UK manufacturing industries are subject to the global market economy. This has provided many benefits with an influx of overseas companies, who have stimulated new thinking related to managing and growing successful companies.  As a consequence, there has been a relentless takeover of manufacturing businesses: UK-owned companies no longer develop vehicles, civil aircraft, trains, merchant ships, power generation systems, white goods and most electronic equipment, making us reliant on other countries’ technologies.  The UK still influences the design of many items, but foreign companies have taken control, owning the intellectual property. This intrinsic knowledge of how to design and manufacture products is critical to the UK economy, because the sale of such products provides the cash flowing through our supply chains, increasing the company’s and country’s wealth. Historically nations have become rich and powerful based on an ability to make and sell goods. It is difficult to understand why so many politicians and key decision makers believe the UK can maintain our living standards without the wealth provided by manufacturing industries.  

I have worked across many industrial sectors, instigating change.  When Programme Director of Lucas Aerospace, we transformed traditional military contractors in the UK and US to be competitive in global civil aerospace markets. We achieved the USA, Aviation Week and Space Technology Award for the ‘Most improved major aerospace company.’ I wrote the questions for the IMechE’s Manufacturing Excellence Awards, (Mx) which was purchased by German industrialists and Berlin Technical University academics for their own Mx Awards.  Following my industrial career, I was a Principal Fellow at Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick and was able to observe the best practices used by manufacturing industries in the UK and overseas.

To be competitive, UK manufacturing companies must change, requiring innovation across all areas of a business.  In my experience, successful companies have well developed business processes that are fully understood and followed by everyone in the organisation.

Aspects that must be addressed are:

1    Companies must remove departmental barriers, reorganising around core business processes needed to satisfy their customers

Functional departments that emerged based on labour efficiency with people performing simple tasks must be reorganised.  Such departmental silos create complex organisations with inefficient, ill-defined processes that are difficult to manage.  Companies must establish their core processes that focus on delivering value to the customer.  This requires people to undertake a wider range of tasks in order to simplify the process.  To be successful they need to be trained in a variety of technical and organisational skills, including quality requirements.

Manufacturing business should adopt five core processes:

  1. Identify customer needs and win orders / directors’ commitment to invest
  2. Design products and manufacturing processes to meet the customer/market need
  3. Manage supply chains to manufacture high quality products, on time and to cost
  4. Deliver/distribute and sell these products to satisfy customer demand
  5. Support these products in service and recycle at end of life, where appropriate

Each of these processes will be different, depending upon the type of business, but the change from a functional to a process-based organisation is key to increasing productivity. It affects the whole business and how people work.  They must be designed by people who understand the business with everyone involved in making further improvements.  Once teams take responsibility for a range of tasks within the process, a business becomes much easier to manage.  Lead times can be reduced, requiring less working capital and supervision.  It is crucial managers know their core processes and what makes their business successful.

2     Product development must be driven by market pull not technology push

The viability of a business is reliant on the commercial success of its new products.  Relying on technical departments developing these products is no longer sustainable.  Experience shows product innovation is far more successful if driven by market pull, based on future customer/market requirements.  This necessitates different skill sets, specialising in knowing your customers, identifying potential markets and trends, appraising existing/emerging technologies, establishing product life cycles and defining critical success factors.  These findings need translating into product specifications, quantifying the potential price/volumes in selected territories with associated target costs.  These activities should be undertaken by a team, managed by a project manager and supported by senior management who take responsibility for developing a viable business case and winning customer orders.  This group must then make strategic decisions on what to manufacture inhouse and what to buy.  Such products/services may require new technologies to be developed to satisfy specific business opportunities.  These should be identified on technology ‘route maps’ that determine when new sciences must be available for the commercial success of these products.

3     Manufacturing must take a central role

Manufacturing operations have frequently been regarded as a secondary activity, with items being source overseas as a supposedly cheaper alternative.  Ownership of manufacturing is critical for protecting intellectual property, determining the cost of production, influencing the speed to market and the management of supply chains. The sale of goods/services is the primary supply of cash for the business.  Cost-effective manufacture of core components is key to many successful companies.  This requires investments in equipment to produce critical components and offset any labour cost advantages enjoyed by low-cost economies.  Process capability must be achieved across all operations, products/components must meet necessary quality standards and be delivered on time to customers.  Manufacturing operations should be re-designed into manageable modules, run by multi-skilled teams committed to continual improvement. This is the start of becoming internationally competitive.

Today, people are rightly concerned about our environment and the sustainability of our planet.  The government must take a lead on these very important issues.  It is alarming that as we sell more of our manufacturing industries to overseas owners, the UK is unable to directly instigate the innovative technical solutions needed to resolve these potentially life-threatening challenges or items we consider essential for maintaining our enviable lifestyle.

Over many years the UK has relied on The City and our service-based economy, but since leaving the EU the UK is no longer the financial capital of Europe.  The Government must act to regenerate our manufacturing industrial base in order to generate the wealth needed to maintain living standards, protect our environment and defend ourselves.

This will require the Government to:

  • Collectively establish those future products needed for the wellbeing of our citizens
  • Ensure 80% of funding for industry and universities can be identified on technology route maps linked to those products and services people need
  • Champion redesigning our organisations around processes, not isolated departments
  • Take a lead in ensuring our universities, industry and entrepreneurial SME’s work together creating virtual organisations that can compete in global markets
  • Provide access to training at all levels, increasing skills that allow people to develop their true potential and work in teams responsible for managing their own activities
  • Promote the need for professional engineers, who apply science and mathematics to create products that generate wealth
  • Champion the vital resurgence of manufacturing industries in the UK
  • Focus on innovation, exploiting invention on a commercial scale

Dr John Garside CEng FIMechE

Former Principal Fellow, WMG, The University of Warwick