has supplied thousands of engineering businesses, and will now be forced overseas.
McKechnie Brass, which was bought out of administration with the backing of West Midlands-based industrial conglomerate Grove Industries in September 2011, has a history stretching back to 1871, when it was founded by Duncan McKechnie in St Helens.
It moved to Birmingham in 1894 and became an early pioneer of brass and copper extrusion – but has struggled in recent years, including suffering a production breakdown in November.
A McKechnie Brass spokesman said directors had tried to keep the firm afloat but market conditions made it impossible in the end.
He said: “The appointment of administrators follows a sustained period of heavy financial losses, which resulted from a serious deterioration in trading conditions throughout the last year, particularly relating to the price of scrap brass material.
“These market conditions resulted in the business being unsustainable in its current form and, following a period of discussions with its creditors and funders, the McKechnie Brass directors decided that they had no alternative but to take the administration route.
“While the appointment of an administrator at McKechnie Brass is a matter of great regret, every effort was made to seek to support and develop this business despite exceptionally difficult trading conditions.”
McKechnie Brass appointed John Whitfield of Duff & Phelps as administrator on December 30.
The company manufactures alloy metals for the automotive, electronics, energy and construction industries and struggled following a tightening of scrap material prices throughout last year.
Accounts filed at Companies House by McKechnie Brass for 2012 show that while the firm turned over £16.9 million, its costs accounted for more than 91 per cent of that.
It made a pre-tax loss of £1.2 million for the year, with almost no cash in the bank.
The company spokesman said the collapse came despite a growing order book, and said while there was a production breakdown in November, which affected operations, that was not the prevailing reason.
However, he said the issues were particular to McKechnie, and while Grove Industries had invested to try to turn the company around – including a £6.5 million funding package from asset-based lender Centric Commercial Finance in 2011 – it had not been possible.
He added: “It is true that the business suffered from machinery breakdown affecting one of its production lines in November 2013.
“Though this did not help, the fundamental problem with the business was not this but the tightening of scrap material prices throughout the last year.
This led to substantial losses, despite a growing order book, significant operational improvements and the establishment of a strong local management team.”
The spokesman said Grove Industries continues to seek new acquisitions and support local management teams.
McKechnie has been an engineering force in the UK in each of the last three centuries.
It built its factory in Middlemore Lane, Aldridge, in 1954.
At one stage branches of the company were established in South Africa and New Zealand.
It came to specialise in round rod, shaped rod, turned parts and stampings for the water, gas and electrical industries.
Post manufacturing columnist Russell Luckock said he believes McKechnie Brass is the last remaining UK producer of brass bar.
Mr Luckock, who is chairman of pressings firm AE Harris, added: “I am extremely sad to learn that McKechnie Brass of Aldridge has gone into administration.
“They have supplied thousands of West Midland companies over the years, including mine, with a wide range of extruded brass, and I do hope that a buyer can be found. This country can ill afford to lose basic material producers.”