Importance of Creativity, Design and Innovation in Manufacturing

Posted on 13 Dec 2011 by The Manufacturer

Design and innovation are words that are often brandished about in all areas of industry, particularly within the manufacturing arena but are they actually a ingrained part of UK industry?

Richard Teal, Manufacturing Specialist, MAS South East
Richard Teal, Manufacturing Specialist, MAS South East

Such words were poignantly highlighted recently in the successful BBC Made in Britain series that questioned the UK’s ability to continue as a key player within the international playing field by providing products or processes that the world actually wants or needs.

So, do we still make anything of value in the UK? The answer is simply yes, of course we do. The UK’s inventiveness is alive and kicking; however, even as one of the first countries to industrialise we can no longer just rely on manufacturing, churning out large quantities of needless products with little value to the economy.

The rest of the world is up to speed in manufacturing techniques and is continually hot on our heels, chasing us down for the next big idea or process that can be developed – the real question is, can we outsmart such countries on the whole design, innovation and production whilst successfully selling at home and abroad?

We can if manufacturers steer away from low value manufacturing and look at ways of introducing high end value products and processes – manufacturers need to be thinking more creatively in order to outwit competitors across the globe, with less focus on the actual production of a product or process – turning a clever idea into reality and then marketing it successfully takes brains and the vision to see further than the how good a product or process is on paper.

The creative process is often looked at as the icing on the manufacturing cake but is still too easily overlooked – marketing, advertising and branding is what gets a product or process to market and how it benefits the end-user, not how it is made or from what material. Manufacturers need to focus on adding value through marketing innovation – the value of a brand dictates its potential for sales growth and export success.

One Sussex-based entrepreneur , that has taken design into his own hands and come up with a simple, yet effective product to ensure valuable loft storage space is not lost once regulation insulation is fitted, is reaping the rewards of his idea – the product has already been given the thumbs up from a major high street DIY retailer.

With our help David Ferguson designed and introduced an innovative stilt product called ‘Lost Storage Stilts’ to allow regulation insulation to be fitted into roof spaces whilst retaining existing storage areas. Still working for one of the largest loft insulation companies in the UK, David came up with the idea in order to overcome the shortage of available storage space left in lofts once regulation insulation is fitted.

Admittedly, this product isn’t going to set the world alight but is certainly a good example of a simple design idea that was thought of for the end user, aimed at solving a problem rather than assuming what makes a good product that nobody wants. Many industries believe that design really isn’t that important but functionality is – this is a very narrow view to have if in manufacturing – the feel, shape and end use is equally as important to the function. Design should focus on solving a customer’s problem, coming up with a solution, one that the customer buys into and is also asking for.

In the UK we’re fantastic at innovation and new product ideas, yet making those first steps from idea towards manufacture can be confusing and complex. Working with David has involved discussions around how to protect the product idea, prepare it for cost-effective manufacture, consider what its life will be and learn how to make money from it.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum in terms of manufacturing capability and company size, GlaxoSmithKline is continually thinking outside the box, investing huge amounts in education and R&D which is why it is the fourth largest pharmaceutical company in the world, worth £18billion in exports to the UK – innovation will provide an enormous return if handled right. Without its R&D facility and upcoming, specialist recruits delivering successful products to the global pharmacy market, in 15 years, the company might not exist – this is a true reflection of the power of ongoing development and progression – standing still is no longer an option.

Research based output is becoming more widespread and manufacturers really do need to spend more on R&D, education and development in order to progress and advance forward – this is the only way that the manufacturing industry can progress.

Developing closer relationships with local colleges and universities will help manufacturers innovate by creating their own academic business network. Highly skilled and educated workforces will create talent and invariably top talent will always move to where talent is. If the UK continues to invest in education, the economy will reap the rewards long-term and remain front runners in the business of creating Intellectual Property – the more success a country has the more it tends to get.

Creativity and innovation are the life-blood of British economy but this drive has to be pushed further if the UK is to continue selling internationally by providing products or processes that the world wants in order to pay for the financial crisis that we still face.