UK Funding to develop “no rare-earth metals” motors

My congratulations go out to the Government in awarding a group of three UK organisations more than £500,000 of funding.

A group of three UK organisations, led by Gateshead based control manufacturer Sevcon have successfully secured more than £500,000 in government funding to develop a “no rare-earth metals” drive system for hybrid and electric vehicles.

The other group members, Cummins Generator Technologies and Newcastle University’s Power Electronics and Drives Research Group have recently developed a hybrid electric motor for commercial vehicles and buses. The new funding will help develop switched reluctance motor technology.

Sevcon’s president and chief executive Matt Boyle: “Our goal in this collaborative project is to develop, for volume production, a new electric motor technology that uses cutting-edge power electronics to eliminate the need for magnets incorporating rare earth metals. As well as providing a sufficient power, the new generation system will be designed to be both cost competitive and suitable for high volume manufacture”.

Great news and the perfect tonic following on from my earlier comments in September

Funding Boost to UK Manufacturing

A £140m Investment to Stimulate UK Manufacturing

The Government’s Technology Strategy Board has announced plans to invest £140m over a 6-year period to stimulate UK manufacturing, to reduce innovation risks and to attract international business to the UK.

Much of the funding has been earmarked for at least six Technology and Innovation Centres to be established by April 2013. The first of these – focusing on High-Value Manufacturing – has just opened for business. Another one will focus on offshore renewable energy technologies.

The new High-Value Manufacturing Technology and Innovation Centres brings together seven institutions to support UK manufacturing. Each will focus on a different area. They include: an Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Sheffield; a Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry; a Centre for Process Innovation at Wilton & Sedgefield; and the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick.

The High-Value Manufacturing Technology and Innovation Centres will commercialise business-led research and innovation to help UK manufacturers to become more competitive globally. About a third of the Technology and Innovation Centres funding will come from direct contracts with UK businesses, and a third from competitive research and development grants, including EU funding. The rest will come from the Technology Strategy Board.

“High-value manufacturing is a priority for the Technology Strategy Board,” says, Iain Gray, the Board’s chief executive. “The future of manufacturing in the UK needs to be high-value, delivering strong financial performance, strategic importance, and positive social impact. The UK has some of the best manufacturing businesses in the world, the industry accounts for 12% of GDP and around half of exports, and in 2010 employed 2.5 million people. The new Centre will help UK businesses stay at the leading edge of manufacturing technology, and create and protect jobs long into the future.”

This announcement is welcomed, but with economic instability becoming the norm, UK manufacturers need to hear more and see positive actions from government very soon. Without actions, UK Manufacturers will struggle to make the investment we need to drive our economy forward. It is vital that the government takes the opportunity to set out an understandable strategy and simple package of measures that will deliver stronger investment, growth and job creation.

Earlier news…..

Government provides £600,000 to help UK manufacturers to automate

A programme aimed at encouraging the uptake of automation among UK manufacturers is under way, backed by £600,000 of Government funding. The Automating Manufacturing programme will offer impartial advice to help manufacturers to implement automation systems.

The main aim of the programme is to help make UK manufacturers more competitive by boosting their productivity and profitability, and reducing their waste. It is targeted mainly at small-to-medium-sized companies, but larger companies with limited expertise in automation will also be eligible.

The programme, which runs until March 2013, follows recommendations made last year in the Application of Automation in UK Manufacturing study.

I’ve long held the belief that if UK manufacturing is to fulfil its potential and become a significant force in global markets again, then continued investment in automation needs to be at its very heart.

Lazy Retailers are the Death of the High Street

Many small high street businesses are struggling these days because of the economic downturn, changes in technology, and competition from large national chains. As well as their lack of effort and realisation as to their value!

In cities, towns and villages throughout the country, many independent business owners are feeling this crunch. The clever ones and the ones that continue to survive and grow are finding creative ways to cope with the situation.

Today we all have a multitude of choices of where and how to shop. Our choices include on-line, convenience stores and big chain Supermarkets. Many of them providing a multitude of products and services under one roof.  The successful, independent retailer is adapting to attract customers and grow their loyalty. Some have reworked themselves to keep their customers, but others have closed down. Many independent retail business owners do not know how to seek help or simply put their head in the sand and hope everything will work itself out.

Maybe they do not realize that there is always help from organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve found that other local business people are always willing to offer guidance from their own experiences. Nobody will say it’s easy, but accepting the situation is a big part of finding the solution.

Some businesses have gone because they refused to either accept the situation they were in, change their mindset, plan for a successful future or a combination off all. Most importantly they chose not to take decisive and immediate action. 

To be able to survive, small businesses have to accommodate the needs of the local community. A small business can cater to a community in a different way, be more mindful of what that community needs. It’s true in any business. You have to understand what the market wants….ask the questions.

As part of their creative efforts to survive – not only are the successful local businesses becoming more customer-specific – they also make a point of creating an emotional link by carrying the work of local suppliers and artisans to develop an experience that you want to go to time and time again.

The High Street Retailer has a responsibility to appeal to our local needs. It is a valuable resource to put the heart and soul back into our communities……we need you to succeed!

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.