Factories must work together to make region a centre of excellence, says expert
A new strategy for manufacturing is needed for the Midlands to ensure it continues to lead the world, one of the region’s leading experts in the field warned today.
Dr Clive Hickman is chief executive of Manufacturing Technology Centre and head of the Midlands Manufacturing Resilience Commission.
He today explained how, in the wake of coronavirus, it is essential that every effort is made to ensure the region becomes Britain’s centre of excellence for manufacturing.
The West Midlands, Staffordshire and Shropshire already have world-leading factories, including JLR near Wolverhampton, Ricoh in Telford, Cadbury in Birmingham and JCB in Staffordshire.
Dr Hickman said: “The region is renowned for its world class institutions and universities, with their enviable reputations for engineering, and famously is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. As a proportion of jobs, 12 per cent are employed in manufacturing in the East Midlands and 11 per cent in the West, comparing favourably with eight per cent in the UK overall and only two per cent in London. There is no doubt that manufacturing is in our DNA – but to thrive, the Midlands needs to develop a strategy that is both relevant and resilient for the long-term.
“The next phase in the life-cycle of Covid 19, even before ‘the recovery’ period, is a brief window where together we can generate the urgent, innovative thinking which will be needed to determine what this strategy should look like. So, to coin a phrase, there is an opportunity to catapult the sector to where it should belong in terms of jobs, investment and growth – continuing to make its historic contribution to the nation’s economy, and more.”
The expert said he wanted a more co-ordinated approach for the whole region, adding: “I grew up here, an area so influenced by the Industrial Revolution, and manufacturing is in my blood.
"But now, more than ever, my passion for manufacturing is growing – the opportunities that it has to offer, and its place in our Midlands’ story, not just in the past, but in the future too.
“Through the recent crisis we have seen the manufacturing sector perform at its best, including initiatives such as the Ventilator Challenge and the production of much needed PPE. We have solved all the problems that were presented to us, but acknowledge there are lessons to be learnt. How can we in the Midlands work together to maximise its impact, and develop a strategy that will put our region on the map, not only nationally, but also internationally?”
Dr Hickman said work was needed to embrace emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and digital manufacturing and bring in new processes such as additive manufacturing, advanced laser processing or quantum manufacture. And he wants the region to be at the heart of car innovation through battery technology and autonomous vehicles.
He said: “In societal terms, we need to think what this mean will mean for the ‘Future of Work’ and what that future will look like to you, your children and even your children’s children. We have a responsibility to shape this future.”
He said the commission will look at how the region can compete internationally and ensure that it can cope with any economic challenges that come because of the coronavirus crisis.
He said: “Structural changes will be needed to ensure the long-term resilience of Midlands manufacturing, including our attractiveness and capacity to re-shore and the adoption of new technologies, which is why I am asking for as much participation as possible to produce the best outcome we can for the Midlands.
“I am inviting contributions from across the region, to make the commission as comprehensive and inclusive as possible; asking representatives from industry, academia and local government to put forward their suggestions, to meet virtually or physically when it is safe to do so, to discuss their views on the diverse range of issues driving our future.
“In these challenging times, we must build on our strengths, skills, and heritage. Throughout my career, periods of change have created opportunities for the most agile. We need to respond in a similar way to the extraordinary challenges we are experiencing today and to lead the way forward into a dynamic future.”
Dr Hickman’s commission can be contacted at M2RCommission@the-mtc.org.