Manufacturing technology companies were urged last night to up their game, export to new markets and make world class as standard by MTA president Mark Ridgway OBE.
Britain has world class manufacturing ambitions but engineering and technology companies, such as machine tool and metrology companies, need to raise the bar if they are to reach them, Mark Ridgway told members of the Manufacturing Technologies Association last night.
At the trade association’s third annual dinner at the ICC in Birmingham, new president of the association Mr Ridgway said he was grateful to be appointed the job and thanked his predecessor Simon Pollard of Kyal Machine Tools for leaving the association in “the best of health”.
But in a rousing speech he warned that members were in danger of losing out on business to global competition as competitors invested in “the best kit” and world austerity labours on.
He spelled out the three “i”s that are key to making world class as standard: internationalisation, investment and inspiration.
He told the audience that his company, Group Rhodes, exports to 30 countries and he referred to that “special thrill of winning new orders in new markets, of walking back into the factory or office on Monday morning knowing that you have secured the jobs and futures of many of the people that greet you”. He told the companies that filled the dining hall at the ICC that those with an international strategy in their sector see an average 34% economic benefit, and that “you need an international strategy to have a world class strategy”.
The second “i” is investment. Mr Ridgway said there are companies in the room who are collaborating with the “finest minds in the world in engineering, for example in the [government’s] Catapult model and in Knowledge Transfer Partnerships,” and said of the amount of help and expertise they need to be world class “It is all there – tap into it”.
Ridgway added that manufacturing businesses need to invest between 5% and 10% of their turnover on research and development to be world class, “but there are many who do not. Personally, I don’t think there is choice,” he said. “You cannot stand still, there are no excuses.” He made reference to the increase in the Annual Investment Allowance to £250,000 in the Autumn Statement, and credited the MTA with partly influencing the government in the decision to increase it tenfold. But he poured scorn on Britain’s taxation system and said the increase still made the allowance regime relatively no better than it was five years ago.
For inspiration, the third “i”, Rigway referred to his experience of “going back to school” recently to study for an MSc at the University of Leeds, a decision he took because Group Rhodes was employing more graduates – especially from India – “who were asking me technical questions I couldn’t answer.”
He lamented the low number of women in engineering in the UK, which lies 27th of 28 countries in the EU for women in this sector. He urged companies to invest in good people, to encourage women to work there and to inspire young people to enter the profession.
The MTA annual dinner, sponsored by Lloyds TSB Commercial, brought a packed house of about 500 members and guests to Birmingham. It was presented by SKY’s Charlotte Hawkins and after dinner comedy was provided by the excellent Rod Woodward, who made several wry references to the UK’s “optimism” in targeting world class performance.