Manufacturers warn that innovation could be behind the curve in traditional industries

23 January 2019

Manufacturers warn that innovation could be behind the curve in traditional industries

With the introduction of Industry 4.0 and investments such as automation and artificial intelligence being at the top of many firm’s budgets in recent years, several Yorkshire manufacturers discussed why it is so important for the sector to get ahead as they voiced concerns over current levels of innovation.

At  TheBusinessDesk’com’s What Yorkshire Is Made of roundtable discussion, sponsored by Grant Thornton and Progeny Corporate Law, Nigel Meredith, managing director of Dual Seal Glass, said his business had become 80% more automated in the business in the last 20 years, with significant investment in this area. He said: “But you can only do so much, there only so much automation you can put in. You have got to have a certain amount of manual work in manufacturing.”

Gordon Macrae of Gripple agreed, stating that “innovation is key” but it should not be confused with terms such as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things as this, to him, is simply “continuous improvement.”

Macrae chairs an accelerator programme and one of things that the group has tried to bring through is innovation in manufacturing. He said: “Actually, I am really disappointed; in this region there is very little ‘start up innovation’ in manufacturing.

“We are just not seeing the ideas coming through. It may be that is actually the wrong place to do it. For true innovation you need to have the team that is already in place, so it’s probably better doing it in established businesses.”

He said there needed to be links between real businesses and the likes of the AMRC in Sheffield.

Mark Overfield of Grant Thornton added that there was a perception about innovation being  a large investment but actually it was “about doing things better, more efficiently and to a higher quality.”

Mark Overfield

“If you take a youngster and talk about innovation or research, they are thinking of games development and other sectors coming into this region – not the traditional industries,” added Overfield.

Tracey Dawson, managing director of Daletech, agreed, adding: “We almost need to re-name manufacturing because it’s an unattractive word.”

Chris Seymour, managing director at William Cook, said innovation and thinking ahead about what the customer wanted was needed for business survival. He said: “I am trying to move our business away from making castings the customer wants to working with them to make it better for them.

“Four competitors have gone bust because they haven’t gone down that route.”

Macrae added: “We have to collaborate. Manufacturers are lousy, generally, at collaboration. I think we need to close supply chains up to try and get them as close to local as possible. If we can do more of that and be innovative, I am sure in Yorkshire we can be one of the truly great manufacturing regions in the world.”

Tracey Dawson

Dawson added:“Post 2008, SME manufacturers stopped investing, stopped R and D, stopped expenditure and sat back and produced and manufactured products that had worked. They had forgotten to invest. There is a major problem I can foresee.

“It’s interesting how other manufacturers haven’t picked up innovation. They are sitting in a ‘well, we have done it like this for years’ frame of mind and it’s a very worrying attitude.”

She said this was something the Leeds Manufacturing Alliance, which she chairs, is trying to address. “It is a fear that they have – faced with Brexit, faced with needing to be flexible and agile; yet there is a core of manufacturers who have not invested and don’t seem to have bought into the innovation.”

Dawson added said that in the Leeds City Region along there were 1,800 manufacturing companies in total employing over 23,000 people. “There is a lot of work to be done around the culture and encouraging young people. More than that – manufacturers need to open their eyes and bring them in and accept that innovation is the only way to futureproof manufacturing.”