Reimagining materials and manufacturing

Posted on 10 Jan 2023 by Joe Bush

The UK has a huge opportunity to become a world-class destination of choice for advanced low-carbon manufacturing. For UK materials and manufacturing to remain competitive there are three strategic imperatives: be net zero and resource efficient, be resilient and responsive, and be technologically advanced and digital. At Manufacturing Leaders' Summit 2022, Paul Gadd, Deputy Director, Innovate UK, shared the organisation’s vision for 2050.

Innovate, involve and invest

Innovation is vital to reimagining materials and manufacturing. It represents the lifeblood of business and delivers new products, processes, services, and holds the key to future growth and prosperity.

Innovate UK helps to deliver this in three distinct ways. To inspire by committing to delivering clearly defined roadmaps and strategies for priority sectors. To involve by connecting organisations, academia, research centres, central and local government. And finally, to help with investment, using its own resources and others to invest in exciting and emerging companies; highlighted perfectly by the line-up at this year’s Innovation Alley, part of Smart Factory Expo.

Paul Gadd, Innovate UK
Paul Gadd, Innovate UK, gave a keynote address at Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit

Focusing purely on the inspire element, Paul added that materials and manufacturing is a hugely important area. In terms of economic contribution, it’s critical for the UK, a key part of our gross value added, exports, jobs and R&D spend.

“However, it’s also changing,” he commented. “Twenty-nine percent of our domestic emissions are associated with things we manufacture. That’s not compatible with our aspirations to reach net zero by 2050. So, some significant changes are required in our production systems to meet those targets. Similarly, our supply chains need resilience to mitigate challenges such as the pandemic, chip shortages and war in Ukraine.”

He added that supply chains will need to continue to deliver in order for us to receive the products and services that we need and want to keep our society working. And it’s highly unlikely that the pace of change will slow down. If anything, supply chains will need to be even more resilient going forward. This is to say nothing of the pace of technological change with significant increases in connectivity and automation, bringing with them efficiencies, increased visibility and new and novel business models.

Understanding change

As such, Innovate UK has outlined three strategic imperatives: net zero resource efficient, resilient and responsive, and technologically advanced and digital. “We think that countries, sectors and companies that succeed against those strategic imperatives are going to be the ones that are going to survive, thrive and prosper from those changes,” Paul added.

He stressed that in order to do that it’s important to understand the changes heading our way. Therefore, Innovate UK has spent the last two years on research and analysis to develop a view of the future landscape in its UK Materials and Manufacturing review. “We’ve tried to take a systems approach that is comprehensive and sector agnostic,” he said.

“Manufacturers must have the right materials for the right product, through the design process, into the supply chains, production, and then use and reuse. Those are our five core areas. But we recognise that’s not the whole production system and it’s underpinned by a number of enabling areas.”

One of those, of course, is energy and the need for a secure, green and cost-effective source. It is also important to have the right skills, network relations and regulations. And right at the heart of that, Paul added that we also need to understand the value models. Where can we offer the most value, and what’s going to deliver the best business models?

He said: “We’ve created transformation maps for a number of areas to try and understand the changes, and we’ve not done that alone. We’ve worked with a number of partners and 120 stakeholders who reviewed our work and suggested improvements. They’ve helped us develop this review and the vision of what the future looks like. That’s resulted in a logic model aligned to our strategic imperatives.

“We also have our outputs – what needs to be true for us to achieve the outcomes and goals? To deliver those outputs, what are the key changes that need to happen and where are the key areas of activity? Those are our innovation strands.”

He added that it is also important to understand the UK’s strengths so that we are in the best position to take advantage of the opportunities that are available and achieve the best return on investment.


“In doing this work we’ve been struck by some key messages,” Paul concluded. “This area is absolutely mission critical to our economy and our climate aspirations. It’s also tremendously stimulating and exciting. Manufacturers are going to change the world.

“Of course, we don’t want to underestimate the challenge. This is an incredibly difficult journey that we’re about to go on and it will require the best talent, but we also believe we’ve produced a realistic vision of the future.

“We’ve tried to make the review as inclusive as possible by taking on the feedback we’ve had. And we’re going to use it for three things: it will inform our strategy and our investments; it will be a resource for manufacturers and others to shape future decisions. And finally, it’s a version of the future which we hope will be a platform for debate and discussion.”

The Innovate UK Materials and Manufacturing review can be downloaded here.

For more stories on Innovation click here.