Head of manufacturing at Innovate UK, Zoe Webster highlights the new technologies emerging from the UK’s strong science and R&D base.
The UK has long since lost its reputation as ‘workshop of the world’, or so goes the popular perception.
I’m often struck by just how often those working outside of industry presume that in the 21st century, manufacturing is dominated by overseas, low wage, emerging economies.
If we hear it enough, we’ll continue to believe it.
In many areas of manufacturing, where the margins are low, the volumes required are huge or the processes are easy to replicate, this may be a fair perception.
It may not even be a hindrance to the UK, so long as we can ensure that our key sectors – such as automotive, aerospace and pharmaceuticals – have the proven products and processes they need to lead the world, and harness our well-cited inventiveness to develop new streams of manufacturing revenue through innovation.
Trust and scale
Perhaps we aren’t known to manufacture and sell the highest volumes in the world, but we are known as a force to be reckoned with in terms of product and process innovation.
For example, we have UK companies developing complex metal formulations – ‘stretchy’ steel for blast protection applications, for example, organically-derived materials for use in the manufacture of lightweight wind turbine rotor blades, and even fabrics with particular novel properties – biodegradable trousers anyone?).
And if, with Innovate UK’s support, the hordes of small and medium-sized companies developing these innovations can prove them at scale, before they go bust – often in partnership with the larger top-tier companies and research teams, then the route to market will be there.
Plus, the likelihood of the related high value manufacturing activities and jobs around them becoming anchored in the UK will increase.
The trade-off between production cost and quality will become starker, and quality (and through-life cost) will win out.
A conduit for commercialisation
We are already seeing a trend for reshoring, something that isn’t happening by accident.
With a world-leading research base on one side and trusted manufacturing facilities and expertise on the other, Innovate UK has been the conduit for supporting early stage innovations on their journey from early stage research (often, but not always university-based) through to commercial viability, since its inception eight years ago.
Strategic innovation doesn’t happen on its own and Innovate UK supports and de-risks business-led, strategic innovation, supporting the journey toward commercial exploitation and ultimately, a contribution toward UK economic growth.
The establishment of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC), with its seven Centres across the UK, provides critical infrastructure to companies wishing to grow.
We plan to continue to support companies in broadening their innovation activities, validating and exploiting newer technologies (with lucrative commercial potential) emerging from the UK’s strong science and R&D base.
And much of this will be from – and in – the digital sphere, where the UK also has world-leading innovators and where Innovate UK has been investing.
This will include, for example, more sophisticated robotics and autonomous systems; data analytics; connectivity and feedback loops across supply chains with a diverse customer base leading to personalisation and new types of service, and the characterisation and visualisation of novel materials and products.
New developments in areas such as additive manufacturing, composites and industrial biotechnology, are other areas in which Innovate UK and the research councils have encouraged R&D and innovation, and demonstration of technology at scale will lead to new sources of revenue and economic growth.
On the 9-10 November, Innovate 2015 will be taking place in London’s Billingsgate market bringing together some of the best new companies, entrepreneurs and 3,000 investors looking to spot the next big thing thing.
To be part of it, click here.