Innovation 77
Manufacturing on the
front foot
With confidence in the City waning, is manufacturing
on the verge of a renaissance? If so, what lessons will
need to be learned to avoid past mistakes? Sean
Hargrave asks
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In the wake of the financial crisis, there is a
fundamental question facing the UK; if not
from the City, where is sustainable growth
going to come from?
During the heyday of the financial services boom, manufacturing
was always seen as a poor relation to the square mile but
now the bubble has burst, that could be on the verge of
changing.
“You can have the best
practices possible, but if
you’ve not got the
technology that makes
products people want,
you haven’t got a
product to sell in the first
place.”
Professor Lord
Bhattacharyya
The founder of WMG at the University of Warwick, Professor
Lord Bhattacharyya, certainly believes pro industry speeches
from ministers are giving a morale boost to manufacturers
with the message the sector is once again being taken
seriously as a pillar for sustainable economic growth.
“When you look back over the past couple of decades
governments allowed manufacturing to whither and backed
up lack of action by talk of us being a knowledge economy;
it was all poppycock,” he says.
“What car or washing machine isn’t based on knowledge?
All manufacturing is based on using know-how and technology
to build a good product the market needs. During the past
twenty or thirty years, though, we’ve made some huge
mistakes, such as the end of polytechnics and reducing
at-work studying for HNDs. We had paralysis by analysis,
product creation had been side stepped with endless
consultants concentrating on business processes and road
maps rather than producing products people wanted to buy.
You can have the best practices possible, but if you’ve not
got the technology that makes products people want, you
haven’t got a product to sell in the first place.”
Common sense
“This is crucial research
which will empower the
British motor
manufacturing industry
to build lower carbon
cars built around
technology and parts
developed and supplied
locally.”
Professor Richard
Dashwood
As such, Lord Bhattacharyya believes a Japanese colleague
once summed up perfectly the problem of how Britons
“make a science out of common sense”. Instead of
concentrating on technology and training a skilled work
force to turn innovation in to marketable products, he
believes the main issues have been ignored in Britain by
concentrating on management techniques.
However, with ailing manufacturing companies turning
themselves around, such as Rolls Royce, and inward
investment rejuvenating troubled brands, such as Jaguar
Land Rover, Lord Bhattacharyya believes it is now very clear
that the British economy is well placed for manufacturing growth.
With R&D tax credits increasing and University Technical
College plans being drawn up, the signs are good. If the
government could coordinate research funding better, to
concentrate on product development rather than blue sky
thinking, the signs could be even better.
“There’s no reason why manufacturing companies in Britain
cannot be huge successes,” he says.
“They may need some help with financing and this will need
to be built around short and medium term products, instead
of pure science for science’s sake. If that’s forthcoming, and
companies are willing to match any research funding they
get, so both sides are sharing the risk, then I think we’ll really
see improvements in manufacturing.
“The UK has a skilled work force and given the right leadership,
one which focuses on getting the right technology in place
so the company makes products people truly want, then I
think we’ll see a turnaround in manufacturing. Just as with
Rolls Royce, JLR and others, though, it will come from having
the best technology built in to the best engines, it won’t come
from managers tinkering with minor practices and missing
the big picture.”
If Government can continue to provide “a following wind”,
Lord Bhattacharyya is hopeful that the difficulties an over
reliance on the City has left the country facing will help bring
back the days when Britain took pride in its manufacturing
industries.
Researching low carbon cars
The UK’s motor manufacturing industry has a proven track
record in inward investment. WMG believes placing the
country at the heart of future development in the low carbon
economy is crucial to this industry. This includes technologies
such as lightweighting, hybrids and control systems. It is at
the centre of a Low Carbon Vehicle Technology Project which
has seen £19m of UK and EU government money matched
by £10m of private investment.
Professor Richard Dashwood, Academic Director at WMG
believes the work will be a shot in the arm for the future of
the UK’s low carbon industry.
“We’re working on every part of a car to make it from the
most low carbon materials and to ensure it consumes the
least amount of power,” he says.
“It will enable electric or hybrid cars to be developed that will
travel further for lower cost to both drivers and the environment.
We’re expecting to be showing a demonstrator vehicle by
the end of the year.
“This is crucial research which will empower the British motor
manufacturing industry to build lower carbon cars built around
technology and parts developed and supplied locally.”
Much of the development work is carried out digitally with
the backup of the WMG’s Vehicle Energy Facility which can
test the characterisation of hybrid powertrains, components
and control systems.