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Latest data shows UK moving to 8th place in the world’s top manufacturing nations


 

According to calculations by Made Here Now the UK moved up the league table of the world’s top manufacturing nations by one place. The latest data available is for 2015 and is based on figures from the United Nations’ statistical database.

The UK was the world’s eighth biggest nation with just over 2% of total manufacturing output. Whilst not as impressive as performance in 2000 when the country ranked 5th with 4% of world manufacturing production it does at least reflect that the UK is starting to turn the tide of the dominance in recent years of developing nations such as China, South Korea and India.

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the EEF manufacturers’ body believes this has been achieved by a consistent focus on innovation, research and development and high-value skills. So what do we as manufacturers need to do to continue this positive trend?

Adopt the latest technologies emerging as part of Industry 4.0

Built on steam, the first industrial revolution brought about the first engines mechanising part of the manufacturing process. Next was electricity, the assembly line and the birth of mass production introducing efficiencies and previously unimaginable economies of scale. The third phase of industrial development arrived with computers and the beginnings of automation when robots and machines began to replace humans on assembly lines. The next step in this evolution brings us to Industry 4.0 where computers and automation will come together in a completely new way.

Computers equipped with artificial intelligence will control robotics so that cyber-physical systems monitor the physical processes of the factory and make decentralised decisions with very little input from humans. This Internet of Things offers some incredible opportunities to manufacturers in areas such as health and safety, better control of supply chain with less waste, more reliable and consistent productivity and output (something the UK needs to address urgently) resulting in increased revenue, profitability and market share. Of course there are barriers to be overcome such as data security issues, maintaining the integrity of the production process and high degree of stability and reliability required for successful cyber-physical communication, but it is clear that as in the past those who don’t invest and commit to Industry 4.0 risk being left behind.

Continue our strong tradition of innovation and creative design

Britain has produced some of the most influential scientists, mathematicians and inventors in modern history. This tradition is personified by James Dyson who, through perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness turned it in to a business with revenues of £1.74 billion in 2015. Other recent examples include the discovery of graphene by Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester, along with a new kind of rocket engine called SABRE (synergetic air-breathing rocket engine).

The company developing SABRE, Reaction Engines, believes it could revolutionise global travel by enabling reusable launchers and space planes to fly at hypersonic speeds of 2,500mph. That would get you from London to Sydney in a little over four hours. BAE has taken a 20% stake in Reaction for £20.6m, while the UK government has given the firm £60m in grants. Projects such as these will keep Great Britain at the forefront of global manufacturing. Unlike James Dyson, who eventually had to set up a factory himself because no one would back him, , it’s essential that we continue with investment arrangements like the one that Reaction Engines are benefiting from to turn great ideas in to manufacturing realities.

Change outdated perceptions of manufacturing and engineering

The SABRE project is a perfect example of the kind of exciting opportunity offered by the manufacturing sector. Another would be the Bloodhound SSC, a supersonic land vehicle developed with both jet and rocket engines designed to reach 1050 mph. It is being built with the intention of breaking the land speed record (currently held by the British ThrustSSC) by 33%, the largest ever margin. Yet despite these amazing engineering projects, the public perception of training to work in the manufacturing sector or as an engineer remains negative.

When you type “British manufacturing” in to Google the third suggestion is “decline”. Admittedly, UK manufacturing did go through a period of decline but as the UN statistics show we are reversing that trend and it’s important that we get this positive message across as it’s the first step needed to attract the next generation.

Work with schools to inspire and educate children about the opportunities a career in manufacturing offers

The UK is woefully short of engineers and the situation is going to worsen before it improves. A degree isn’t the only way in to a career in manufacturing, but the table below gives an insight in to how committed a country is to engineering and how it is perceived. As the table below shows we’re not even in the top 10;
Countries With The Most Engineering Graduates

Rank Country Number of Annual Engineering/Manufacturing/Construction Graduates
1 Russian Federation 454,436
2 United States 237,826
3 Iran 233,695
4 Japan 168,214
5 South Korea 147,858
6 Indonesia 140,169
7 Ukraine 130,391
8 Mexico 113,944
9 France 104,746
10 Vietnam 100,390

Source: World Economic Forum 2015 / UNESCO Institute for Statistics

2015 rank out of 124 economies. Note: no data available for China, India

It is absolutely crucial that we reverse this trend, and the only way to do it is by educating kids about the opportunities a career in engineering offers. Changing the general perception about manufacturing so that parents are supportive of the idea of their children pursuing this career option. Educating kids and teachers about the possibilities a career in engineering opens up.

Open days at our factories will demonstrate to young people the kinds of things they’d be learning. Reinforce the importance of apprenticeships. Instead of coming out of university £50K in debt with uncertain job prospects, they earn money whilst learning valuable skills that will stand them in good stead.

University degrees can always be a later option.

Conclusion

The UN statistics show that we are starting to turn the situation around and we are on the cusp of a fantastic opportunity to get manufacturing to the top of the agenda in the UK again if enough companies shout loud enough about their successes and achievements. However the government has a role to play too and in my next blog I’ll be discussing the steps they can take to help build on this positive start.

To see the full article with in-depth data, check out the Made Here Now Article