Representatives from across the UK’s aerospace sector gathered in Nottingham on Wednesday to focus on driving competitiveness within their industry.
More than 180 manufacturing and aerospace managers attended the annual Sharing in Growth (SiG) conference, which featured the work of a series of British SME manufacturers that supply into the sector. These companies were among the more than 50 businesses currently benefiting from SiG’s competitiveness and productivity support programme.
SiG was set up in 2013 to deliver a £250m programme of intensive supplier development, in order to support the UK’s globally competitive aerospace sector with a world class and homegrown supplier network. Main funding for the programme has come from successful Regional Growth Fund applications, and backed by industry.
More than 3,000 companies comprise the UK aerospace sector, employing some 230,000 people. With an 18% global share, the industry is the largest in Europe, and second globally only to the US. The vast majority (90%) of turnover is derived from export markets, worth somewhere in the region of £26bn.
Competitiveness, employee engagement and productivity were the three key areas of focus for businesses attending the conference. According to Andy Page, CEO of Sharing in Growth (seconded from Rolls-Royce), the UK’s manufacturing sector was split between ‘zombie’ companies that struggled to see any productivity gains and ‘gazelles’ that were achieving dramatic and accelerating productivity growth.
Page commented: “The challenges and opportunities of digital, skills shortage, Brexit, future single aisle aircraft production, to name but a few are often discussed, but seldom with clear conclusions. We remain convinced that productivity is an essential preparation for any of these eventualities and its pursuit needs to be relentless.”
The work for aerospace manufacturers is improving the capacity of their organisations to sustain growth over the long-term. The early signs are positive – with more than £2bn of total contract value won by the first cohort of companies to enter the SiG programme.
UK aerospace at a glance:
- 128,000+ direct jobs // 140,000 indirect jobs
- £31bn annual turnover
- 30% productivity growth in the past five years
- 39% growth since 2010
- 18% global market share – largest in Europe and second globally to the US
- 90% of turnover to export markets – worth £26bn
- Almost a decade’s worth of work in hand, with an order book of more than 13,000 aircraft worth up to £195bn to the UK
(Information courtesy of adsgroup.org.uk)
Nottinghamshire-based supplier Icon Aerospace Technology has achieved a transformative 33% improvement in production rates, 20% improvement in yield and 29% turnover growth in its first SiG year.
CEO, Tim Pryce explained the critical enablers to The Manufacturer, namely engaging the workforce behind its vision through regular, structured communication, 12-week transformational projects, improving NPI activities and focusing on productivity and a key production value stream.
Pryce described how the company’s involvement in the SiG programme had enabled it to gain a better insight, forcing the business to review how it operated and challenge existing processes. The changes have been welcomed by both customers and staff, with the business retaining contracts worth £53m.
Graham Catley, general manager at fibre optic module and laser terminal sub-systems manufacturer, Gooch & Housego, explained how SiG helped it understand the difference between employee ‘involvement’ and employee ‘engagement’, a pivotal step in its aim of doubling turnover to £30m by 2020.
Having embedded continuous improvement across every department and employee, the company has increased productivity, tripled its lighthouse line output and improved yield to more than 90%.
Yan Tiefenbrun, managing director from Glasgow-based Castle Precision Engineering, explained how the company’s highly motivated team created a radically new working environment, rationalising and maximising space to derive significant cost reductions and process improvements. As a result, the business was able to provide customers with increasingly competitive packages and winning a number of high-value contracts.
Since joining SiG in 2014, precision engineering firm Nasmyth Metallics Bulwell has increased turnover from £24m to almost £30m, and hired 20 skilled engineers, operators and apprentices.
The firm’s plant director, Eddie Jones, explained to The Manufacturer how SiG helped the business to develop a strategy for growth by identifying the true cost of parts through cost modelling, implementing a cost reduction programme, undertaking leadership development and workforce upskilling, among other steps.
As a result, Bulwell has a record £30m order book and is proactively looking to invest further in its workforce, processes and machines.
These are just a selection of achievements demonstrated by all 10 of the day’s showcase presentations, every one of which stressed several common themes:
- Employee engagement directly leads to business growth, so ensure your company knows and understands the difference between ‘engagement’ and mere ‘involvement’. A positive first step is clearly communicating how actions and improvements on one area impacts business growth overall.
- Even in our ultra-connected, digital world, the importance of face-to-face communication can’t be forgotten. It helps build deeper customer relationships, allowing you to better understand their wants and needs, as well as helping to break down internal siloes.
- Ensure you take the time to step-back and truly reflect on what you do well as leaders and as a business overall, and what you don’t. A simple SWOT analysis doesn’t offer the deep insights necessary, particularly when looking across the short, medium and long-term.
- Initially, many businesses and employees can’t see how any time can be spared to undertake continuous improvement activities as part of the working day. However, the majority of companies waste huge amounts of valuable time fighting fires of one description or another.
- Data and data collection is only going to grow in importance, affecting every operation of your business from R&D and design, through to production, distribution and customer service. You need to become familiar with data today to stay competitive tomorrow.
- Executives and directors need to develop bilingual capabilities in order to better understand their own business, while also gaining an awareness of new technologies and the capabilities they offer.