Katherine Bennett CBE, Chief Executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) reflects on an eventful summer for the organisation and looks forward to what the next 10 years look like for the manufacturing centre.
It’s been a busy summer for the HVMC. We celebrated our tenth anniversary, published our annual report, set targets for the next decade, and I have been fortunate enough to succeed Dick Elsy as chief executive. There has been much else besides, not least the launch of the Government’s Innovation Strategy at The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield. But I wanted to take you through these four milestones and outline what they mean for the HVM Catapult and the future of advanced manufacturing in the UK.
Manufacturers everywhere should salute the highly skilled engineers and scientists who have revived the sector’s fortunes since 2011. It was a brave decision by the then-Coalition Government to look at the industry so much more strategically.
There were initially doubts that the seven centres of excellence comprising the HVM Catapult could work together so effectively, particularly given they serve such a huge range of industries: nuclear to pharma, energy to construction, automotive to aerospace.
But look at what has been achieved in that decade, how the HVM Catapult spurred the industrial transformation that has boosted our national resilience. We have worked with more than 20,000 companies – over half of which were SMEs – boosting their productivity, cutting their carbon emissions and enhancing their ability to win and keep customers.
More than 9,200 commercial and collaborative R&D projects were completed, as the Catapult grew to become the single largest advanced manufacturing research capability in the whole of Europe.
The products and processes our centres have worked on touch every aspect of people’s lives. There have been children’s swimming aids, orthopaedic screwdrivers, biodegradable plastic for the tree planting industry, ultra-light equipment for Paralympians, battery casings for electric vehicles, intelligent robotics for nuclear components, and app-controlled devices to tackle car theft. The range and scale of work have been simply breath-taking.
A year of pandemic
The past 12-18 months have, of course, been difficult for most businesses. The HVM Catapult was no different and we had to adapt, quickly, to keep projects on track. This involved the use of technology to introduce new factory layouts and working practices that kept people at a safe distance from one another.
In our efforts to support doctors, nurses and patients during that dreadful first wave, we adopted virtual reality headsets so that assembly line workers could be trained remotely to the high standards that were necessary.
That helped us stand shoulder-to-shoulder with giants of global industry, delivering almost 13,500 ventilators to the NHS. We have continued the fight against the virus by housing the Covid-19 vaccine library. As many challenges as there have been, the HVM Catapult’s centres still supported nearly 5,900 industrial partners in 2020/21. Again, more than half were SMEs.
Around 2,200 commercial projects were completed, plus 261 with academic institutions. There were also 106 original research publications, which would have been a seriously impressive number in even less turbulent years.
Given the HVM Catapult’s main roles include helping industry and the commercialisation of their great ideas, our finances are not necessarily the best way to judge us. Even so, revenue grew by 5%, demonstrating our sheer activity through the year.
The 2030 vision
The HVM Catapult has built strong foundations, which are vital as we face the challenges of the next decade: climate change, levelling up, the digital transformation of the economy. Our mission is to lead the UK’s charge to become an industrial superpower once again.
By 2030, that will require increasing the size of the manufacturing economy from £220bn to £400bn; doubling UK R&D expenditure in manufacturing and engineering to £44bn; the removal of 40 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s manufacturing sector; and a net increase of 1.5m jobs in construction and manufacturing.
These are heady targets and we know that much of the responsibility for achieving them falls on the HVM Catapult. That’s why we are aiming to support 20,000 SMEs annually in their ambition to scale-up to mid-caps by the end of the decade, while targeting a 10% year-on-year average growth for companies within our network.
We already bring thousands of products to market every 12 months, but our ambition is to hit 10,000 a year by 2030. All this will stimulate inward investment. At £35bn, the amount of overseas money put into the UK is currently too little.
It needs to be 10 times that number, investing in the regions where our skilled scientists, engineers and researchers are located. That will truly level up the country.
Building on success
I’ve often said you need to be lucky in your predecessors. By any measure, Dick Elsy has been an outstanding chief executive throughout his eight-and-a-half-year tenure. To borrow his words, Dick leaves the HVM Catapult “at the peak of its fitness”.
My job is to support our centres in translating that fitness into sustained success, making sure they have the resources and capabilities they need to continue to lead the world in advanced manufacturing.
My immediate priority is the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – in Glasgow. Our centres will have an international platform to demonstrate their successes in the race to net zero.
With even greater collaboration, our best minds will decarbonise this economy and others around the world. There are a number of long-term priorities, but, if the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it’s the importance of our people.
There will be an absolute laser like focus on skills in the coming years, with increased focus on the digitisation capabilities needed should we face another worldwide crisis – be it recession, disease or something not yet predicted.
Perhaps our most challenging target under my watch, then, will be for HVM Catapult to – directly or indirectly – upskill or train 200,000 engineers a year by 2030. If we achieve that, everything else will follow.
More info www.hvm.catapult.org.uk
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Images courtesy of HVM Catapult