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Now is the time to plan for future success
20 November 2020
A lot can happen in the space of a few weeks, as 2020 has taught us all too well. In my last column, I wrote of the importance of MACH 2021 to the manufacturing industry and how everyone at the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) was looking forward to a successful, albeit socially distanced, exhibition.
Understandably, these plans have had to be rescheduled to April 2022 which given the growing prospect of a successful vaccine deployment and improved testing, gives us confidence that this will be a fabulous show, at a great time to inject a boost into the industry.
It is a useful reminder that the significance of the MACH exhibition as a focus point for the industry is undiminished. The country currently faces many challenges, and the economy has been impacted on two fronts - COVID-19 and Brexit. The latter had been planned for to a certain extent, although we still await the full details of future trade agreements. Hopefully, these will be without punitive tariffs. The ability to continue to trade seamlessly with our European partners must be our primary goal and I say this because the manufacturing industries will play a key role in reshaping the British economy as we move forward.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has hit our manufacturing industries hard - and it will continue to do so for some time to come. The MTA has not been immune from this and like many other businesses we have had to make difficult decisions to remain viable. Declining demand was an inevitable consequence of lockdown as industry around the world stalled. Tentative steps along the road to recovery are taking place but a return to pre-pandemic levels remains some way off, especially for mission-critical industries such as automotive and aerospace. Their supply chains, upon which so many of the MTA's members rely, have been stress-tested to an unprecedented degree for the bulk of this year. Many companies have not fared well, but we hope that government support will secure them the lifeline they so desperately need.
The support the government has provided has been critical to securing the futures of many businesses during this difficult period and has given much needed breathing space after the initial shock in March. Strange though it may seem, this is a perfect time to invest in Manufacturing Technologies to make step changes in competitiveness and sustainability in time for the inevitable market recovery. Manufacturing technologies arguably, have never been more powerful, finance has seldom been at a lower cost – what’s not to like about taking advantage?
The growth in the electric/autonomous vehicle sector, the development of carbon neutral production methods and the rise in connectivity have all begun to reshape the manufacturing sector. This will continue and exciting new processes which are maybe only an idea at this stage, will continue to emerge.
Certainly, British industry has the capacity within it to lead change and this will be critically important as we look to thrive outside the EU and grow our economy post-pandemic. But where will this change emerge and where do the opportunities lie?
Earlier this year, the MTA published an important report detailing how emergent green technologies could contribute between £8 - 20 billion to the UK's GDP and create up to 1 million new jobs. Even allowing for the pandemic, climate change remains one of the biggest issues facing the world today and the need to combat it must be a top priority, both from an economic and a cultural perspective. If we truly embrace green technology, it will be a force for transformational change. Taking such a step will give us the edge on competing economies and will be vital to re-establishing the UK's pre-eminence as a technological innovator.
It is also worth noting that the HS2 project has a firm intent to source 90% of the value in the UK – good news indeed.
In addition, we already have a lot of valuable tools at our disposal, for example, the outstanding work being carried out by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. It is working with companies of all sizes across the UK, helping them improve production methods, product use and green energy generation.
What industry can do in return is to make the transition to decarbonising the whole of the supply chain. This must go beyond products and processes and become a thorough root and branch review of every aspect of our businesses to see where green technology can deliver lasting change. I know we have it within us and we have a responsibility to the generations that follow us to ensure this happens quickly.
Before I end - and continuing the generational theme - I should like to pay tribute to the efforts of our young engineers who have once again demonstrated their skills and imagination through the TDI Challenge. Their levels of ingenuity and creativity are terrific and undaunted by lockdown and the difficulties this entailed, they succeeded in delivering an outstanding range of concepts that delighted competition judges.
This is an optimistic note on which to end a very challenging year for us all.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2021.
James Selka, DL
Chief Executive Officer
The Manufacturing Technologies Association