Innovation: business-as-usual is not an option

Posted on 13 Oct 2016 by The Manufacturer

Sam Stephens challenges company executives to research the current and potential economic landscape, to review their attitude to return on investment, and to make the most of UK grants and fiscal incentives to inject cash into innovation.

We heard it first on the steps of 10 Downing Street and we heard it again during her August cabinet meeting at Chequers: Mrs. May is adamant that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

Sam Stephens, senior engineer and director, TBAT Innovation.
Sam Stephens, senior engineer and director, TBAT Innovation.

If like me you have a passion for innovation, and manufacturing runs through your veins, the uncertainty that lies ahead is unnerving in the extreme. None of us, not even the PM, knows what Brexit actually means. So I suggest we get back to business basics, and remind ourselves where the opportunities lie and how we find and capitalise on them.

First, it helps to spot where our challenges lie? According to a report in The Guardian (18 Feb 2016), the UK gap in productivity widened further to 18% below the average against the other 6 members of the G7.

So the first challenge we face is to address why this might be the case, and then look to new more innovative processes which start to narrow the productivity gap.

Secondly, there is a significant lack of capital investment caused by factors such as the demand for too short a payback by investors, and an unwillingness by government to set long term investment goals and strategies, and stick to them. This is despite the improvement in capital allowance schemes for the profitable venture.

TM Smart Factory Expo

in partnership with Advanced Engineering Show

Nov 2-3, The NEC (Birmingham)

The UK’s only dedicated exhibition in response to Industry 4.0.

Showcasing the best solution providers and technology offerings, this unique FREE event is for manufacturing business leaders keen to adopt the relevant tools and knowledge to drive business growth.

  • Learn about how Industry 4.0 can improve your business
  • Discover new, more cost-effective solutions to existing processes
  • Hear how other manufacturers are dealing with the fourth industrial revolution
  • Network with new suppliers, customers and business partners
  • Compare solutions across every product sector
  • Watch live demonstrations of the latest products & how they integrate with each other
  • Arrange face-to-face appointments with key suppliers
  • Uncover new ideas and insights to grow your business

For example, anyone working in offshore tidal and wave energy will know that the UK is a world leader in the sector. But with the collapse of feed-in tariff mechanisms, investment in the industry has all but dried-up. Companies have folded and investors are looking overseas for more secure returns. We are in danger of losing an entire industry as climate change appears to be slipping down the government’s agenda.

Moving up the government’s agenda however, is the stark reality of a skills shortage, especially in the trades we will rely on for competitive manufacturing. ‘Why do we need apprentices when all our staff have over 30 years’ experience?’ was a comment I overhead recently. ‘Where will your business be in five years’ time if you don’t train-up a new generation?’ was my retort.

Gone are the days when state-owned organisations, such as British Steel and British Coal, trained generations of young apprentices and then offered them a job for life. As today’s manufacturers, it is our responsibility to equip employees with the relevant skill-sets to work effectively and efficiently. The government-backed apprentice programmes are certainly a welcome driver for companies looking to take on young staff and train them up, as long as the bureaucracy doesn’t prove too onerous.

Observing client company behavior, and growth rates, makes it easier for me to identify winning traits. The owner manager who takes their own professional development seriously; who identifies the next generation of managers and invests in them; who seeks external advice to find out about innovation grants, R&D tax incentives and other locally-available sources of support; and who develops a long term investment strategy are definitely winning traits.

These are the kind of clients we hope to meet at November’s Advanced Engineering Show. This is where we must start conversations which form long term relationships, share best practice and ultimately lead to innovation of the next generation of world-class products.

My colleague Matt Symonds will be speaking at the show, explaining how technology R&D organisations can access grant funding and make the most of R&D tax credits, as well as innovation project advice. The R&D tax credits team has a proven 100% track record in claiming tax relief from HMRC, having worked with SMEs and large enterprises in a range of industries throughout the UK.

Twitter: @tbatinnovation

Email: [email protected]

As managing director of TBAT Innovation, Symonds brings a wealth of experience in engineering and manufacturing, notably for Rolls-Royce and Bombardier in a number of technical project roles. He leads a team with consistently high success rates across all UK and EU research and development grant funding schemes such as Innovate UK and Horizon 2020.

Finally, join us in conversation on Twitter so that collectively we can share information, resolve technical issues and be better placed to take a lead in the post-Brexit era.