Santander’s Manufacturing Industry Day offered attendees invaluable insights into the challenges manufacturers are facing, and the solutions needed to meet them.
At Santander’s recent Manufacturing Industry Day, delegates heard how Britain’s future success in the sector will likely be founded on advances in engineering technology.
The event once again brought together executives, business owners, and senior figures from across the industry to discuss the key challenges and opportunities facing Britain’s manufacturers.
Following the inaugural Manufacturing Industry Day last autumn, the latest event offered participants a chance to hear the views of thought leaders in the sector, and to share best practice with companies of all sizes.
Starring on the global stage
The day’s first keynote speaker was Dr Hamid Mughal OBE, Director of Global Manufacturing for Rolls-Royce, who shared his thoughts on how UK manufacturing could develop into a world-class industry in the face of unprecedented global competition.
“We can talk about the economic capital created by the manufacturing sector, such as its highly valuable contribution to GDP, and the fact that 75% of UK businesses’ R&D spend is carried out by manufacturing companies,” Dr Mughal said.
“The economic side is very important, of course, but to me, the social capital it creates is even more important: the resilience it gives to the economy, the national pride, as well as the sovereignty and security of supply in a very challenging world,” he added.
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Caring for natural resources
Dr Mughal pointed out that ensuring a secure supply of goods was particularly important, as the growing global population and increased urbanisation will continue to increase demand for materials, water, energy and land, all during a period of climate change.
Nations that can manufacture products with fewer of these inputs will be more resilient to the after-effects.
“Being good at manufacturing is no longer an option – we simply HAVE to be. Manufacturing could become more important to the country than defence in this respect,” Dr Mughal added.
“We have to turn manufacturing capability into a source of competitive advantage for the country and the companies that operate here.”
Dr Mughal explained that historically, the primary means of achieving productive and best-in-class performance in manufacturing was with an embedded culture of ‘continuous improvement’.
“This culture of continuous improvement remains at the core of high-performing organisations, but the developments in advanced manufacturing technologies over the last two decades have started to provide the means to implement additional and significantly more impactful improvements.
“We are creating new manufacturing capabilities for more innovative product designs and establishing a relative shortcut to world-class levels of productivity.”
He concluded: “The world doesn’t owe us a living. We must organise ourselves, and we have to play to our strengths. Fortunately, the UK has always shown itself to be a particularly innovative place.
“But it is also important that our leaders start to recognise this opportunity and take it seriously: if they don’t, we risk missing the boat.”
Innovating for success
The day’s second keynote speech was delivered by Dick Elsy CBE, CEO of High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the government-backed advanced manufacturing technology agency.
“In a typical year we’ll help about 3,000 companies with manufacturing technology on something like 1,700 projects, ranging in size from a few thousand pounds to multi-million-pound programmes with the likes of Airbus,” Elsy explained.
The good news, Elsy added, is that the outlook is bright.
“Increasing numbers of firms here and internationally too, see that the UK offers a great environment for their own innovation activity and are setting up here to be close to the UK’s research base and organisations like the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.
“That generates more business for firms here through the supply chain.”
Digitisation is everywhere
Elsy added: “Digitisation is present everywhere – even if there is some confusion about what it actually is. In principle, there are some quite straightforward things that companies are embarking on and seeing real benefits. One of them is an adherence to digital disciplines within programmes.”
“Particularly when bringing new products to market, that means having a single digital thread running through the enterprise from the first ideas of product creation, from the first sketch through engineering and testing, to the set-up of manufacture, supply and logistics,” added Elsy.
“Having a single digital version of the truth is an unbelievably powerful enabler to opening your world to digital manufacturing.”
Learning from other nations
Elsy also pointed to the increasing take-up of virtual reality and augmented reality technology in terms of sharing processes within businesses, as well as the potential productivity improvements that can be generated by machine learning and adaptive manufacture.
“At a practical level this is about machines being able to measure things and adjust themselves accordingly, to correct errors and wear.”
He also said that the UK could learn a considerable amount about automation and robotics from nations such as Germany and South Korea.
Elsy added: “Finally, we shouldn’t overlook the government contribution to this – we have an industrial strategy which provides a framework for Catapult to operate in.
“The most effective approach is to offer support that is managed by people with industrial experience, and who know where best to place these bets on industrial innovation.”
Collaboration is crucial
Paul Brooks, UK Head of Manufacturing at Santander Corporate & Commercial Banking, said: “Our Manufacturing Industry Day has once again proved to be a great success: delegates have gained invaluable insights not only into the challenges manufacturers are facing, but also into the solutions and technological developments that will help them meet those challenges.”
The day also featured a series of “campfire” discussion sessions on topics ranging from the skills gap to how to successfully internationalise a manufacturing business.
“Meanwhile, the Manufacturing Industry Day ‘Marketplace’ gave delegates the chance to explore export opportunities with international trade experts representing regions and countries such as Latin America, China and the UAE,” added Brooks.
“At Santander, we recognise the importance of manufacturers working in collaboration with other businesses, as well as industry bodies such as the Catapults, to address current problems and prepare for the future – not just in terms of adopting new technology, but also with regard to exploring potentially valuable new markets around the world,” Brooks concluded.