UK engineering excellence gets an international voice

Posted on 11 Mar 2009 by The Manufacturer

A co-ordinated global marketing initiative to promote the UK’s engineering expertise – The UK Advanced Engineering international strategy – was launched by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) today.

Launched by a panel of manufacturing chiefs headed by minister for trade and investment Lord Davies of Abersoch, the strategy is tasked with selling the UK’s world-class capabilities in advanced engineering to the world. The event was attended by 150 stakeholders including many manufacturers and was linked by satellite to a sister conference in Birmingham chaired by UKTI’s Dominic Jermey and Business Ambassador Lord Digby Jones, also attended by 150 business people.

Highlighting that the UK has always had a strong engineering pedigree in fields like aerospace, automotive and high performance (motorsport) engineering and defence, but has been slow to sing its own praises, the strategy launch focused on the importance of promoting the UK’s strengths in this field to a compliant international audience of potential trade partners, including China, Brazil and India. Lord Davies’ presentation, backed by a panel including business ambassador Sir Kevin Smith, chief executive of GKN and Gilbert Toppin, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturer’s organisation, emphasised Britain’s strengths in advanced engineering and countered the popular misrepresentation, particularly in the foreign media, of the UK’s economy being dependent on financial services. The UK is still the world’s sixth largest manufacturing country and the manufacturing sector comprises 13% of GDP and over 50% of exports. Lord Davies emphasised that the UK is one of the top, if not the top, destination for “quality foreign direct investment in engineering in the world.”

While specific details of the implementation of the new strategy were not announced, UKTI made a vocal commitment to promote engineering excellence with potential trade partners at corporate, state and educational levels.

China has a business delegation currently visiting companies in the aerospace sector and its representative at the London event, Zhao Yue, vice president of AVIC’s Xi’an Aero-Engine Group, told the conference the delegation was very impressed with the capability of UK advanced engineering companies. “As a major manufacturer of aircraft we need more cooperation with foreign partners in the areas of avionics, components for large aircraft over 150 seats and improved management of the business,” he said. Recognising that China was interested in investing in the British aerospace sector, he added “we hope UK companies will invest technology and expertise in Chinese plants and collaborate in technology transfer agreements.” In the next two decades demand for single deck aircraft in China is expected to exceed 3,200 units.

Several recent success stories were highlighted in the launch:
• During a visit by 150 Chinese business people co-organised by UKTI last month a general purchase agreement was signed between Rolls-Royce and HNA Group for Rolls-Royce engines and a service contract for 20 Airbus A330s worth £1.2bn.
• At the same event a three year supply contract was signed between Jaguar Land Rover and car company SCAS to supply 13,000 vehicles.
• Ford, currently manufacturing around 25% of its global vehicle engine output in the UK, is investing £70m in its Bridgend engine plant to produce the low carbon EcoBoost engine, supported by the Welsh Assembly. Most will be exported.
• UKYI has helped London company to sell a Shadow Dextrous Hand to NASA. The world’s most advanced robotic hand reproduces all 24 movements of the human hand.
• In 2007/2008 the UK received 182 inward investment projects in the advanced engineering sector, creating over 5,500 new jobs and safe-guarding 24,500.

Asked why the government is seen to support the financial sector throughout the economic crisis and not the manufacturing sector, Lord Davies said: “The financial sector is still extremely important to our economy and London will continue to be at or near the top of the world. The reality is we have a balanced economy and we all, government and the media, need to explain to people it is more balanced than some people think.” He did not think government had been too slow to recognise the importance of manufacturing as the financial crisis unfolded. “In fact UKTI has always focused on engineering for many years and has put comparatively few resources into [promoting] the financial sector.”

One conference delegate asked why it has taken so long for a co-ordinated government and industry supported global marketing strategy to be launched. Lord Davies deflected the question, preferring to re-emphasise that “the UK engineering community has a big story to sell and now is the time, while preparing for an economic recovery, to market ourselves to the world and shake-off the British self-deprecating tendencies when it comes to self promotion.”

While the conference took place, the Department for Business, Enterprise, announced it had awarded a grant of £26m to Jaguar Land Rover to help finance product development of a new low carbon car model.