Unlocking manufacturing’s hidden potential

Posted on 19 Jun 2014 by Callum Bentley

Juergen Maier, Siemens plc CEO and an ambassador for the International Festival for Business speaks about the hidden opportunities waiting to be discovered by UK manufacturers ahead of today's Manufacturing Summit.

Siemens, Make it in Great Britain
Juergen Maier, CEO, Siemens plc

The UK’s economic future is looking bright, with upgraded growth forecasts, rising business investment and growing confidence paving the way to prosperity.

It’s good to see investment is increasingly recognised as key to keeping the recovery on track and, crucially, rebalancing the economy. The UK must showcase its strengths and opportunities to potential investors, while continuing to develop and further its portfolio.

A range of major investment programmes are being initiated to ensure the UK economy has the stability and longevity to survive. The government has invested £4.1m in Med City, creating a world-leading cluster for the biotech and life sciences industry in the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Cambridge and Oxford. The private sector is also mobilising; last month Siemens and Associated British Ports pledged £310m to build the UK’s first purpose-built wind turbine production factory in Hull, generating upwards of 3,000 thousand jobs in the region.

These schemes are building confidence in British industry and innovation. This was reflected in some of the major acquisitions that have dominated headlines already this year – $1bn invested in DeepMind and Natural Motion and a major IPO for health tech company, Circassia – firmly placing British business on the global stage.

However, further significant international investment will only materialise if the right infrastructure is in place. To ensure Britain remains an attractive investment target, domestic advancements in research and development, progressive green technology and other new technologies such as additive manufacturing and automation technologies must be championed.

These are the technologies of tomorrow that, if the UK can continue to make headway in, will ensure investment continues to come to our shores. And these are the technologies that will ensure the UK maintains its competitive advantage. More jobs will be created, greater regional growth achieved and the UK’s trade deficit reduced.

The UK is already doing well at inventing new products and leading the way in many of these new industries. Not only this, we excel in longer-established industries such as manufacturing cars – and can still proudly hold our title as the founding fathers and continued deliverers of excellence in these sectors. Just look at the quality that comes out of Jaguar Land Rover – the Range Rover Evoke being developed for export across the globe – or what about the Nissan plant in Sunderland, the most productive of its kind across the globe. We should be proud these innovations are developing on UK soil.

“We need to get better at deploying productivity-enhancing technologies such as automation in order to make manufacturing more competitive.”

To help champion UK entrepreneurship and innovation around the world, the city of Liverpool is hosting the International Festival for Business (IFB). Central to the Government’s plans to rebalance the economy and ensure a minimum of £100m investment into the UK, IFB is running for 50 days across the North West until the end of July.  During the Festival I will be speaking at the UK Warehousing Conference on the importance of nimble supply chains within the manufacturing sphere. This is just one of more than 200 events taking place as part of the festival, which will be a perfect opportunity to bring together some of the pioneers of British industry and showcase what the UK is capable of to the rest of the world.

The benefits of the festival will go beyond the mere figures. It will showcase to the world the vast, still largely untapped potential for investment outside of London and the South East. Whilst London has rightly earned its role as a financial powerhouse, the capital accounts for around 43 per cent of all FDI – a disproportionately high figure. And with the Government looking to accelerate regional investment through its enterprise zones and city deals, to international investors looking to invest regionally I say: now is the time to capitilise.

Hull is not the only regional city to hold hidden opportunity. Manchester attracted £800m of investment from Beijing into its Airport City, and Preston has secured £393m in recent FDI.

But the speed of development is fast, with the technologies of tomorrow fast becoming the technologies of yesterday. For this reason, the UK must not slacken the pace.

As a nation, we have fallen down historically by under-investing in industry, hence we are playing catch up with other powerhouses around the world, including Germany, Japan, the US and China.  We need to get better at deploying productivity-enhancing technologies such as automation in order to make manufacturing more competitive. We also need to increase the skills base for industry, investing in our young people at the age of 14 so that they can understand and deploy emerging technologies of the future.

Significant improvement is needed in speedily and effectively implementing our patents and industry firsts into our factories’ processes and products. The HVM Catapult network is designed for this but, if we are to catch up in the global manufacturing race, we must collaborate much more with other nations. Siemens is effectively working together with UK HVM Catapult to bring the first industry 4.0 demonstrator to the UK. Set to open this summer, it is fully connected to a demonstrator in Germany, allowing us to collaboratively develop the technology for UK-based manufacturers.

Ultimately it is about the flexibility and adaptability of the economy. Firms will invest in an economy that is built to adapt to change.

The UK boasts many unique attributes that make it a great place to do business. It is the home of the international language of business and sits halfway between East and West, making it a perfectly located gateway for global trade.

To deliver on the promise of these unique attributes, Britain must now provide the most attractive investment environment as possible through continual development of new technologies. If it can do so, the possibilities are vast.