The future of manufacturing - an expert view
Steve, the director of the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the IfM and director of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Industrial Sustainability, was one of the team of lead experts working for two years on the report, recently published recently by Foresight in the Government Office for Science.
The report states that manufacturing is set to enter a dynamic new phase, driven by rapid changes in technology, new ways of doing business, and potential volatility around the price and availability of resources. It predicts a manufacturing sector that is faster, more responsive and closer to customers, more sustainable and built on a more highly-skilled workforce.
In this vision, Government will have to act closely in partnership with industry if this is to happen, taking an integrated view of the manufacturing sector and a systems approach to policy.
The report draws on 37 separate technical papers looking into detailed questions that led to the collation and analysis of a huge amount of evidence.
He says: "We have been doing this for two years. We've gathered an enormous amount of evidence. We believe very few people have integrated this breadth of evidence around industry and the systems that industry is part of - it ranges from skills through exports through technology."
He stresses that the report does not present detailed pictures of the future nor does it make explicit statements on policy - but it still "has strong things to say".
"We are looking at the patterns of what is important in the future," he says. "This is a foresight exercise. Foresight exercises are not meant to present policy - they are intended to look at what might happen and what might change so policymakers can make better policy."
He says part of the remit was to look at what the UK does well, why it may be behind other countries in certain areas, and what can be done to catch up.
"The report says we must learn how to hold an integrated view of manufacturing and the connections between design, make and serve," he says.
The report highlights three areas for Government action:
- Better intelligence - Government policy needs to be informed by data which accurately reflects how manufacturing is connected across the economy and how it is changing.
- Better targeting of support - the Government has an opportunity to take its industrial strategy to the next level by tailoring policies to specific requirements of industries to support the emergence of new ways of doing business.
- Better capability - the Government needs to keep up with the pace of change in manufacturing and draw together intelligence on the sector to inform policy, evaluate the impact of programmes, and inform policy coordination across Whitehall.
A criticism of policymaking, Steve says, is a tendency to take a "slicing view" whereas the report's authors believe that policymaking should be more integrated - even to the point of having a dedicated Government Office.
He says: "We do recommend that we set up an Office for Manufacturing that looks across Government departments and takes a systems view. We would like industry and Government to develop integrated roadmaps that inform sector development as well as informing policymakers. We want to bring industry and Government closer together."
Steve says new technology, such as additive manufacturing, will change global patterns in manufacturing, as will the quantities of data available from increasingly prevalent sensors in manufactured products.
He says: "What will that imply for manufacturing - the enormous quantities of data that are available and the sharing of that data? Almost every product we own will have sensors that will somehow get information back to the companies."
The existing model where companies create a product they simply sell is changing - firms increasingly want to retain ownership of their products, many created at considerable expense.
He points to the Rolls Royce 'Revert' programme as an example of retaining product ownership, where it recovers, recycles and reuses waste metals in manufacturing that can be melted again and turned into new aerospace alloys.
And this is just one indicator of the importance of sustainability in manufacturing, not only in the UK but globally.
Steve says: "Internationally, we have observed that sustainability is the top agenda item across the globe. We expect and predict companies will be working hard on their sustainability and efficiency strategies and changing their business models."
He says skills and knowledge are key to putting the country in a position to face new challenges and exploit new opportunities.
"Skills and knowledge are going to be important," he says. "40 per cent of jobs in manufacturing in the UK today are at level three or above, mostly graduates. There are as many managers in manufacturing as there are machine operators. It is a high technology industry already - and it will get faster and more clever."
With the number of managers set to outstrip the number of machine operators in the future, he concludes that the prospects for manufacturing in the UK are bright and that the country's industry is well placed to fulfil its potential to contribute to economic growth.
"The UK is in a good position in terms of preparing for the future. We are good at knowledge. We are as well prepared for the future as anybody."
Download the report here.