High value manufacturing 2015 trends – Innovate UK perspectives

Posted on 8 Dec 2014 by Jonny Williamson

Be it new production processes, speed of innovation or environmentally sound product lines, high value manufacturing means that more manufacturers are realising the potential to be more than just makers of products.

David Wright, head of Manufacturing, Innovate UK
David Wright, head of Manufacturing, Innovate UK

For manufacturers coming through the recession, optimism and confidence is growing – albeit with the recognition that month-on-month growth in manufacturing slowed in late 2014. The fight for survival and staying ahead of competitors places high value manufacturing (HVM) at the heart of the sector.

This exciting new era is expanding manufacturers’ horizons into design, research and service provision, offering new revenue streams. So what does 2015 look like for the UK’s high value manufacturers?  Here’s what I believe will be five dominant themes:

1. Small businesses will be more confident in accessing resources

The year ahead will see more forward-thinking smaller businesses access the finance, resources and capability that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to in the innovation cycle. Smaller businesses have been thwarted by a lack of awareness of the resources available to them and a lack of confidence to seek out help, particularly in the area of finance.

Given that the pace of innovation is constantly accelerating, the winners in 2015 will be those companies that recognise pace as central to their innovation success and have the confidence to engage with the system. A good example of such a company is PolyPhotonix, makers of a highly innovative product that treats people suffering from Diabetic Retinopathy. Its ground-breaking sleep mask has the potential to save the NHS £1bn each year and investment in them by Innovate UK recognised how long it can sometimes take to get an innovative product to market.

Innovate UK worked with Polyphotonix through the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and helped bring the product to market through grants and expert knowledge. More recently, with the help of an SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) contract with the NHS, Polyphotonix is developing a patient care pathway model to guide the eventual approval and adoption of the treatment by NICE and the NHS. By tapping into our expertise and resources, Polyphotonix benefitted from help that other SMEs could receive if they engage early on in the innovation cycle.

2. Pressure to meet the capacity needs of manufacturers moving back from the East

Recent years have seen companies bring back production from the East due to issues such as uncertain or unreliable supply chains, product quality and the opportunity of being physically closer to key customers to develop new products; all of this impacting on a more favourable ‘total acquisition cost’.  This trend of re-shoring is likely to put pressure on the UK’s capable production capacity.  While the availability of skilled people is crucial, there is also likely to be a squeeze on the physical production infrastructure that is vitally needed by these re-shoring companies to ensure that the economic power from manufacturing is centred in the UK.  If we can help provide access to our physical infrastructure, we’ll relieve the pressure and accelerate the trend of manufacturers re-shoring to the UK.

3. Spotlight on the pace of innovation

The pace of innovation is accelerating across multiple sectors including automotive, where the development cycle is now more like three to four years for a new car, compared to almost double this a decade ago. 2015 will see even more pace needed – pace that drives differentiation, enhances business performance and is market disruptive. The successful companies will be those that have a speedy innovation mind set as a route to competitive advantage. A company such as Nikken UK is an example of companies embracing this mind set.

Nikken UK is a leading supplier of precision engineering products, and works regularly with aerospace companies. Titanium alloys are a popular material for aircraft parts thanks to their high strength-to-density ratio and corrosion resistance. However, they are not easy to machine quickly and the process frequently causes high rates of tool damage. Innovate UK worked with Nikken to help it develop its new titanium cutter, speeding up production time as it was able to cut aerospace grade titanium alloy at super-fast rates and remove metal at up to 267cm³/min. The high quality testing facilities that were used helped demonstrate to customers the value this technology could add, and Innovate UK’s help was vital in accelerating the product to market.

4. Application, rather than invention

The world has been fascinated by the discovery of materials such as graphene and shrilk. However in 2015 and beyond, our attention will be turned from the euphoria of discovering these materials to how innovators are putting them to work to improve health, the environment, our built environment, travel and much more.

Billions of pounds are being invested by governments across the world in graphene and the potential applications are hugely diverse, including mobile phone batteries, living tissue, tennis rackets and paints. Expect to start hearing about successful applications of wonder materials in the race for countries and companies to maximise the commercial benefits in this exciting new era of materials applications.

5. 3D or Additive Manufacturing (AM)

Widely adopted in aerospace, automotive and motorsport, AM will start to be applied more broadly across the manufacturing spectrum in 2015. In making AM more mainstream, the wastage traditionally associated with manufacturing component parts will be substantially reduced.

As we’re already starting to see, AM gives way to much more design freedom, with previously unachievable features such as voids and internal angles now easily formed. Complex forms can be made, eliminating the need for joins or welds and expensive production support processes such as tooling.

Innovate UK  is investing more than £20m in collaborative R&D projects to develop this technology in a variety of areas including medical, aerospace and consumer goods. This is currently supporting 18 successful projects, including the Manufacturing Technology Centre, of which a spin out company uses 3D printing for remanufacturing; bringing together separate elements of manufacturing (additive, machining and inspection) into one seamless fully automated process. AM is changing how we manufacture parts, making it leaner and more cost effective and I believe 2015 will see its importance grow even more.

2015 is a big year for HVM. To keep pace with our international peers, we need to continue identifying opportunities to improve the efficiency of manufacturing and one way is through driving innovation.  We have an excellent system here in the UK to originate and spark ideas however sometimes ideas are not enough.

To ensure ideas do not get extinguished by the obstacles that innovators meet along the way, Innovate UK is a partner who can guide and support their progress. We’re always looking to support the next great idea, and if you are interested in finding out more about what we can do for your idea or business, click here.