Congratulations to all UK Manufacturing companies!

Manufacturing has shown successive growth for the past six quarters….good news!

Unfortunatley for us within manufacturing, this sort of good news is poorly publicised and always tempered with a note of caution.  I feel that as fuel costs spiral and fears of the supply-chain are on the rise, the UK should be preparing for a new age of manufacturing prowess!

In my hunt to try and understand Economists, maybe news on manufacturing has to be cautious. After all, we are living in complex and changeable times. But my frustration is that UK Manufacturing to the Economists always appears particularly volatile. In June 2011, the quarterly Manufacturing outlook was generally up beat. The Official statisitics confirmed six consecutive quarters of expansion in manufacturing output and solid growth through 2011 and 2012 was predicted to maintain growth. But by September, they had scaled back their growth forecasts. Despite reports from trade bodies that were painting a much brighter picture. Economists justify their reasons for cutting  growth predictions from 3.2% to 2.8% this year and from 2.8% to 2.2% next year with an uninspiring one phrase fits all “challenges in the global economic environment”. My quest to understand seemingly ends here.

I believe UK firms do an incredible job within the circumstances they are given. Such has been the case for many years. I’m always optimisitic about UK Manufacturing as it has always thought long term, has a pragmatic view of the world, a huge amount of strength and is used to operating in adveristy…..something maybe we could thank successive Governments for?

What the sector needs is more commitment from Government to help it face its biggest challenges: Short-term thinking, Access to finance, Climate change policy, Regulation, Taxes and Skills shortage.

Its fine for Politicians to make long overdue positive noises about why manufacturing is so important, but it takes time and does not take away from the fact that 25 years of successive Government have failed the manufacturing sector!

So will Government develop the fiscal and regulatory frameworks that create the right environment for a progressive manufacturing base?  It must offer companies more support by investing in skills training, innovation, Research & Development as well as set the scene for the long term.  What about convincing more companies to base production here if its feasible?  I accept we are not best suited to every type of manufacture. It does make more commercial sense to locate low-value, high volume goods in cheaper locations.

This much publicised downturn should be the opportunity and provide the impetus to boost sales of British made goods.

UK Manufacturing has the potential to remain a vibrant part of the economy.

Come on Parliament, be brave, provide a service to the country and think longer than your term of office.

Manufacturing is coming home

China may be slightly cheaper, but now is the time to be asking, “is it really worth it?”

A combination of high fuel, logistics, insurance, concerns of the supply chain, rising oversea labour costs, governments rewarding and encouraging local and regional growth, and a growing interest in quality and heritage of British industry are convincing factors for companies to review strategies and even bring parts of the manufacturing back to the UK!

A recession is always good to focus the mind. Service, speed of delivery and comfort of being located near the supplier are all having there effect. The UK must continue to position itself very strongly around innovation and customer service again.

The importance of retaining and nurturing home-based technical skills can not be under estimated when it comes to attracting overseas investment and developing the existing manufacturing base. Even in a volatile and competitive global economy, British workmanship, innovation and ingenuity attracts investment, contributing to UK plc growth.

Support UK Manufacturing and put the heart and soul back into our communities.

Steve Jobs: the Stanford Commencement Address—Love and Loss, Triumph and Death

Steve Jobs – February 24th 1955 to October 5th 2011

Just an awesome and inspriational speech…….and I only heard it for the first time 2 weeks before his death.

This is a prepared text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005 at Stanford University.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife.

Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Why do successive Governments ignore the long term?

The recent announcement of further major job losses at BAE Systems is obviously unwelcome news for the manufacturing sector as a whole. BAE has made a series of cuts over the past 2-3 years.  Some would argue that this has been on the cards ever since the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The scale of the job cuts and apparent impact on the highly-skilled workers came as a shock and a major disappointment – particularly in the light of Government’s stated desire to ‘rebalance the economy’.

Ultimately, the BAE job losses illustrate the fine line this Government is having to walk between its promise to cut the UK’s public spending deficit and its desire not to hinder growth in key sectors such as manufacturing. Nobody is pretending that this is anything other than a difficult balance to find, but it is to be hoped that the need to cut spending does not blind us to the need to foster growth.

If Manufacturing with an educated, high-technology economy are what is going to see UK plc thrive and prosper in the coming generations, surely Governments must have better vision and plan for longer term stability.

I know Owners of manufacturing business certainly do!

Beware China’s dominance for rare earth materials used in motion control

China currently dominates the world supply of the raw rare earth materials and many derivative products – including high performance magnets and motors!

All engineers working in the motion control industry appreciate the considerable advances in motor performance that has been brought about over the past few decades by the commercialisation and mass manufacture of rare earth magnet systems. Rare earth based magnet materials, particularly those using Neodymium Iron Boride or NdFeB, offer a marked dynamic performance increase over ferrite magnet types for motor torque and acceleration. This magnet material also contributes to improved motor efficiency and a reduction in the actual motor frame size required to do a job. At present there are no commercially available motor technologies that can rival the performance of NdFeB for most application areas.

Neodymium rare earth magnets are now widely employed in both linear and rotary, brushed and brushless servomotors as well as stepper motors used for automated positioning systems.  They are also used in other specialist areas such as cordless tools and computer hard drives. Wind turbine generators may also benefit from rare earth  materials for improved performance and efficiency. Electric vehicles, which are an almost predestined requirement for our future transportation will greatly benefit from NdFeB.

Less than 15 years ago, 90 percent of the world’s magnet production was in the USA, Europe or Japan but China’s rare earth industries were developed several years before this with major investment whilst other countries allowed their grip on the industry to loosen. China’s emerging industries began offering extremely competitive pricing for rare earth derivative materials such as magnets which caused other countries manufacturers to fall away or to lose interest. Nowadays however, the purchase cost  of materials and many downstream products from China has become increasingly expensive with high price increases each year. At the same time China is reducing exports of rare earth materials though at present not the downstream products using them – but that may be just a matter of time?.
This situation has an increasingly worrying impact on major high technology sectors in the USA, Japan and Germany and whilst the UK, by comparison,  is neither a major user of rare earth materials or magnets for motor production, it is however reliant upon the availability of motors, generators and other downstream NdFeB based products as important components for the high technology industries that it excels in.

There are many reports on this predicament which cover the wider situation, extending to the potential dearth of other rare earth materials that are critical for many high technology areas  from lasers and fibre optic technologies to metal alloys, batteries and MRI scanners.  The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology has published an excellent POSTnote briefing on the state of affairs. Available on, the January 2011 report concludes with potential solutions including mining initiatives that are taking place in the USA and Australia that will begin to redress the global availability of rare earth materials from 2014. However,  it does not give specifics on new alternative magnet manufacturing sources outside of China and although Japan is developing alternatives to NdFeB, there is presently no material that can surpass its performance. The report also discusses recycling of materials which apparently is more attractive for high power magnet systems though would not seem to solve the potential cost/availability escalation problem we may face.

It is sincerely hoped that there is an emerging initiative that will process raw rare earth neodymium material outside of China or develop new high power magnet materials to safeguard the future for the global motion control and motor related industries.

So my question;  Is sufficient encouragement being given to the scientific arena to develop alternative materials in order to maintain our nations role in future advancements and maintain a high-technology economy?


** UPDATE 20th October 2011 – to reinforce the concern.

Article from A Business World Twitter feed.