Editor’s comments: Risky business

Economists and business pundits said that 2013 would be an unpredictable year. And the opening month suggests that they were right.

Jane Gray, Editor of The Manufacturer
Jane Gray, Editor of The Manufacturer

January brought more speculation about the UK’s future relationship with Europe, an issue close to the hearts of many exporting manufacturers who rely on the EU for ease of trade. It has also highlighted how vulnerable all manufacturers are to blind spots in their supply chains. Whether you make beefburgers or Dreamliners, confidence in the quality and reliability of your suppliers is essential in risk management.

Increasingly it seems that manufacturers must monitor and even influence the way their customers treat their products. IMechE’s report on global food wastage raised some unpalatable truths about the inefficiency and sheer wastefulness of global food production.

Many food and drink manufacturers have made huge leaps in tackling the waste within their bounds – reducing water usage is often a focus area – but can they do more? The IMechE makes the risks of misdirected and inefficient production very plain. Gluttony and waste for some, want and deprivation for many. Can or should manufacturers be held accountable for this wanton waste?

We live in a world of growing and increasingly interconnected risks, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), whose annual meeting was held in Davos as TM went to press, and which released its Global Risks 2013 report earlier in January.

Davos this year concentrated on improving joined up risk-making in global governments and across national borders. Leaders within WEF said that governments have a lot to learn from private sector approaches to risk management.

But if the private sector has the experts here, surely companies can take action, independent of governments, to pour oil on the troubled waters of volatile markets and technology uncertainty?

Stephen Sands at Festo, a sponsor of ’s TM’s Future Factory events Driving Skills Development in the Workforce and Automate UK, is a believer in the ability of businesses to “make their own luck”.

Critical to this is companies’ attitude towards investing in skills, he says. As is their willingness to collaborate – with peers, suppliers and customers – to clarify value chains, for the good of the businesses involved and for those outside industry. This is especially true for young people who need to be shown the variety of ways they can contribute to the creation of the products which keep society ticking. TeenTech, launched by Tomorrow’s World star Maggie Philbin, communicates this in one of the clearest ways I have yet to see.

A fine example of an industry that affects our daily lives in a myriad of ways which might be easily overlooked by Joe Public – or his children – is stainless steel production.

Our lead story this month celebrates that 2013 marks 100 years since the discovery of this incredibly versatile material and recognises its continuing importance to UK manufacturing.