Opinions from attendees of The National Manufacturing Debate 2013

Posted on 23 May 2013 by Tim Brown

Do we need a manufacturing strategy? And if not, what should those who want to see manufacturing grow in the UK do to influence this growth? Some candid opinions from The National Manufacturing Debate 2013.

Dick Elsy, CEO, HVM Catapult
Dick Elsy, CEO, HVM Catapult

Dick Elsy, CEO, High Value Manaufacturing Catapult

“For sure, the economies with a strong manufacturing base all have a national strategy and they have government supported mechanisms to bring new technologies to market. In Germany there are the Fraünhofer Institutes, which have been in existence for 60-years and in the USA, President Obama has just announced a $1bn National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

“In the UK we have the Catapult programme. The one that I head up, High Value Manufacturing, has been open for 18 months and, as we’ve seen at the National Manufacturing Debate, we are beginning to make good progress. The timing is right for this in the UK and the HVM Catapult is well placed to deliver.”

Richard McKee, Rolls-Royce
Richard McKee, Supplier Development Leader, Rolls-Royce

Richard McKee, Supplier Development Leader, Rolls-Royce

“It was mentioned many times during the debate about the need for engineers and how they can be attracted to careers in manufacturing. I have worked globally in aerospace supplier development and where I see the core weakness in UK aerospace manufacturing is not in the actual engineering (or lack of) but in low managerial skills with limited foresight leading to the lack of strong business strategy and leadership within the SMEs.

“Let’s try not to use the context of high value engineering as a mask for low levels of labour productivity or weak operational strategy. I believe the bigger challenge is attracting strong business candidates into the manufacturing world. If, as part of a national manufacturing strategy, the manufacturing leaders and government can help SMEs to create strong business and operational strategies there is a larger opportunity to close the cost gap to BRIC nations.”

Peter Marsh

Peter Marsh, author and ex-manufacturing editor of the Financial Times

“By focusing on an overarching manufacturing strategy, I am reminded of the old politburo of the Soviet Union – we may spend so much time building a five-year plan that meanwhile the country crumbles around us. We need to identify what companies in the UK do well and focus on that.

[On developing battery technology] “Britain would do well if it could home-in on providing more components for large assemblies. Go to BMW in Cowley and you’ll find most of what they put into their Minis comes from Germany.

[On the image of manufacturing] “There are several projects giving manufacturing a more modern image. I’m involved with a very imaginative project run by Multi Story in the Midlands, who got a £350k Arts Council grant to show the UK’s best manufacturers through the lenses of top photographers registered with Magnum. These will be displayed in galleries nationwide.”

“Let’s try not to use the context of high value engineering as a mask for low levels of labour productivity or weak operational strategy. I believe the bigger challenge is attracting strong business candidates into the manufacturing world” Richard McKee, Rolls-Royce

John Stevenson, Managing Director, HiTec Sheet Metal
John Stevenson, Managing Director, HiTec Sheet Metal

John Stevenson, Managing Director, HiTec Sheet Metal

“We need to stop holding Germany up as the revered brilliance of manufacturing we perceive them to be. They are not… the UK is at least equal to Germany, we just do less of it. As a company Hitec has secured work that was previously made by a German subcontractor. They could not get the quality right in several years, Hitec achieved it a couple of months.

“On focusing on specific sectors, advanced manufacturing and innovation are terrific and necessary… but how many jobs will they provide – 100,000 at best? We need to create one to two million jobs so we need volume manufacture back in the UK. China never was that cheap if you compare like for like. Think about the health and safety issues, the material quality issues and excessive travel to and fro. Work is now returning from the Far East and we can compete and are competing.

“People love to buy three to four £2 T-shirts from the Far East. Buy one from the UK for £6 and save on landfill in the future. If this country talked about how good we were rather than how bad, confidence would go sky high.”

“Advanced manufacturing and innovation are terrific… but how many jobs will they provide? 100,000 at best? We need to create one to two million jobs so we need volume manufacture back in the UK” John Stevenson, HiTech Sheet Metal

Neil Lloyd, Head of Sales and Development, Lombard Business Commercial
Neil Lloyd, Head of Sales and Development, Lombard Business Commercial

Neil Lloyd, Head of Sales Development, Lombard Business & Commercial

“Two themes in particular resonated with me. The first was how the EU procurement policy is interpreted by the UK Government vs that of Germany’s. The UK seems focused on achieving the lowest price, while Germany focuses on the local economic and social benefits a German supplier would generate.

“The second was the introduction of engineering to young children so they can understand the vast array of opportunities available. Maggie Philbin gave a passionate presentation on the work she does as CEO of TeenTech, which runs engaging one-day events that introduce teenagers to the wide range of career possibilities in science, engineering and technology.”

Srikanth Meka, Rolls-Royce
Srikanth Meka, Supplier Development Leader, Rolls-Royce

Srikanth Meeka, supplier development leader, Rolls-Royce

“Having worked with school kids and prospective undergraduate students over the last couple of years, I am left with a disheartening belief that we have not been able to convince very many of them to seriously consider studies and careers in STEM.

“At a young age, most feel a degree in STEM will be far too challenging as opposed to ones in the arts, business studies and economics and take the easy and safe way out. A service sector dominated economy with reasonable prospects of jobs leads them to believe in taking the safer way. Compounding the problem is the fact that the brightest of the crop who do take up STEM degrees are lured away with the promise of the big bucks by the financial institutions of the city.

“We need to seriously consider the implications this trend can have on the availability of people and skills within our sectors, and take measures to address this before it is too late and we are left in the wake of a human resource revolution that will leave us short-handed.”

Professor Rajkumar Roy, Head of Manufacturing and Materials Department, Cranfield University

Prof Rajkumar Roy, Cranfield
Prof Rajkumar Roy, Cranfield

“UK Manufacturing has a window of opportunity to grow, contribute more to the economy and jobs. For example, fundamental research and technology development done by EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing is now supported by Catapult Centres to exploit the technologies. Government funded AMSCI project is supporting development of UK supply chain to bring more manufacturing activities within the country.

“There are high hopes the Business Bank will address the issue of access to finance. The UK is recognised as having the least economy-wide product market regulation in 2008 within the OECD countries. We need to build on these strengths and have a strategic approach at the national level to support local manufacturing and boost product innovation.

“We need to involve social enterprises such as co-operatives and charitable organisations to support small companies, encourage British people to take pride in manufacturing and encourage more people to join the profession. We also need to promote significant job creation from manufacturing.

“Facts from the USA show that advanced manufacturing is not creating enough jobs. By focusing on local manufacturing, more product and technology innovation through the industry, catapult centres and universities, using public procurement to create new manufacturing opportunities within the UK, and by taking a strategic approach where all sizes of companies are supported to grow we shall be able to create more jobs from manufacturing.”

“In stark contrast to the UK, in my native India STEM careers are seen as an unmatched first option. Four-fifths of students in India study at least three STEM subjects right up to the A-levels and the crème of the crop compete to take up limited opportunities to do STEM degrees.” Srikanth Meka, Rolls-Royce

Steve Brambley, Deputy Director, Gambica

Steve Brambley, Deputy Director, Gambica

“I support a target as the measure of success in achieving a goal. However, if the target is proportional (eg manufacturing should be 20% of GDP) then it doesn’t necessarily help to measure success. We have a scenario where manufacturing is 10% of GDP and the target is 20% of GDP, and there are two outcomes to this.

“Scenario 1 – success appearing as failure – Manufacturing output increases by 30%, but so does services – the total economy has grown by 30%, manufacturing has grown by 30%, but the proportion of the total economy from manufacturing remains unchanged at 10% – therefore a failure to meet target despite being a positive economic outcome

“Scenario 2 – failure appearing as success – Manufacturing output does not change, but services reduce by 50% – the economy has shrunk by 39% and manufacturing hasn’t grown, but now manufacturing is 18% of GDP – almost on target despite being an economic catastrophe.

“In my opinion, a target should be absolute, rather than proportional. For example – manufacturing contribution to GDP should increase from £X trillion to £Y trillion by 2020 – success can be measured by actions within manufacturing, without relying on the results of other parts of the economy.”

Prof. Neale Thomas, semi-retired engineering entrepreneur

Neale Thomas, engineering entrepreneur
Neale Thomas, engineering entrepreneur

“In the early 1990s I applied for a fourfold DTI SMARTee fund for two eco-technologies; principled, prototyped, patented and pre-producted [sic] in alliance with sector specialist cowboy corporates sadly eager only to acquire awareness for future formulations.

“So I subsequently shelved both after squandering a quarter of a million pounds sourced from service supplies and soon after was comprehensively crushed when copycats were ‘durchtechnicked’ as NEC showstoppers! Now nigh two decades later there is admitted awareness of decimation during DTI’s dogmatic denial of continentally cautious supply-side sensibility, emphatically extended after DTI’s doom with BIS bureaucracy evermore embracing EU rules enforced by our former secretary of state as EU trade top dog!

“Indeed cavalier cynicism is exemplified in evermore Dragons’ Dennery stimulating start-ups while suppressing scary failure figures for a flat-lining economy, roughly 3-year survival half-life and merely 1% migration from sole trader to small company!”

Neale describes himself as “an annuitised authority bundling his biobook in dyslexic dotage as academic adventuring campus centurion and late 1980s creator of coldwarrioring company twinned with frontline fault-fixing for Midlands manufacturers.”