Rosa Wilkinson explains the vital role of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult in boosting the manufacturing sector, supporting small and emerging businesses and promoting the technologies that will be the bedrock of tackling climate change, healthcare and more.
The power of new technologies and innovation to address major challenges – from healthcare to climate change, and transport to house building – was a key theme of the general election campaigns before Christmas.
Manifestos offered ideas on how the UK’s innovation performance might be boosted, with promises of significant spending programmes to drive progress. But the political parties were not alone in recognising the power of innovation.
Amid all of the noise of the election, readers may also have spotted a new CBI report, Don’t Wait, Innovate, which called on government to spur a national R&D movement to capitalise on areas of existing and burgeoning strength by establishing a series of new ‘Catapult Quarters’ throughout the country.
A look at the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult’s Annual Review, published in December and charting its activity and impacts through 2018/19 makes the reason for the CBI’s interest in the Catapult model all too plain.
As CEO Dick Elsy, comments in his introduction to the Review, there is “clear evidence that we are delivering overwhelmingly positive impacts that often flow far from the manufacturing sector”.
He’s absolutely right. The Review reports that the Catapult’s benefits not only include significant GVA impacts – independent evaluation suggests the Catapult’s work will deliver nearly £16bn of GVA into the UK economy over the next 10 years from its 20 most substantial interventions alone – but include a host of wider benefits from attracting high-value inward investment projects to helping companies reduce their impact on our environment.
Adam Shearer, inspection manager at Harris RCS in Coventry, a precision aerospace supplier which has seen Catapult-driven growth and productivity gains – image courtesy of HVMC
Supporting small business
In total, the Catapult worked on some 4,650 projects with companies of every shape and size across the UK – a 24% increase on the number of projects in the previous year.
As you’d expect, the Review makes frequent mention of projects with global profiles at the top of major supply chains, but more than half the Catapult’s projects were with smaller businesses – the sorts of firms that are the lifeblood of British manufacturing and the engines of community prosperity.
Companies like Harris RCS in Coventry, a family-owned precision aerospace supplier which, thanks to its work with the Catapult, saw orders increase by 10% and made double-digit productivity gains.
Or like Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company – a social enterprise set up to provide quality jobs for armed forces veterans which produces signage for some of the UK’s biggest buyers.
When the company needed to find a new home it tapped into the Catapult’s Advanced Forming Research Centre in Strathclyde to help plan and get its new factory up and running.
The AFRC was able to use visualisation technology to demonstrate how the factory would look prior to its opening and it helped train the company’s team on new technologies that will allow it to expand their service range.
The AFRC’s new digital visualisation suite in Scotland for businesses to develop fully-immersive virtual and augmented reality technologies into their operations – image courtesy of AFRC
Breadth, reach and technological range
The breadth of the Catapult’s activity, its sectoral reach and the range of technologies at its fingertips is breath-taking.
Yes, the Review includes stories from the traditional pillars of manufacturing in aerospace and the automotive sector, but it’s clear that the HVM Catapult’s scope goes much wider with reports of work to advance treatments for rare cancers, initiatives that will transform UK construction practice, even projects to bring the robotics revolution to farming.
Through every line of the document, there’s a strong sense of the Catapult’s absolute determination to help manufacturers not only strengthen their bottom lines, but also to tackle the principal challenges of the day.
Perhaps the best examples of this come through in a myriad of stories that describe how the Catapult’s seven centres have been helping companies of all shapes and sizes reduce their environmental impacts by saving the amount of waste going to landfill, reducing energy consumption, driving down carbon emissions, and even projects that are helping to tackle the scourge of plastics pollution through the production of bioplastics.
At the HVM Catapult’s core is the very simple goal of keeping UK manufacturing businesses at the top table of global markets by delivering more than £2bn of new R&D activity in the UK by 2023.
It’s clear the organisation is well on the way to fulfilling that ambition. Last year, it succeeded in turning the £109m core grant it received from government into a total R&D investment of more than £504m, investment which the HVM Catapult is confident will translate into a real strengthening of the UK’s manufacturing base, new and better jobs and more prosperous communities across the UK.
Opportunity, but risk
So, where is the Catapult focusing its aim in 2020? The Review reflects that, on the global stage, the UK is heading into ‘a future of great opportunity but also great risk’.
It makes a commitment that, ‘whatever our trading relations with the rest of the world, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult will ensure that our manufacturing sector remains productive, competitive and sustainable.’
It will continue its work to connect firms with the latest research findings and accelerate new ideas to a commercial reality, stripping away the risks of innovation so that they can make confident investment decisions in the new technologies which will “ensure their longer-term competitiveness, increase their productivity, boost their export performance, reduce waste and become more resilient.”
With more than 10% of UK GVA and 45% of UK exports coming from manufacturing, it matters to more than our manufacturing community that the HVM Catapult succeeds. Its Annual Review gives confidence that it will.
The HVM Catapult’s Annual Review, was published in December 2019. You can read here
Rosa Wilkinson is Communications Director at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult
You can contact her via – Rosa.Wilkinson@hvm.catapult.org.uk