Future Factory Series: Inspiring Innovation in Manufacturing – morning session

Posted on 16 Oct 2013 by The Manufacturer

Innovation is undoubtedly manufacturing’s buzzword of the moment. And judging by the discussions at the morning session of TM’s Future Factory Series: Inspiring Innovation in Manufacturing event, this route is certain to shape strategies for years to come.

With more and more manufacturers looking to explore increasingly innovative methods towards business practice and technological implementation, issues around what some consider an often nebulous term were discussed at London’s Grange City Hotel.

Dr Edward Draper introduced the day’s speakers in his opening address, and cited the number of issues in innovation being more complex than manufacturing ones, such as the marked difference between lean innovation and manufacturing.

Dermot Short, group technical director, Suretank

Dermot Short, group technical director of Suretank, maker of cargo carrier units for the oil & gas sector, breached the subject of innovation in process management. In his role overseeing the R & D team, Mr Short discussed the issues of trends of the sector at present and the need for his company to produce tanks to install everywhere from the North Sea to Brazil.

With a client list including Exxon Mobil, Shell and Swire, Suretank has experienced rapid growth over recent years. But problems do persist in the form of critical information being scattered across network drives. As a solution, Suretank implemented Autodesk to integrate key documents and data in a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Apart from a marked difference in staff communication, this has also resulted in greater efficiency and getting contract approval times reduced.

Cerys Wyn Davies, partner, Pinsent Masons

Next up was Cerys Wyn Davies, a partner at international law firm Pinsent Masons. She spoke of intellectual property being no new concept, with the first patent being granted in 1331. In the modern world, it is one of the most important benefits of manufacturing exploiting the market. These property rights are centred around technology, software, brands, moral rights and registered/unregistered. In this area, manufacturing is falling short.

She cited a need for greater attention from companies of its information being stored on laptops and copied, given the enthusiasm of manufacturers to discus and collaborate on ideas. In short, companies need a structure in place to be more protective of ideas. The new Patent Box Regime also discussed. If exploited, it could provide significant tax savings for manufacturers.

James Godman, head of R&T, Agusta Westland

Concluding the first session was James Godman, head of R&T at defence manufacturer AgustaWestland and also chairman of the National Composite Centre. As the UK’s only design and manufacturing company in the UK, it currently employs a workforce of 13,000. On the agenda was future technologies, perhaps the biggest driver on innovation in UK manufacturing. With around 9,500 helicopters alone projected in the coming years, Mr Godman said new ideas and new technology are crucial to this.

With 10 industrial plants, four training academies and 85 customer support centres, AgustaWestland is well backed to grow through innovation. In consumer terms, the company has seen increased sales in VIP products, presenting a learning curve for them, considering its military equipment background. On a global scale, the task facing Britain is massive compared to the engineering graduates of India to China’s 1m annually.

And this is where, Mr Godman says, innovation will become Britain’s trump card. “How do we reuse things and share them is a big issue,” Mr Godman said. “As a smaller country, how do we compete in the long term?” In order to progress innovation, the company needs to inspire people to believe in what it’d doing. “I think we need to get involved in apps and other technologies to see how you can go about promoting ideas in bite size pieces,” he said.

Gordon Macrae, special projects manager, Gripple

Gordon Macrae, special projects manager of Gripple, took the stage for an hour long pre-lunch session, based on observations. Opening his talk with “What does innovation mean to us?” Mr Macrae spoke of previously misguided attempts at innovation by the government, and he said that if you want to do innovation well, it needs to be at the core of a business, spread across three areas.

These include:

  • Culture – Referencing Branson to Dyson
  • Collaboration – Mr Macrae said his company simplifies things under the mantra “find a mate.” Some of his best projects have been through collaboration, for example with universities.
  • Problems – “Innovation starts by finding problem. What we’re all about is coming up with problems that manufacturers need to solve. Finding the problem is the hard part,” he said.

Mr Macrae said there is a need to nurture innovation by overcoming obstacles. The ever growing issue of adding value was also discussed. Gripple has added incremental products not currently in the market place. Currently, a new innovation is the desire to move production of wiring back to Sheffield, away from its current Far East location.

In order to do this, it tried a different wiring strand competition, able to be manufacturing on just three machines. In terms of innovating in a business sense, what makes it stand out is Gripple is an employee owned business, where workers must buy £1,000 worth of shares within the first 12 months of employment. “What this does, was give us an extremely motivated workforce, where employees own part of the business,” he said. “If you focus your staff on innovation, it’s amazing what you can actually achieve with.”

And then came the practical part. Having been presented with an image of a rather drab looking FoxConn plant in China, groups were tasked with first identifying problems, and then deciding how they would bring innovation to the plant.