Innovation in Manufacturing
The situation so far
Innovation is key to unlocking future revenue and growth across UK manufacturing, particularly as the UK faces potential challenges to trade and a host of other uncertainties post Brexit. I am lucky to see so many companies every day who are embracing the opportunities that innovation has to offer, but I am aware this is not the situation throughout the UK.
The industry has previously suffered from lower productivity than our key manufacturing competitors such as Germany and the US, and this has only been exacerbated by reticence to invest in new technology and embrace innovation. The UK has been slow off the mark with adoption of robotic automation and our research shows that 1 in 4 manufacturers remain unconvinced on the return on investment offered by technology. As UK productivity is reported to be 16.6% lower than the rest of the G7 nations in 2015, its clear this is not a trend we can afford to continue.
New opportunities – the 4th Industrial Revolution
With the exciting possibilities of machine learning, Internet of Things, 3D printing and big data – the cornerstones of the so-called 4IR – opportunities for innovation are truly within our grasp.
For many companies these ideas seem far from reality, but the pace of change is moving fast. Klaus Schwab from the World Economic Forum said the speed of change has ‘no historical precedent’, ‘we are moving at an exponential rather than linear pace.’ Adoption is not a question of if, its becoming a question of when.
Whilst the future looks exciting, it can also be quite a daunting prospect for an industry that has been historically hesitant to embrace change and new technologies. We must work together to bridge the gaps, enhance education and training so we all feel more comfortable with what we can achieve.
Research by Barclays showed that enhancing UK investment in 4IR technologies could benefit from an overall boost to annual revenues of £102bn. This could lift the sector to growth of more than 15% above current expectations within a decade and create 101,000 extra direct jobs and 44,000 indirect jobs. At this rate, the ‘notorious productivity gap’ could fast become a misconception of the past. As the threat of Brexit undoubtedly looms over us, UK manufacturing has an opportunity to invest in its own future through this technology. 
Innovation in action
There are lots of ways we can innovate, and they don’t have to involve vast technological investments – we also need to play on individual strengths and be bold in our strategy for growth. I have spent lot of time with high end bed manufacturer Harrison Spinks since their foray into other areas of manufacturing. By concentrating on their innovative spring technology they were able to realise opportunities across multiple industries such as footwear and furniture and sell on an international scale. I am excited to see how other companies innovate to expand their domestic and international presence.
Inspiring innovation will have the added bonus of changing perceptions of manufacturing and attracting potential talent to the industry. One of the greatest challenges for manufacturing in the coming years is how to be more appealing to the next generation, particularly women, who have previously been vastly under represented and may view the industry as outdated and unglamorous.
With such great potential, my focus shifts to how we can move forward together. As we go into a time of uncertainty, we must continue to innovate and adapt to change to stay competitive on an international market. I am excited to see this come to life as a topic of conversation for Bradford Manufacturing Week.
If you’d like to read more about 4IR, our full report can be found here.
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