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In Uncertain Times, Keep Calm and Innovate

Dick HVM CatapultDick Elsy, Chief Executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, blogs about why Scottish manufacturers need to keep innovating – even in these uncertain times.  

The UK is reflecting on its place in the global market. As the full political and economic implications of the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not be known for some time, the only certainty is … uncertainty.

Most industry leaders are supporting a “business as usual” stance at this time, and to underpin this they require reassurance, sight of long term stability and constancy of purpose. I offer up the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult as the example of that constancy.

The HVM Catapult is a collaboration between industry, academia and government which pushes the boundaries of high end manufacturing by bring the UK’s best technology innovations to market.

The process of scaling up early stage innovation is risky; often involving high costs without guarantee of success. We reduce that risk by offering manufacturing companies open access to over £560m worth of industrial scale, world class facilities and manufacturing equipment, more than 1,900 engineers, scientists, technicians and other staff to give practical support, and an environment for businesses to collaborate.

The HVM Catapult comprises seven centres of national capability across the country, including the Advanced Forming Research Centre in Renfrew. Each of our centres excels at specific areas of technology innovation and collectively, our capabilities span the broad spectrum of manufacturing.

Last year we helped over 3,000 companies. They included many leading industrial brands, but more than 1,700 – over 50% of the total – were SME’s.  Companies of all sizes and all parts of the UK use our services and facilities to bring their technology innovations to market.

Great news – but has any of this had economic impact? As the HVMC is run by industrialists we’ve been keen to set and deliver tough targets. We commissioned an independent study last year that showed for every £1 of core funding we’ve locked in £15 of value to UK economy.

This matters, because making and selling things is the cornerstone of a healthy and balanced UK economy, and commercialising our innovations is fundamentally important to securing our future as a manufacturing nation.

Firstly, there is well-documented evidence that innovative companies successfully grow faster. This in turn makes our entire economy more competitive. Whilst a weak currency may reduce cost and boost exports in the short term, the UK’s competitive edge needs to come from excellence and innovation rather than cost alone.

Secondly, technology innovation is key to productivity improvements. Productivity in the UK – and in Scotland in particular – lags behind that of our competitor economies. This gap will only be closed by step change improvements generated by the development and implementation of innovative technology solutions.

Thirdly, innovation breeds innovators and a healthy manufacturing industry needs a constant stream of motivated talented people. Our centres play a key role in preparing young people with the technology skills needed in the high tech global markets of today and tomorrow.

More than ever, therefore, businesses need to focus on innovation to achieve success in an increasingly competitive market. Scottish manufacturers are fortunate with support not only from the AFRC and other HVM Catapult Centres, but also from the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service. With its track record of developing and achieving a culture of business excellence, SMAS is an asset to Scottish Manufacturing and I look forward to a continued strong relationship with Nick Shields and his team.

Whilst I cannot promise plain sailing for all, I believe the keep calm and innovate approach will see UK and Scottish manufacturing through short-term turmoil and into renewed resilience and success going forward

If you want to know more about the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, visit the HVM Catapult – AFRC stand at the SMAS event on  8 September; visit www.hvm.catapult.org.uk or follow @HVM_Catapult.