The big picture: Play to your strengths

Understanding the UK’s opportunities and capabilities is essential if the country is going to achieve sustainable success in global markets, says Professor Sir Mike Gregory.

Prof Mike Gregory

As I write, the UK manufacturing sector is showing some signs of growth with a small rise in export orders in March just one of these indicators. This is encouraging, but if such gains are to continue into the long term it is vital that we understand the global context in which UK companies must compete and how that context will evolve over the next 15- 20 years.

This is exactly what a recent study by the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) set out to achieve. The UK has a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its science and engineering base. However, its ideas and innovations need to be turned into profitable products and services if we are to see real economic benefit.

“The UK has a welldeserved reputation for the quality of its science and engineering base” – Professor Sir Mike Gregory

The IfM study, undertaken for the Technology Strategy Board, focused on so-called ‘high value’ manufacturing (HVM) – defined as ‘the application of leading edge technical knowledge and expertise to the creation of products, production processes and associated services’. It involved a major consultation exercise with industry, academia and government to identify the trends, drivers, challenges and opportunities for UK manufacturing over the next two decades.

Five key strategic themes were identified together with associated skills and competences needed to meet the future challenges:

  • Resource efficiency: protecting against scarcity of energy and other resources
  • Manufacturing systems: increasing the global competitiveness through more efficient and effective manufacturing systems
  • Materials integration: achieving innovation through the integration of new materials, coatings and electronics with manufacturing technologies
  • Manufacturing processes: development for agility and cost effectiveness
  • Business models: for the realisation of superior value systems

The findings of the consultation process are summarised in the report ‘A landscape for the future of high value manufacturing in the UK’, which can be downloaded at www.ifm. eng.cam.ac.uk/free Professor Gregory is Head of Cambridge University Institute for Manufacturing. www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/people