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What happened to trade in 2017 13/02/2018

The ONS published international trade data for December so this is the right occasion to talk about how trade figures changed in 2017 compared to the previous year, says EEF, the manufacturer's organisation.

Here’s 5 highlights

It was a good year for international trade

I guess you are not surprised by this news.

The high global demand, together with a depreciated Sterling, helped exporters to boost their sales overseas. To put this in numbers, nominal total export trade was up by 11%, whereas imports grew by 9%. As a consequence the trade deficit contracted by 17% and it is currently at a level around £33 billion which is roughly the same level the UK was in 2015.

In volume terms, exports grew by 7.4% in the year with imports growing at a slower pace (4.1%).

Exports in goods ran fast, but the deficit is still widening

Talking about trade in goods, UK exporters were able to sell much more compared to last year with nominal export in goods expanding by 13%.

However, since imports in goods are at an extremely high level in absolute values, an import growth of 10% had as a consequence an expansion of the goods trade deficit.

As said above, the total trade deficit narrowed in 2017 and this was thanks to the service sector which was able to expand its trade surplus by 10%, which was the same growth reached in 2016.


Well we said that manufacturing was doing great thanks to global markets…

Several times during the last few months, we have been glad to say that the manufacturing sector has done extremely well in terms of production and contribution to GDP.

We have also said so many times that this was an export story and the numbers are confirming that. Exports in manufactures grew by more than 10% and the relative trade balance slightly narrowed for the first time since 2011. Export growth in both semi- and finished manufactured goods was particularly high, however only finished manufactures had a hefty trade deficit reduction (-6%).

Looking at the chart for the top 30 commodity by export, the ranking is broadly the same with mechanical machinery at the top with a share of total UK exports equal to 14% gaining 0.5% from 2016. Second place is reserved to cars with a share slightly declining from 10.1% to 9.5%. Electrical equipment is confirmed third at 8.4% which is the same level reported in 2016.

In the past we said that the geography matters, well… even more if you are able to trade freely

As I said in a previous blog, trade is mainly moved by two forces: the size of your trading partner’s economy and geography. 2017 data confirmed that this is the case. Updating what was reported in 2016, the top trading partner in 2017 was clearly the European Union. In 2017 the share of total exports to the EU was up from 48.2% to 48.8% and the share of imports went slightly down from 55.3% to 54.6%.

When countries are considered, not surprisingly our top trade partner is Germany followed by the US, and the Netherlands (the Rotterdam effect is one of the reason why this country is so close to the top. We discuss this in our Chemical Bulletin).

In the ranking for the top 10 trading partners, only China and the US are not part of the European Economic Area. This confirms once more how geography and economy size are driving trade.

And again, the case of Ireland

The Irish Republic is clearly our top trading partner if we “normalize” trade numbers using an adjustment factor such as GDP or population. The country has a population of roughly 4.79 million people which is 0.06% of world population but it is the seventh top UK trade partner with a total trade of more than £34 billion which is a share equal to 2.7% of the total.

Putting this in perspective, the UK trades with Ireland more than it trades with India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, and Mexico. All these countries have a population way over 100 million people and when summed together they count for 32% of the total world population. 


In a modern economy it is unthinkable to domestically produce every single good or service needed and trading with your neighbour is much easier than trading with anyone else.

The future trade agreement with the EU should definitely keep that in mind.

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Manufacturing celebrates its stars 15/02/2018

Dynamic manufacturers and talented apprentices from across the UK were recognised as national manufacturing champions at the EEF Future Manufacturing Awards held in London recently.

The biggest winner on the night was Weir Minerals Europe, which scooped the Winner of Winners award, a title awarded to the most outstanding company amongst all the category winners.

The firm, a Todmorden-based manufacturer of wear resistant products, took gold in the Health and Safety Award for the manufacturer that has achieved the most impressive or innovative improvements in the health and safety culture of their workplace. Judges were impressed with their use of employee engagement through their risk assessment process which led to a reduction in muscular skeletal issues in a demanding work environment.

Judges were also won over by Jessica Stone, a first year apprentice at Airbus, who was crowned Outstanding Apprentice of the Year. She was named the winner after impressing judges with her work as an apprentice ambassador and the way she took herself outside her comfort zone to develop her skills.

Also on the podium was Rebecca Luck, a first year apprentice at Domino UK. Rebecca was crowned Outstanding Business Apprentice of the Year after impressing judges with her passionate presentations during the selection stage and her ambitious career plan.

Winners were selected by a panel of judges drawn from business leaders, industry experts and academics .

Other award winners announced on the night were:

Leadership: Edward Naylor, Naylor Industries 

Developing People: Liberty Pressing Solutions Coventry

Environmental Achievement: The Wrigley Company

Partnerships: Hargreaves Ductwork

Innovation: Millers Oils

For more information about the awards visit:

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Photography competition winners revealed 04/01/2018

EEF has revealed the winners of the 2017 EEF Manufacturing Photography Competition, sponsored by Liberty. The winners were announced at a high-profile event at the House of Commons in London in December, where 63 shortlisted images were put on display.

The competition seeks creative images that capture the essence of modern manufacturing. It is all part of EEF’s drive to challenge and change people’s outdated perceptions of the sector. The images help to raise the profile of UK manufacturing by showcasing the industry’s creativity, diversity and heritage, as well as helping to put local firms on the map.

Ellesmere Port-based photographer Adrian Waine, aged 54, was named Best Professional Photographer after wowing judges with his eye-catching image, ‘Stone Slab Cutting’, taken at Natural Stone Surfaces in Derby. It captures the use of diamond tooling and compressed air to cut through marble slabs to make worktops for kitchens.

Jakub Wasik from Runcorn, was named Best Amateur Photographer for his compelling image, ‘Process Underbody 24’, taken at Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull. It captures the assembly of the underbody of a Range Rover Sport.

Siobhan Lock, aged 18, from Bridgend, won the Best Young Photographer Award, sponsored by Liberty. Her winning image ‘Merlyn's Magic’ was taken at Penderyn Distillary in Penderyn, Aberdare. The photograph is of Merlyn’s silver award winning cream liquor which is distilled at Penderyn Distillery.

As well as the titles, the three successful photographers walked away with a share of £5000 in prizes.

Siobhan Lock says: “Manufacturing is a fantastic subject matter, offering such diverse opportunities for dramatic or challenging shots. It’s a very visual industry, but still requires a good eye, skill and patience to do it justice.

“It has been an honour seeing my work on display again in the House of Commons, alongside so many other fantastic images of modern manufacturing.”

Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, says: “As an international economic department, we are committed to ensuring our manufacturing sector continues to grow, and these images highlight why the UK’s modern, dynamic and innovative manufacturing industry exports to markets around the world.”

Stephen Phipson CBE, CEO of EEF, says: “From investing in the future by providing high-quality apprenticeships to standing right at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution, manufacturing is the perfect illustration of British ingenuity, creativity and innovation. All the talented photographers shortlisted are to be congratulated on their incredible images that brilliantly reflect the dynamism of our sector.”

The manufacturing photography competition will run again in 2018 - details will be announced later in the year.

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Manufacturing momentum continues 08/12/2017

The latest manufacturing output data gave us a first look at how the sector is performing going into the final quarter of the year, and it was more good news, according to Martyn Jenkins of the EEF. Here are his three key takeaways.

1) Manufacturing activity confirms the momentum seen in EEF Manufacturing Outlook

Manufacturing output expanded by 0.1% month-on-month in October. While this is a fairly modest increase, looking at the 3 months to October, which gives us a clearer indication of the state of play, output was up a healthy 1.2%. And compared to the same month a year ago, the picture is even brighter, with output up 3.9%. This backs up our 2017q4 Manufacturing Outlook report, where we saw output and order balances sustained at historic highs.


The story behind this heathy performance is broadly the same as last month (and the month before, and before...) so apologise if this sounds a tad familiar.

The sector is continuing to benefit from the upturn in the global economy, illustrated through healthy growth figures across the eurozone, US and China. This is further backed up by last week’s PMI data, which rose to a 4 year high in the UK, as well as hitting historic highs in Germany, France, the Netherlands and so on…

This upturn, combined with the weak level of sterling is boosting demand from overseas (seen in today’s trade data with manufactured exports up nearly 10% on the year) as well as leading to a revival in business investment, supporting capital goods manufacturers. All of which is helping to offset relatively weaker demand at home.

2) Capital goods sectors set the pace

The sectoral picture is also a familiar one. As mentioned, capital goods continue to lead the way, benefiting from the upturn in global manufacturing activity, after a period of subdued activity. Indeed, the mechanical equipment sector and electronics sectors were up 3.4% and 2.7% respectively in the last three months. While consumer facing sectors, such as food and drink and textiles, were down 0.3% and 3.7% in the same period, as the rising inflation and weak wage dynamics play out. Once again this was reflected in Manufacturing Outlook 2017q4.


3) Our Forecasts

Today’s latest release is another in a long line of recent data points that indicate that manufacturing is in good health, and should end the year strongly. This has led us to revise up our forecasts for 2017 to 2.1%, which if it is the case will be its strongest growth since 2014.

Looking ahead we expect manufacturing to slow, along with the whole economy next year, as Brexit uncertainty ramps up, as well as weakness in a number of sectors such as construction and automotive take effect. We therefore expect the sector to expand by 1.4% next year.


Despite the slowing, this is still growth, which is by no means always the case in manufacturing…

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Why AEO is essential for manufacturers with non UK supply chains 21/11/2017

Juliet Wallwork, customs duties director at the EEF discusses AEOs, the Authorised Economic Operator schemes, that aim to make trade across customs borders simpler and more efficient.

As seen in the EEF Manufacturing Fact Card, the EU currently accounts for 48% of UK manufactured exports – it is and will continue to be a substantial trading market for the UK. However, as the UK prepares for Brexit, it is imperative for manufacturers to consider the potentially adverse impact that new customs border reporting requirements could have on manufacturers EU supply chains.

Under both a hard or soft Brexit, there is a strong possibility that businesses will need to submit customs declarations for the movement of goods between the UK and EU and understandably this has led to widespread concern that this could result in shipping delays.

With close ties between UK and EU manufacturing, these new requirements should be high on the boardroom agenda for UK manufacturers, particularly those with 'just in time' supply chains.

One opportunity available to manufacturers to help mitigate against this risk, is to   apply for a supply chain accreditation 'Authorised Economic Operator' (AEO) which allows companies to fast-track goods through customs border controls, reducing the risk of delays.

What is Authorised Economic Operator ‘AEO’?

AEO is a voluntary, globally recognised supply chain accreditation introduced in the EU in 2008 and is available to any EU-established business involved in imports and/or exports.

Take-up of AEO amongst UK businesses has historically been lower than in other EU Member States, because the benefits of AEO then (faster clearance at port, international supply chain quality mark) did not give UK businesses a clear financial or supply chain advantage.

However, with the introduction of new customs legislation in 2016 and Brexit, this has changed. AEO will now offer UK businesses both financial and supply chain benefits which cannot be ignored.

Implications of the Union Customs Code

The Union Customs Code (UCC) came into force on 1 May 2016 and created a number of benefits which are only available to businesses with AEO. These include:

  • Reductions in financial guarantee levels, 70% for actual customs debt and 100% for potential customs debt, resulting in cost savings

  • Faster application process for some customs reliefs and simplifications

  • Mutual recognition arrangements with third countries (such as US), resulting in potential reduced broker costs

  • Consignment fast tracking through customs borders.

Brexit impact

AEO status will become more important for UK businesses under Brexit. The UK government has estimated that UK customs border entries may increase fivefold. Ports such as Dover will bear the brunt of this leading to potential delays (at port and in clearance times), something UK business has not experienced before. It is widely anticipated that where there are clearance hold ups at port, those businesses with AEO will be given priority.

Brexit will impact the movement of goods between the UK and EU. For businesses with time sensitive or just-in-time supply chains or moving perishable goods AEO will become a business necessity. The current application process for AEO already takes around six months and this time frame is now increasing as more businesses begin to apply before March 2019.

How can businesses become AEO authorised?

Businesses wishing to become AEO authorised must apply to HM Revenue & Customs, ‘HMRC’.  The applications process requires businesses to complete a self-assessment questionnaire and provide supporting documentation covering their customs and supply chain security compliance processes, procedures and controls. As part of the application process, HMRC will audit businesses to ensure that the documented processes, procedures and controls are being applied and followed.

At BDO we have a number of customs duty specialists who are highly experienced in helping businesses to become AEO authorised.  They are able to guide businesses through the AEO application processes, offering, for example, practical advice around the scope and level of detail which businesses need to demonstrate in their customs and supply chain security compliance processes, procedures and controls.

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Process innovation can help bring more companies to the productivity frontier - EEF/Santander Survey 21/11/2017

Manufacturers’ remain at the forefront of the UK’s business innovation efforts, according to a new survey published by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation and Santander.

The Monitor shows innovation is key to manufacturers’ success at home and overseas, and is seen as a critical part of their growth strategies. First and foremost, innovation helps manufacturers to do things better. It also helps them to enter new export markets as well as to seek new domestic markets. It’s about much more than new products and new markets. And as a result, the breadth and focus of manufacturers’ innovation activities has changed significantly in recent years.

Key findings:

-          Almost all (95%) manufacturing respondents engaged in some form of innovation in the past three years, unmoved from the 2015/16 Monitor;

-          Three-fifths of manufacturers reported introducing a new or improved product in the past three years;

-          But a balance of 37% of companies agreed that “process innovation is becoming more important than other forms of innovation”;

-          Positive outcomes from process innovation are widespread with reduced production costs (72%) and higher productivity (70%) topping the list of cited benefits;

-          Not all companies are making the most of process innovations; less than half (45%) report that process innovation involves the use of new ICT to improve product processes;

-          Industry-academia interactions on process innovation are low with only a sizable proportion of companies never involving universities (43%) or Catapult centres (90%); and

-          Propelling more companies towards the productivity frontier requires policy to help manufacturers overcome certainty, capability and cash barriers to more effective process innovation.

Confirming the dominance of industry Research & Development (R&D) spend, the survey highlights the on-going prioritisation of investment on innovation in the past three years. While the development of new and improved products remains critical in meeting customer requirements and cementing manufacturer’s position in global value chains, process innovation is becoming even more important.

A balance of 37% of companies agreed that process innovation is more important than other forms of innovation. This growing importance is being driven by the need for complementary innovation to deliver leading edge production techniques in support of new products, the need to increase the flexibility of product processes and the increasingly pressing need to improve productivity.

The research shows that there are no downsides to process innovation, but it is also clear that not all manufacturers are making the most of their efforts. Concerns that there is a chasm opening up between companies at the innovation frontier – investing on multiple fronts, including 4IR technologies – and the less-productive majority, are confirmed.

With innovation and science set to be a centrepiece of the government’s forthcoming industrial strategy white paper, it is vital that policy makers also recognise the value of process innovation to drive productivity. Support for innovators needs to be broader than help with new product development, it also needs to help manufacturers bridge the gaps to the adoption of new technologies and modern manufacturing techniques. 

Commenting, Ms Lee Hopley chief economist at EEF, said: “Manufacturers are continually having to broaden their horizons when it comes to innovation and investment priorities. It’s hugely encouraging that we see productivity-enhancing process innovations become more widespread in their adoption across manufacturing, in addition to companies retaining their focus on new and better products for customers.

“But not all companies are moving forward at the same pace, with many constrained by access to the right people and overcoming uncertainties about the returns from their innovation efforts. While our message to industry is to cast their net wider, particularly to build more collaborative partnerships, it is also clear that support for the spectrum of innovation – including modern processes – should be centre stage in the government’s forthcoming industrial strategy.”

Commenting, Paul Brooks, head of manufacturing, ‎Santander UK, said: “It is great to see the manufacturing sector leading on many forms of innovation and accounting for 70% of all R&D in the UK. This new report shows that around half of manufacturers innovate to enter overseas markets and we at Santander are ideally placed to support those international trading ambitions. Innovation is a cornerstone of many businesses future success and is something that every business should be looking to embrace. We are committed to working with manufacturers to help them increase their productivity and capitalise on new opportunities.”

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Conference focuses on risks and opportunities 31/10/2017

NDI, the organisation representing Britain’s Defence, Security, Aerospace and Space industries, and a fully integrated division of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, is bringing together a ‘who’s who’ of speakers at its two day National Conference on 22nd and 23rd November at Alderley Park in Cheshire.

The conference will examine the risks and opportunities within the defence, security, aerospace and space sectors over the next two years. Topics to be covered will include Brexit negotiations, future developments in North American markets and the seemingly growing risk from cyber-attack which will all shape business conditions over the short to medium term.

The event will also give delegates the opportunity to hear from Harriet Baldwin, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, as well as senior figures within the industry sectors and thought leaders from both public and private sectors. 

There will also be the opportunity for networking with peers and ‘meet the buyer’ sessions through facilitated one-on-one meetings. There will also be key breakout panels led by the MoD, Thales and Airbus.

Speakers will include:

Professor Trevor Taylor, RUSI – Brexit Defence Spending Power, Implications & Opportunities

Richard Daniel, CEO Raytheon – International Opportunity & Development

Mark Camillo, Head of Professional Indemnity and Cyber. AIG – Managing Cyber Exposure and Bending the Risk Curve

Brian Johnson, UK Business Development Director BAe Systems Maritime – Update on UK Naval Programmes, timings and opportunities

For details of how to book visit

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Manufacturing investment slows as Brexit uncertainty brings reality check 24/10/2017

Investment by Britain’s manufacturers has seen a reality check in response to the continued political uncertainty, according to a major study published by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation and Santander.

According to the EEF/Santander Annual Investment Monitor, while demand conditions should be spurring on investment just one third of companies say that Brexit has had no impact on their plans. A similar proportion are only investing to satisfy current plans and waiting for clarity on any deal before investing further, while at the other end of the spectrum 13% of companies are holding off investment altogether until there is further clarity on a Brexit deal.

Taken together this leaves the outlook for investment by manufacturers finely balanced with only a narrow majority expecting to be investing more on new equipment in the next two years. While the reticence emanating from other parts of the global economy has diminished, the survey reflects increasing Brexit-related uncertainty. 

This indicates that while manufacturers may be investing to satisfy current plans or, expand capacity, they are not investing in improving their production capacity. The survey’s spotlight on investment in automation shows that industry is making only slow progress on automating manufacturing processes, with industry being held back not just by caution but also by challenges from the cost of technology, uncertainty about returns and the capability to successfully implement change.

In response, EEF considers that boosting investment and productivity should be at the forefront in the forthcoming Budget statement.

Commenting, Lee Hopley, Chief Economist at EEF said: “Manufacturers have navigated a panoply of demand-related challenges in recent years, which have taken a toll on the sector’s appetite and ability to invest. With global demand on the up conditions should be ripe for industry to make new investments in capacity and productivity enhancing technology. But Brexit means the future outlook for investment is not clear cut.

“Political uncertainty is adding to the hurdles of cost and lack of skills in holding back spending on automation technology. The forthcoming Budget can at least start to address the latter of these challenges, starting with an ambitious industrial strategy that tackles barriers to investment head on and ensures UK manufacturers are equipped to compete for the future.” 

Commenting, Paul Brooks, head of manufacturing, Santander, said: “While the Monitor shows that investment by UK manufacturers is down on last year, it is encouraging to see that just over half of manufacturers intend to spend more over the coming two years. The Monitor shows that uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations has impacted some firms’ investment decisions,  despite this, 51.5% of businesses responded that they are either increasing investment due to Brexit opportunities or that Brexit has had no impact on their investment plans.

“The Monitor clearly highlights the need for businesses to invest more in automation, with the report showing that the UK investing significantly less in machinery than our European counterparts. At Santander, we strongly encourage those firms that are holding back to focus their investment decisions on increased automation which can lead to productivity gains. By investing more in this area, UK manufacturers can improve their competitiveness. Santander has a range of support to help them do this.”

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Clean Growth Strategy: a useful framework if lacking in detail 17/10/2017

Speaking at the launch of the government’s Clean Growth Strategy, Secretary of State Greg Clark, was clear that this wasn’t just a climate plan, it was part of the UK’s forthcoming Industrial Strategy, comments Roz Bulleid, senior climate and environment policy advisor at EEF.

That will be welcome among manufacturers, most of whom see decarbonisation as bringing extra costs – through higher electricity bills for example, or complicated regulatory frameworks – rather than as a potential source of revenue.

Not surprisingly, this might not mean opportunities for all; the focus is on low-carbon transport, batteries and energy generation. However, that is still progress from a few years ago, when the perception was that the low-carbon economy simply meant renewables. There are also some measures that should support low-carbon innovation in other areas, including the recently launched Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator and promise to continue implementing EU energy efficiency standards for products after Brexit. (The latter is a significant announcement in its own right; one most manufacturers will welcome as it stops them having to make multiple products for multiple markets, but will anger the tabloids.)

A more supportive approach

Notable from a manufacturing perspective is a new 20% energy efficiency target for business. The details of how this will be achieved still need to be fleshed out but there’s welcome promise of support via new heat recovery and energy efficiency funds. As EEF has repeatedly pointed out, the power sector has received vastly more public funding for decarbonisation to date than industrial firms, even though energy efficiency can cut greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply.

There was also a revival of support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and we look forward to hearing more details of the government’s plans in this area. CCS is seen as vital to meeting the UK’s carbon targets at least cost, but strong government support mechanisms are needed if it is to be implemented in a way that still ensures UK firms can compete internationally. 

Remaining uncertainties

On the negative side, it is disappointing to see no development of the government position on the long-term future of the EU Emissions Trading System and regulation of the sectors it affects after Brexit. Companies in the scheme urgently need more clarity on the approach the government will be taking. There was also limited recognition of the electricity price disparities UK industries face compared to European competitors, some of which is linked to UK decarbonisation policies. Hopefully this will receive greater play in the Industrial Strategy white paper.

Manufacturers should be critical too of the metric used to measure the success of the strategy: charting the volume of emissions produced for each unit of GDP looks good on paper but rewards deindustrialisation not a move to a genuine low-carbon economy.

Is this enough?

Looking at the plan as a whole, there will be NGOs concerned that it only delivers 90% of the emission reductions required for the 2030 carbon target. At this point, and without knowing what technological changes are on the horizon, this is arguably not a bad start. At least there is a framework of policies and actions to work to, set against a timeline. The hard work of implementing that strategy starts now.

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EEF launches 4IR 'Business Ready' podcast series 03/10/2017

EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation has launched a second podcast series designed to guide manufacturers through the challenges and benefits that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will bring, and help them implement a practical series of continuous improvement programmes and cost saving initiatives across their business that achieve long-term success.

The series, delivered by experts from EEF’s Manufacturing Growth Team and special guest speakers, will provide key insights into five different topics which will cover the impact of the digital future and, the culture change this is likely to have across the workforce.

The topics will cover:

•  Manufacturers and the 4IR journey

•  Manufacturers and Cyber Security, guest speaker Nigel Mackie, Head of Cyber Security Business Development

•  The Workplace of the Future – Technology and digitilisation

•  The Workplace of the Future – Job security, role diversity and robotics

•  The Workplace of the Future – Upskilling and new skills

Through the podcasts companies will gain valuable advice on where to focus and practical tools and advice which they can implement as part of business strategies for the digital future. They will also cover specifics and highlight key questions which manufacturers are raising through EEF’s new Online Problem Solving Network which is linking manufacturers with their peers across the industrial community.

Commenting, EEF consultancy director, Martin Strutt, said: “4IR presents huge challenges and opportunities for manufacturers with the introduction of new technology, new skills and both organisational and cultural change. Manufacturers need to act now if they are to compete and innovate in this digital future.

“This series will provide them with practical and realistic steps they can take right across their business which will ensure they are business ready to take advantage of the opportunities this new era will bring.”

The podcast is available to listen to at:

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