Re-using the wheel, modern day innovation

The UK’s decision to leave the EU, the battle for the US presidency, the slowdown of the Chinese economy, the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, all combine into a period of uncertainty which hasn’t been seen for several decades in our country.

Industry doesn’t like uncertainty; it needs stability and a clear long-term purpose. In a world of uncertainty, industry needs to create its own constancy, in order to be able to continue ‘business as usual’.
I see the way to create this constancy as focusing on expanding and exploiting what we do best in this country: developing innovations –new technologies, processes, products, materials – and taking them through to commercial production to export around the world.

Industry will not need to do that alone. The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult works with industry, academia and government to push the boundaries of high end manufacturing by bringing the UK’s best technology innovations to market.

Scaling up early stage innovations often comes with high cost and risk. The HVM Catapult reduces that risk by offering manufacturing companies open access to over £560m worth of industrial scale, world class facilities and manufacturing equipment, spanning the broad spectrum of manufacturing. Our team of over 1,900 engineers, scientists, technicians and other staff give practical support, set in an environment for businesses to collaborate. Last year alone, over 3,000 companies (50%+ were SMEs) from all parts of the UK used our services to bring their technology innovations to market. An independent study in 2015 showed that for every £1 of core funding we’ve locked in £15 of value to UK economy.

So why does innovation matter in my view?

Innovative companies are more successful and their growth in turn boosts our entire economy. In my job, I am fortunate to know many companies (ranging from multinational OEMs to small start-ups) who have seen this first-hand, and experience tremendous and often unforeseen benefits of innovating.

Innovation breeds innovators, motivated and talented people that drive a healthy economy. Our manufacturing excellence, exemplified in our world-class biotechnology industry, our F1 performance, our RR jet engines, inspires our young people to choose a career in engineering.

Innovation is key to productivity. It is no coincidence that the most innovation hungry sectors are already very productive, such as aerospace and defence and the British automotive industry. It is key that lessons learnt from innovation in successful sectors is used for the benefit of UK manufacturing and the wider economy.

We need to tell the world innovation is often re-using, rather than re-inventing – the wheel. I see tremendous opportunity for innovations that are tried and tested in one sector, being successfully adapted and applied in other sectors.

Additive manufacturing technology, of which aerospace is an early adopter, now finds seemingly limitless opportunities in the medical technologies sector including surgical instruments and orthopaedic implants.

Virtual Reality, which has been used in automotive for years, is now one of many advanced manufacturing techniques being introduced in the construction industry, which often still builds multi-million projects based on 2D drawings.

The automotive industry has started to exploit the potential of advanced composite materials, which to date were mainly used in aerospace applications. Lessons learned to reduce costs in automotive will eventually be ploughed back into aerospace.
These are just a couple of examples of technology innovation adapting from one sector to another, creating new market opportunities.

I am very much looking forward to an energised debate at CoInnovate about the ways in which we can collectively drive our innovation forward to a future of even more resilience and manufacturing strength.

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