THEMES – SCOTLAND
By Professor Keith Ridgeway CBE, executive chairman of the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre
Scottish manufacturing is on the cusp of change.
Gone are the days when the sector relied primarily on heavy industry and a handful of big companies such as the ship-yards that adorned the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow. Instead, Scottish manufacturing is now about more diverse businesses operating in a more dynamic environment. The Advanced Forming Research Centre’s (AFRC) customer base is typical of this new environment. It includes everything from aerospace to opto-electronics companies manufacturing precision optical surfaces for medical devices, from companies who are inventing new heating technologies to those who are looking for applications for new products they’ve designed.
Scotland is still home to factories belonging to several high value manufacturing organisations such as Rolls-Royce and Spirit AeroSystems but there are notably fewer than in the 20th century, and they rely on agile, flexible supply chains to support them. Both the UK and Scottish Governments have identified this shift in the landscape and have highlighted that smaller businesses need to be supported and can play a huge part in introducing innovation into the sector.
THE NEED FOR INNOVATION
Innovation is key to the growth of any manufacturing business but it’s an area that many struggle with, and manufacturers in Scotland are no different. In Scotland, the AFRC, the country’s only High Value Manufacturing Catapult centre, is providing manufacturers with the tools and help they need to allow them to innovate and consequently increase their competitiveness in the marketplace. Much of this is around developing and connecting the various organisations in the supply chains of growth sectors such as automotive and aerospace.
A lot of what we do at the AFRC is about equipping manufacturers for competition in the modern manufacturing and consumer world. Even traditional industries, such as textiles in the Borders, are reviving – with companies introducing digital technologies that allow them to be much more flexible in their response to customers.
One of the biggest barriers to innovation is often budget constraint but there is a lot of help available to manufacturers in Scotland and part of our remit is to help them access the financial support needed for research. This is paying dividends as innovation is growing and in Scotland today more than 50 per cent of research and development (R&D) spend is from the manufacturing sector, although manufacturing only accounts for 9 per cent of GDP.
A HELPING HAND FROM GOVERNMENT
In England, centres such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Sheffield, a partner organisation of the AFRC in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, have become a focal point for companies in the innovation community. Scotland, as yet, lacks anything similar to the AMRC in terms of size and investment. The Scottish Government’s policy on manufacturing is very forward-thinking and a key element in the economy; last February the national manufacturing action plan, ‘A Manufacturing Future for Scotland’, was launched.
Owned by Scottish Enterprise it identifies the key themes where investment is needed to develop a solid manufacturing future for Scotland. These themes range from infrastructure to leadership, skills development to smart manufacturing – and all of that has been followed up by the Scottish Government. The Government has made it clear that it would like to deliver on the national manufacturing plan’s promise of a joint manufacturing centre of excellence and skills academy with the founding of a National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS).
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that, along with other organisations such as Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering, the University of Strathclyde is helping to develop NMIS, and we’re pleased to respond to the Scottish Government’s request for support in advising on how that can be established for Scotland. The First Minister has visited the AMRC and she referred on Twitter to it being a potential model for what is required and we see that as being very positive.
THE NEED TO UPSKILL
In future, the Scottish Government is looking to double the contribution of manufacturing to GDP, and it’s absolutely vital that we have a research base that can support inward and continuing investment in the sector. Currently, there are in the region of 200,000 manufacturing jobs in Scotland, mostly paying above the average wage; half of the country’s R&D activity is underpinned by well-paid, high contribution jobs.
These jobs need to be increased and protected and significant up-skilling of the workforce is required to embrace new and emerging technologies. That is why there is talk of a skills centre as part of NMIS – it’s about apprentices and graduates, but also about reskilling the
existing workforce. This is important when talking about new technologies. We need to be able to convert the skills of people working in the traditional industries into what’s needed to operate and maintain modern pieces of equipment and work in flexible factories of the future.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
NMIS, whatever form it takes, won’t only be about the blue sky research that universities throughout Scotland already do well. It is about having a centre that makes the case technically and commercially for these ideas to be invested in and to go into production. This requires a particular combination of specialised skills and capabilities that universities don’t deal with and that companies struggle to do themselves without support.
Originally the AFRC had success at a Scottish, UK and global level providing support, skills and capabilities within the technology themes in which it specialised, i.e. forming and forging. More recently there has been growing investment in aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and major contract success in marine and defence – and across a range of sectors we’re seeing growth in manufacturing in Scotland. It is our hope that a centre such as NMIS will build upon this strong foundation of success.
The feedback we receive when speaking to companies is that to sustain manufacturing growth we need innovation, and to deliver that we need the people and the skill set to bring high quality research to a production environment. Thankfully both the UK and Scottish Governments are listening to these companies and are embracing the changing landscape of Scottish manufacturing by providing the necessary support for future growth.