Essential tips for growing manufacturers

Posted on 29 Apr 2024 by The Manufacturer

Lynne O’Hare, Chief Portfolio Officer at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, offers guidance to manufacturing businesses attempting to scale up while staying productive and profitable.

A good product, well-made has a lot more potential than a great product, poorly produced – but “well made” doesn’t just mean a quality product output. It means using manufacturing methods that are sustainable in terms of people, planet and profit. It is essential that a business stays just as focused on understanding and refining its manufacturing processes as it is on creating products. Helping manufacturers to make smarter, more sustainable choices when building their production line is central to so much of what we do at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, whether working with fledging start-ups or helping long-established ventures.

It is more important than ever to build finically and economically optimised factories and facilities – so what steps should prospective and growing industrialists take to get the most out of their investment?

Firstly, be smart about your equipment – think about the production line as a whole instead of only thinking about the best individual pieces of machinery. Anyone who has ever bought and commissioned industrial machinery – or has been asked to make two or more machines from different places play nicely together – understands the very real pain that a company could be in for if they don’t. Look at manufacturing system design with the same intensity, skill and expertise as you look at your products or your bottom line.

Manufacturers should define risks to help to unlock investment. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but if investors want to see that you’ve considered the potential pitfalls of setting up a manufacturing facility and how to mitigate against them. Finance is easier to come by if it is clear to investors that your cost models, risk and timing assumptions are extremely credible, and tested against real-world examples and experience.

Your plans will likely be more conservative and contingencies a little larger, but it is important to spend your time and energy addressing any difficulties you face in the factory instead of keeping your financiers up to speed with unforeseen challenges. This may require more patient investors, but it is ultimately better to find the right partner. Alternatively, you could look to de-risk the investment case, perhaps by securing government support from Innovate UK.

You should also consciously take account of your environment when you design your manufacturing system. That includes the talent available in the area you plan to make the product, and opportunities to develop a pipeline, as much as anything else.

If you need something super complex and specialist, don’t assume that you can just hire ready talent – outline a training cycle and find the right partner to deliver it. If you need a high volume in a particular skill set, explore with your local colleges and universities whether they produce the right kind of numbers of apprentices and graduates that your model needs.

Build your supply network early, with more than one link in each place and more than one chain. Put your relationships, transparency of information flow and IF-THEN-ELSE thinking at the heart of each link. Work with your suppliers actively to make sure you will get exactly what you need – don’t just send them drawings.

Decide together in advance what you would do – both operationally and financially – if there were to be an external disruption to your operations. A chip shortage, a regulatory change, a major customs delay, or a ship suddenly stuck in the Suez Canal, for instance.

Last but by no means least, understand the need to design, develop, deliver and continuously improve your manufacturing system as you would your product. Manufacturing businesses have to be resilient to all kinds of changes in sales and performance, so we must build our manufacturing systems to be adaptable and resilient. Take control over what might happen as you move into or scale up production, and you become more resilient by definition.

Fulfilling these criteria might seem like a daunting prospect at first, but carefully and holistically considering the right manufacturing procurement solutions will pay off – regardless of a manufacturer’s size, sector or stage of growth.

Dr Lynne O’Hare is Chief Portfolio Officer at the HVM Catapult, overseeing the comprehensive portfolio of programmes and responsible for fostering and growing collaboration across the network. 




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