Len Palmer, MD of Lander Automotive, Manufacturer of the Year at the 2021 TMMX Awards, sits down with longstanding colleague Mark Brind, Global Operations Director at Xaar, manufacturer of piezo-based drop-on-demand inkjet technologies.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone starting out in manufacturing?
I’m always amazed that manufacturing isn’t a natural ‘first choice’ of career for young people. It’s a brilliant pathway for talented multi-taskers and problem solvers to take. My best piece of advice would be to welcome opportunities as they come along, embrace change, and never be complacent in the way you think about your role. There’s no doubt that manufacturing is an ever-changing environment so what’s good for today needs to be continually improved for tomorrow.
Why did you choose a career in manufacturing?
I started out as an apprentice panel beater in the mid80s. As I gained more experience in this role, I found myself starting to question how cars had been put together – because in my opinion they were over-complicated and could be made a lot simpler to work on. It’s fair to say I have a liking for de-complicating things and the sort of mindset that looks for simpler solutions and answers to questions and challenges. I wanted to develop this way of thinking so, when a local company advertised for core team members to be part of a new facility, I applied for the job and the rest, as they say, is history.
If you were not in manufacturing, what would you be doing?
Well, one answer might be captaining the England cricket team. But perhaps that’s more of a pipedream! In reality, I’m a manufacturer through-and-through. I can’t think of a world I’d rather be in. It’s so varied – and in my career I’ve been able to see how businesses across a wide range of sectors work and how their supply chains knit together. It’s a brilliant sector to be a part of – and very rewarding too.
What is the greatest technology leap in manufacturing you have seen?
When I was given my first role as a team leader in the mid-90s, we had a Windows PC installed in the manufacturing office. Today, manufacturing is driven by IIoT, digital twins and machine learning. It’s come a long way from that single PC terminal, and the pace of change has been incredible! The advancement in computing and what you can do, even connecting to equipment remotely, is just amazing. It blows my mind really!
When you look at your career, what are you most proud of?
In my most recent roles I’ve had the responsibility for leading FTSE listed manufacturing businesses on their sustainability journeys. There’s no doubt that the world has changed over the last few years and manufacturers must do more to leave a positive – and not negative – impact on the planet. I’ve worked with some incredible people to drive change in terms of environmental best practice and transformational change. You can’t do this sort of thing alone – it takes teams of people and commitment – but the feeling you get from ‘making good happen’ is really special. In fact, this work has led to many awards and recognition from industry, but as I said earlier, I am never complacent. And, what’s good today might need rethinking tomorrow.