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Our goal: learning from innovative manufacturing

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Innovation, Investment


I’m pleased to announce today the chosen projects for the latest UK Futures Programme competition, focusing on increasing the skills required for innovation in the manufacturing sector.

Judging the applications has been a rewarding process in itself, and I have been impressed by the range and vision of the chosen projects. They cover a rich variety of solutions to encourage innovation within and between organisations, and include combining job design and the incentivisation of innovation to improve productivity at a major manufacturer, right through to developing programmes aimed at improving vital innovation-relevant management and commercialisation skills for small and medium sized enterprises.  I am confident we will glean understanding and learning from these projects as to how innovation can be embedded into manufacturing in a range of ways, in a variety of settings and in firms of different sizes.

UK manufacturing is innovative - just under a fifth of all patents come from the UK - but can we do better? I was excited, back in February, when I set out the criteria for successful projects, calling on companies to look afresh at their existing ways of working and reinvent them effectively to stimulate and support the innovation process and subsequent commercialisation. For the chosen projects, this has meant devising not just new ways of working, but new ways of thinking. And there are great rewards to be had, if we get this right.

As an illustration of this, let's look at advanced manufacturing, whose importance to the UK was highlighted in a recent report by UKCES. Advanced manufacturing applies to the spectrum of manufacturing out there but is most commonly associated with technology-intensive industries.

The bare numbers alone are impressive here: advanced manufacturing involves 29,000 enterprises, supports 1.3m jobs and produces £72 billion GVA for our economy. To top that off, the advanced manufacturing industries export a higher proportion of goods than the manufacturing sector as a whole. It presents significant potential for further economic growth for the UK. And one of the drivers to do this is will be the ability to translate innovation into growth.

Talking of drivers, behind any innovation process is the human factor - the skills and talents of people which enable an innovation to be taken from an idea to success in the market. It’s tempting to think that innovation comes from unexpected flashes of brilliance – the original eureka moment of Archimedes streaking along a Syracuse street, bathwater slopping in his wake.  OK, so, as much as we’d like, not everyone can do their work from the bath. But Archimedes and his contemporaries set down foundations for the empirical, testable scientific method. And the idea of formulating, testing and learning fits squarely with our approach for the UK Futures Programme.

Ultimately, the ethos of the UK Futures Programme is to learn what it is about the innovative aspects of these projects which makes them successful - hoping to hit on those exciting nuggets of learning which show us not only how the project encourages innovation itself, but how we can apply this more broadly to other organisations and sectors.

The five chosen projects of the Skills for Innovation in Manufacturing competition have put together a hugely varied set of ideas on how we can get there. They are based throughout the UK - in Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, Swansea and Lancaster - and are led by BAE Systems, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Swansea University and the Northern Ireland Polymers Association. I congratulate them on their hard work already done and am interested to see what we learn from the work to come.

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