How can UK manufacturers and engineers remain competitive and innovative?
The extraordinary sight of a 1965 Ford Mustang powering up the famed hill climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed recently was certainly something to behold – because this 53 year old car was driving itself! The legendary vehicle had been retrofitted with autonomous driving technology as a result of a partnership between Siemens UK and Cranfield University. Whilst the vehicle was not entirely autonomous in the truest sense as it followed a pre-determined program of the Goodwood track, the head turning vehicle demonstrated how cutting edge technology can change or augment a manufacturing process or product significantly, regardless of antiquity. In a world where the consumer is in control, innovation and adaption to change is key to remaining competitive.
One thing that stands out in the Ford Mustang example is collaboration, a partnership between two organisations working together to achieve a common goal or to make something together. Often when we consider research and development we think of trade secrets, we conjure up visions of men and women in white coats, working away on something mysterious, behind a locked door. But consider this – if we all happen to be working on wonderful things separately, think about how successful we could be if we worked together! Or perhaps the opposite – if we’re all concentrating in siloes on our own problems and challenges, surely we could benefit and solve issues quicker if we worked in unison. It may seem a strange concept but operating collaboratively has been one of the key success factors for our German counterparts where small manufacturers, larger ones and the government work together to improve the industry as a whole. Even on a small scale, our manufacturers can help each other – there have been countless times when a factory tour has created a lightbulb moment, when the sight of a process or routine can instigate a notion to replicate in order to improve one’s own business.
Another interesting element of the collaborative approach is the interaction between business and educational institution. What better way to promote manufacturing and engineering as a career choice than to get the students involved at a hands on level. The skills gap is all too well publicised and businesses can aid themselves by motivating young people, helping them to visualise the opportunities available to them. Working together with education providers, businesses can demonstrate the positive impact that manufacturing and engineering can have on social, technological, economic and environmental surroundings, in addition to the variety of skills that are encompassed within it. This would seem an appropriate way of dispelling the myths around what it means to be an engineer and inspiring the workforce of the future.
As we move towards the technologically driven future of 4IR the sharing of ideas, successes and failures will surely be a swifter way for our UK manufacturers and engineers to remain competitive and innovative.
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