This year’s Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service Conference set out a strong vision for the future of Scotland’s industrial sector. Jonny Williamson reports.
The seventh biennial Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS) Conference offered two clear key take-aways for attendees – sharing best practice and effective collaboration; both of which flowed through every aspect of the two-day event.
A day of best practice visits set the tone, with delegates offered the opportunity to get under the skin of seven of Scotland’s’ most successful manufacturers, including Tokheim; Brand-Rex; Highland Colour Coaters, and Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning.
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The evening saw more than 200 key industrial decision makers come together for the pre-conference gala dinner, with several insightful presentations capped off with a spirited discussion of productivity and global competition from South Bank University’s resident futurologist, James Woudhuysen.
Having broken bread together, there was a relaxed atmosphere among delegates for the morning’s plenary, hosted by conference chair and former Scottish business journalist of the year, Bill Jamieson.
Building upon Scottish Enterprises’ recently launched Manufacturing Action Plan – A Manufacturing Future for Scotland – speakers highlighted how directors, executives and managers could help drive the whole of Scottish industry forward by focusing on driving growth within their own businesses.
Optos was heralded as the epitome of that ethos, standing as a testament to what’s achievable with a proactive, forward-thinking attitude towards investment and innovation.
The high-tech business – which designs, develops and manufactures ultra-widefield retinal imaging devices – demonstrates a possible future of Scottish manufacturing, one where challenging the status quo has become commonplace.
“There has been a seismic shift in Scottish manufacturing, from shipbuilding to aerospace, electronics and biotech; the key defining features of which has been innovation and disruption,” explained Adrian Gillespie, managing director of Scottish Enterprise.
Gillespie posed the question, “what does the technological future being driven by companies the likes of Airbnb, Uber, and Alibaba mean for manufacturing in Scotland?”
He urged businesses to disregard unhelpful headlines warning that robots are marching to steal everybody’s jobs, and look instead to history – which has repeatedly shown that automation creates jobs, and high-value ones at that.
The historic lack of investment by Scottish industry (and arguably the rest of the UK) in advanced automation and robotics shouldn’t be seen as a negative, Gillespie continued, but a huge opportunity.
He concluded by noting that embracing Industry 4.0 technologies had become crucial for manufacturers to remain globally competitive, and ultimately relevant – it had become a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’.
Dr Hamid Mugal, director of global manufacturing at Rolls-Royce take Gillespie’s comments a step further, offering a vision of the future where a nation’s design and manufacturing ability superseded its defence capability.
Manufacturing offers both economic and societal capital, however Mughal argued that its impact on society was of greater importance. The benefit industry brings in terms of national pride, quality of life and innovation is vital, and more needs to be done to highlight that, he added.
“A globally competitive industrial sector cannot be built on fragile foundations. You cannot leap into the future without solving today’s problems,” he noted. “Analysis of the best performing companies indicated a systematic approach to manufacturing excellence, i.e. consistency and predictability.
“However, continual improvement is no longer enough. Gains of one or two per cent need to be elevated to a step change of five to ten per cent. How can such an increase be achieved? By investing in advanced manufacturing technologies.”
Mughal concluded by noting that if Singapore and Israel, small countries without Scotland’s industrial heritage and capability, could become globally recognised manufacturing nations, then so too could Scotland.
According to Mughal, the opportunities facing Scottish manufacturing are “mouth-watering”, and all that was required to realise them should be relatively simple to implement: a greater emphasis on collaboration, innovation and investment.
Road to growth
The mornings plenary drew to a close with a state of the nation address from Keith Brown MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work.
He acknowledged –indeed, lamented – the Scottish government’s historic lack of infrastructure investment, particularly roads. However, things are beginning to move in the right direction, he stressed.
An inadequate infrastructure network hampers the potential growth of a manufacturing sector, making the import / export of materials and products that much more difficult.
Conversely, Brown continued, a robust road and rail network can help stimulate economic growth on not only a local level, but also nationally.
Referencing the recent vote to leave the European Union, he admitted that there would, of course, be challenges, but there would also be a raft of opportunities, the trick was to try and look through the noise.
Capitalising on those opportunities would again rely on sharing best practice and effective collaboration; for example, offset material imports which have become more expensive since the vote with indigenously produced equivalents.
Director of SMAS, Nick Shields commented: “Increasing productivity is the key to generating wealth in any economy. The Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS) has always focussed on helping businesses generate productivity savings into their business through operational excellence.
“Dr Mughal’s principle, ‘first get your house in order, and then put on the extension’ really resonates, as this has always been the baseline for making a case for new investment. It’s no secret that the most efficient businesses are far more likely to attract investment projects.
“The advent of Industry 4.0 will no doubt act as a stimulus for all businesses to review their technology and consider the next big steps. We know that the UK has lagged behind on automation and investment, and now is the time to act.
“SMAS and Scottish Enterprise are geared up to help companies drive their business cases towards these investment opportunities. We would encourage all businesses leaders to continue to consider how they can accelerate productivity, from small, incremental improvements right through to investment and achieving business excellence, much of which will be driven by Industry 4.0.
“This year’s conference was all about raising ambitions and highlighting the support network that exists to assist businesses through this process of driving up their productivity.
“The SMAS team works with all manufacturing firms across Scotland who want to increase their productivity – please get in touch with us to discuss how we can help your business take the next step.”
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