The New Industrial Revolution… again

Posted on 19 Sep 2013

Beneath the joviality at Peter Marsh's book launch - the paperback version - on Wed night was a serious message about what is happening to industry.

Industry types flocked to EEF’s head office in London for the second launch of Peter Marsh’s book The New Industrial Revolution – now in paperback.

The widely acclaimed book was originally published in hardback in July 2012, and the evening’s running joke was why a book needed a relaunch.

The idea of a new industrial revolution is now more embedded in people's minds

Mr Marsh acknowledged this in his speech with characteristic humility, but couldn’t resist the temptation to play to the audience, quipping that the new edition “was remarkable value at only £8.”

The book explains what manufacturing is today, in a much wider definition to the traditional add-value, sell and send to landfill model, and explains the forces that will dictate how manufacturing will change. Servitisation of manufactured goods, customised mass manufacture, 3D printing to order and the rise of China will combine with other disruptive phenomena to change how things are made and stewarded through their life cycles.

Without being able to claim all the credit, Marsh said the phrase “new industrial revolution” had become firmly embedded in the public psyche in the last 12-months.

Its popularity had helped to increase wider awareness of the big changes in global manufacturing, and seems to have struck a chord with companies and organisations, as since the book’s publication Marsh has been asked to lecture on the new industrial revolution all over the world.

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of hosts EEF, referred to Marsh as the “doyenne of manufacturing reporting” during his time at the Financial Times, where with the support of the Pink ‘Un and colleagues there he had helped to give manufacturing a public voice.

Mr Scuoler reminisced that Marsh had come to interview him before being appointed CEO at the trade association.

“What I imagined would be a 30-minute chat turned into a two hour cross-examination by Peter, at times a monologue,” that caused Marsh to miss his last train. The fierce debate continued in the car as Scuoler drove him to another station.

Ex-colleague and mentor at the FT Sir Richard Lambert made a humorous, erudite speech about five qualities that made Marsh, and those like him, really good reporters.

The first point was that “this stuff really matters”, that the mechanics of manufacturing are absolutely essential and drives the global economy, but is so often invisible and taken for granted.

The megatrends that are changing the world are central to manufacturing, and Peter’s editorial coverage and The New Industrial Revolution has really helped to reveal them, Lambert said.

Another virtue was that of being really, really interested in the subject matter, where Sir Lambert acknowledged, at last, the merits of “the crazed obsessive”. The ability to be interested in the minutiae of a manufacturing process or the interaction between a process, product and the customer, was a gift and helped hugely to convey the information.

For those interested in where things are made, he referenced the constant, pleasant surprise that manufacturing stories inspire. “Who would have guessed that not one but two of the world’s leading makers of air bearing spindles, which apparently are vital in machine tool manufacture, are located in Poole… Poole!… in Dorset.”

Lambert expressed regret, however, that in Marsh’s meticulously researched book he had made one glaring omission in the roll call of industry captains, that of “the greatest of Britain’s industrialists, Josiah Wedgwood of Burslem, Staffs.” One assumes Sir Richard has Staffordshire roots.

Finally, Sir Richard said that Marsh’s style was all his own, pitching the reader into the close focus of the scene, in a manner to make even the mundane captivating. In one anecdote, Sir Richard said when Marsh asked the CEO of a multinational engineering company in the US whether the components mounted on the wall behind his desk had some special significance in the history of the corporation, the boss said “Those? No I stole those from a rival company years ago to show what we could make. I’ve just never taken them down.”

Peter Marsh is booked on several speaking engagements in venues including Beijing, San Francisco, Singapore and “even Sheffield and Liverpool” in the coming months.

The New Industrial Revolution is published by Yale University Press.