Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit: Join the dots for a more prosperous future

Posted on 21 Nov 2019 by Jonny Williamson

UK manufacturing can certainly weather the current storms it faces; however, there are some critical factors that may prevent this potential from being realised, as Professor Tim Minshall explains.

This is an extraordinary time for the UK economy and for UK manufacturing. Political and economic uncertainties coupled with ever more complex and fast-paced technical change presents numerous challenges for businesses of all sizes in all sectors.

Much of UK manufacturing has the potential to not only weather these storms but also to create and capture new sources of value, and to strengthen capabilities to be able to respond to future changes.

Much of UK manufacturing has the potential to not only weather these storms but also to create and capture new sources of value, and to strengthen capabilities to be able to respond to future changes.

However, there are some critical factors that may prevent this potential from being realised. Professor Tim Minshall took to the mainstage at Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit 2019 to explain:

  • The impact of the changing technical, business and policy context for UK manufacturing
  • Reasons to be positive about UK manufacturing and its potential role in the global economy
  • How strengthening linkages between organisations and activities could deliver a strong UK manufacturing ‘ecosystem’

Constant change is the new normal

Three words summarise the current business environment, according to Minshall – fast-changing, complicated and complex.

First Second Third Fourth Revolution - image courtesy of Christoph Roser at

– image courtesy of Christoph Roser at

Many are describing the current situation as ‘unprecedented’, yet the world has undergone similar ‘revolutions’ in the past, he noted. Similar it may be; however, the pace of change is much, much faster, and the associated ecosystems, value chains and technologies involved are more complicated and far more complex.

Ambidextrous businesses 

A lot of emphasis is on digital technologies, and that’s not surprising, according to Minshall. One of the most significant and widespread disruptions, he noted, is the blurring line between a physical product manufactured in a physical space and a digital product created in a virtual space.

Take, for example, the digital design files used to additively manufacture a physical product, or a physical good fitted with a handful of sensors.

The information gathered by these sensors can be used to generate a ‘digital twin’ of the product, enabling engineers to detect potentially unforeseen issues and forecast outcomes, as well as simulate the effect of different set-ups and operating environments in order to optimise performance.

CROP - Smart factory and industry 4.0 and connected production robots exchanging data with internet of things (IoT) with cloud computing technology - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

– image courtesy of Depositphotos

According to Minshall, businesses need to become ambidextrous, capable of both EXPLORATION (flexible ways of working, capable of taking risks and willing to wait for a result or return on investment), and EXPLOITATION (creating and deploying efficient, repeatable processes in order to fulfil orders on-time and in full).

“An ambidextrous organisation operates with two independent teams with very different characteristics, with different types of people shared between both teams,” Minshall noted. “You need to have a focus on both incremental innovation and radical innovation.”

Reasons to be cheerful

According to Made Smarter, over 10 years, industrial digitalisation could boost UK manufacturing by £455bn, increase sector growth up to 3% per annum; create a net gain of 175,000 jobs while reducing CO2 emissions by 4.5%*.

Made Smarter Statistics - Through digital technologies, the UK manufacturing sector could ...

The difference between seeing this digital-driven disruption as an opportunity or a threat largely comes down to one question – how do you and your organisation deal with constant change?

There are many reasons to believe that the UK can indeed grasp the opportunity and make these predications a reality. Manufacturing accounts for £192bn of output, contributes 44% of total UK exports (worth more than £273bn), accounts for 66% of UK R&D and 15% of total business investment – helping to keep the UK competitive on the world stage.

What dots need joining? 

In terms of industry awareness, particular around the opportunities enabled by ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ technologies and techniques, there is a broad spectrum.

On one end are those who have already defined their digital strategy and created project teams to achieve it, and those on the other who haven’t heard of industrial digital technologies (IDTs) or Industry 4.0 and are very much still a paper-driven organisation. The majority are likely to be somewhere in the middle.

Technologies for late-stage customisation are being researched through collaborative projects between the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge and multinational glass manufacturer NSG Pilkington.

– image courtesy of IfM


There are also a large number of supporting organisations out there, from sector specific trade associations, government bodies, innovation centres like the UK’s network of Catapult centres, industry-led initiatives like Made Smarter, and practical centres of research excellence like the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM).

Businesses can start joining these dots together by attending events such as Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit and engaging with their peers, industry experts, supporting organisations and technology providers, and reacting proactively and positively to disruption.

It is also incumbent for these experts and organisations to map the landscape and make clear the linkages between different regional and national stakeholders and the support available.

Professor Tim Minshall is Dr John C Taylor Professor of Innovation and Head of the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), University of Cambridge. Connect with him on LinkedIn