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80th anniversary for the Materials Handling Engineers Association

Peter Webster, former President (2001) and then Secretary (until December 2017), gives his thoughts on the Materials Handling Engineers Association’s purpose and future and reflects on his own relationship with the association.

“The MHEA was formed in the late 1930s by a group of like-minded businessmen to tie together their commercial interests and to enable buyers to see them all together.  During the war years, the effects of the Blitz inevitably brought about plenty of building work and a raft of Government contracts followed.

“Today, membership is healthy and we comprise a varied selection of different types of businesses, and the people who get involved with the running of the MHEA are just as interesting!  When I was President, I appointed the late MHEA legend, Dr Harold Wright as Secretary.  He was a PhD and specialist plant engineer, while I left school with A-levels and was self-taught through all my business experience.  Yet both of us rose to prominence within the Materials Handling Engineers Association because of its commercial rather than academic focus as an association, and its opportunities for all.

“Membership remains a broad church, with a wide spectrum of manufacturers and suppliers from across the bulk materials handling industry.  It includes one-man bands and multi-million-pound corporations; it is diverse and non-specialised, bringing together a wealth of resources and experience under one roof.

“It is this diversity that creates the networking opportunities inherent in the MHEA and one of the key reasons for being a member.  As a commercial and not academic organisation, it’s much more flexible in terms of eligibility for companies to be able to join; it facilitates companies across a broad sphere to meet informally, whether they are fierce rivals or potential customers.  The annual events we now hold, such as the Awards Dinner, Conference and Exhibition, are excellent for doing just that.  We also hold site visits a few times a year to provide a real insight into how different sectors operate, and they have proved invaluable to all members who have attended in the past.

“It is worth asking for a moment whether there is still a place for a trade association in 2018.  In the first instance, membership still confers on its members the status of belonging to a trade body and it demonstrates that their businesses are reputable, credible and serious about what they deliver; that in itself is worth joining for many of our member companies. The challenges to interact with our end users remain great.  We all know that Google is the alternative for every search; many engineers will be time poor and unable to physically spend time attending events and meetings.  At the same time, without close working relationships across our industry, it can be extremely challenging to make the progress and achieve the growth you need.  Certainly, we must be able to adapt and find solutions for these issues, because they’re not going away!

“I believe the MHEA is moving in the right direction.  We now have a professional services provider involved with the day-to-day tasks of running an association which is the contemporary way of managing things and frees up our current President, John Connolly, to be involved and represent the MHEA at all events.  Our Executive Committee formally runs the association and sets our professional service provider a number of KPIs to achieve each year; this provides focus and raises standards and aspirations.

2018 is the Material Handling Engineers’ Association’s 80th or oak anniversary and we are launching a commemorative logo in support of our celebrations.  We are going to have another tremendous year, with the MHEA encouraging excellence through its awards, as well as industry debate and education through our site visits and two-day conference in October.   Here’s to the next 80 years!


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