Hopes of a stable base on which to achieve steady growth have been ground away by years of uncertainty and instability. Signs that the situation might improve are preciously rare.
Productivity is still lower than it was before the global financial crash — and according to the ONS, only Canada and Japan are less productive among G7 nations. Manufacturing is one of the industries affected most by this stagnating productivity, with only construction and finance performing worse.
Among the doom and gloom, though, companies are producing some incredible products — and enjoying real success.
One such British success story is Lazer Lamps, preferred supplier at the very highest level of motorsport: including the top four finishers at last year’s Le Mans 24-hours.
Lazer Lamps’ rise has been impressive. Since launching back in 2010 as a one-person business operating out of a garage in Tottenham, it has grown to cater to some of the most demanding customers on the planet. That includes top teams in the World Rally Championship and Blancpain 24-hours, as well as large Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).
Part of their success has been down to seizing opportunities as soon as they arise. As Ben Russell-Smith, their founder and director, says: “It was uncertain times when we started — and we started with a technology that was still developing. But we look for the opportunity in every moment. You find them where you least expect.”
While seizing opportunity might sound easy in principle, it can be much harder in practice. But aspects of Lazer Lamps’ strategy can help any manufacturer thrive even when instability reigns.
Developing quality products
Lazer Lamps has an unshakable belief that there is an appetite for their products among their customer base. When asked about how to spot opportunity in uncertain times, that’s the area Ben highlighted first and foremost.
“You have got to have faith in your product and your customers. In the world of lighting, we are going to see several technological advances in the coming years. With uncertainty as it is, we don’t know where the sales for these new products will be. But what I do know is that customers globally will always be interested in high-performance products, with innovation at their core.”
But Lazer Lamps doesn’t just trust its customers — it makes them central to its product development process.
Working with customers and suppliers
The team gets product feedback straight from the drivers themselves, either at a race or testing (which could be in the north of Sweden, in the depths of winter). Then they’ll take that feedback back to the light tunnel at Lazer Lamps HQ, analyse what the driver saw on the day and use that in the next round of development.
By working so closely with customers, Lazer Lamps can ensure their products are always in demand. And by fostering such close relationships with all the companies they work with, they can tightly manage production to encourage stable growth.
“We work closely with both our customers and suppliers”, Ben says. “We plan for busy periods. It enables us to spread manufacturing processes over the year instead of cyclical hectic and quiet periods.”
Working closely with suppliers is also pivotal to Lazer Lamps’ strategy for productivity growth. “We want to improve productivity while guaranteeing innovation in the final product. So we’re continually looking at which supplier processes we can bring in-house to increase efficiency and help guarantee quality.”
Implementing scalable software early
For manufacturers, innovation often means investing more capital into equipment and hardware. But as Ben notes, getting the right software in place should not be overlooked. “The biggest thing I’ve learnt — and what I’d encourage any manufacturer to learn — is to choose systems and software that can grow with you.”
Nor does that have to mean spending heavily on ERP or MRP. “Quite often, you can be constrained by software that you pay a lot for upfront. It might not have enough flexibility and adaptability as you grow”, he says. “Cloud-based systems enable our growth with no restrictions and no constraints by user. So there are no limits on the growth you can achieve.”
Lazer Lamps’ cloud software helps them cater to demanding customers today. But it also helps them futureproof for Manufacturing 4.0 and 5.0 — by providing a framework for customisable production.
“A lot of our customers want optics that are tuned for their exact needs”, Ben states. “With cloud inventory management, we don’t have to shy away from dealing with that added complexity.”