It sometimes feels as though we have entered a period of total doom and gloom with the global political turmoil, trade tariffs in the US, Brexit discussions etc. However the UK manufacturing sector is a lot more buoyant than the wider public may feel. I was lucky enough to attend two recent UK manufacturing events. At the MTA (Manufacturing Technology Association) annual dinner, the participants were extremely energised about the future opportunities and using technology such as AI to gear up for performance improvements and significantly helping UK manufactured goods. It was a similar story during a recent visit to the MTC (Manufacture Technology Centre) in Coventry. They are anticipating an upsurge in demand for their services including process support, prototyping and any other advanced manufacturing techniques post Brexit, as the UK will have to be potentially less reliant on non UK suppliers. These are premier manufacturing support hubs /platforms with a consistent message. A similar message was coming from another recent consultation briefing I attended on freight and logistics for the EA region. There is a shortfall in skilled labour to support these activities and companies in the supply chain sector are also clamouring, like the manufacturing sector, for more relevant training and education, both in the colleges and the universities. There was a sense that the new Apprenticeship Level Degree might go some way to meeting these needs, and both educationalists and employers in the room felt that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”.
Reverting back to the current global volatility, this the opportunity to re-think everything, both manufacturing itself and related education to meet the demands of the future. This is now the next incarnation of “Lean Thinking”, and requires the relentless pursuit of waste elimination, employee engagement, collaboration and challenging behaviours. There is a new programme, National Manufacturing Competitiveness Levels (NMCL), created by the Government-sponsored Automotive Council and Aerospace Growth Partnership bodies as well as the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) and Aerospace, Defence, Securities and Space (ADS) trade associations. The purpose is to promote cross-sector learning, and the MTC have also been already facilitating the programmes with shared research, learning and development at the highest end, while respecting individual company IP.
This is a massive opportunity for the UK and, if others countries follow suit, an opportunity for them. Given that a lot of the work that these development hubs do is based on AI and digitisation, this is totally consistent with Industry 4.0 and what is termed as the fourth incarnation of the industrial revolution.