Closing the gap between concept and commercial success

01 FT cover.inddHow would you describe the current state of UK manufacturing? The UK is the ninth-largest manufacturing nation in the world. Manufacturing makes up 10 per cent of our GVA, accounts for almost half of our exports, employs over 2.7 million people and provides over two-thirds of our research and development investment. Many of the innovations developed for manufacturing subsequently find their way into other sectors.

So why does the government need to get involved? Can’t industry look after itself? All nations want a rich seam of advanced manufacturing value in their economies. All are offering to help companies to invest, through direct assistance or though the provision of supported research and development. In the UK, we have some of the best technological research in the world, so it makes sense to exploit this and offer an attractive, stable and supportive place to innovate. The conventional way of taking small steps to make continuous, gradual improvements is no longer enough in a world offering lower labour and energy costs than the UK. Industry – if left unsupported – would continue to improve, but not at the speed and scale required and would inevitably focus on lower-risk, more “vanillaflavoured” innovations. We need high-risk, disruptive technology.

How does government know where to invest in order to best support industry? The UK has an excellent network of collaborative business groups – such as the Aerospace Growth Partnership and the Automotive Council – where the main players come together to define which technologies need to be developed to keep us competitive. The government’s proposed Industrial Strategy aims to build on their input, as does Innovate UK’s Manufacturing and Materials Investment strategy, which will be launched on 2 November. It will stimulate innovation and adoption across all sectors of the UK economy by enabling UK businesses to develop transformative, flexible and resourceefficient manufacturing. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult has a big role to play in delivering the strategy, by helping industry bridge the gap between concepts and commercial exploitation. There is a good reason why companies – if unsupported – may not turn their innovations into manufactured products. It is often very expensive, requiring investment in equipment and expertise, without the guarantee of success. The HVM Catapult removes those risks. Companies of any size and based anywhere in the UK, can access our equipment (we have over half a billion pounds worth of assets), our expertise (we employ over 1,900 engineers, technicians and scientists), and our networks for collaboration. Our set-up also enables us to take technologies that are tried and tested in one sector and help implement these in others. In 2015-16 we worked with over 3,000 industry customers, over half of whom were SMEs. Collectively, they contributed over £70m to our total income, a clear sign that businesses are keen to access – and pay for – what we have to offer. We have a successful formula, offering technology capabilities ranging from composites materials to biologics, from additive manufacturing to printable electronics, and from metal forming to digital manufacturing.

How do you see Industry 4.0 impacting on UK manufacturing? Industry 4.0 is best described as software-defined manufacturing. It is a digital revolution that introduces a new level of automation and cyber-physical systems that will disrupt manufacturing and other sectors, creating exciting opportunities for businesses that engage. Cloud and mobile technology now allows us to access data anywhere and any time. New developments, such as 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality and advanced materials, help us make things in ways impossible before. VR and AR enable collaborative design and allow us to test products virtually, before producing physical prototypes. The capture of product data means different design iterations draw on user experience analysis. The production process may change, too, as traditional manufacturing processes are replaced or complemented by new technologies such as additive manufacturing. Even the sales process is changing as manufacturers now often seek a longterm customer relationship by offering through-life engineering services. Rather than buying a product, the customer buys the product’s performance. Industry 4.0 even affects how we manage a product’s end of life, as advanced technologies minimise waste by recycling most materials.

So how does the HVM Catapult account for these profound new ways of working? We work with a wide spectrum of universities and industry players at the very cutting edge of technology and it puts us in a unique position to see what the next trends in innovation will be. We are then able to invest in manpower and equipment ahead of the curve. Our Energy Innovation Centre at the WMG Catapult Centre, for example, works with industry and leading academics on the development and scale-up of innovative battery solutions for domestic appliances, the automotive industry, the grid and other applications. It is the only centre of its kind in Europe, as it not only focuses on battery chemistry, but also on the actual manufacture and testing of battery cells and packs. Our National Netshape and Additive Manufacturing Centre at the MTC works with industry on the UK’s first Additive Manufacturing Strategy, exploring how different sectors can exploit this technology to their benefit. Our National Biologics Manufacturing Centre in Darlington helps clients in the biologics sector to accelerate the commercialisation of new processes and technologies in areas such as new cancer therapies. Our revolutionary, fully reconfigurable Factory 2050 facility at the AMRC houses the latest data-driven assembly technology, with initial projects including a programme to take aerospace manufacturing technology into the construction industry. Through a new Industrial Strategy, the government plans to put the UK in a prime position to exploit global market opportunities through leading technological development. Equipped with the right tools to achieve this aim with the national resources of the HVM Catapult, it is no wonder that we are seen as the go-to authority for advanced manufacturing needs.

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