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Change begins with a conversation

12 April 2024

One of the most impressive aspects of Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week is the advisory council that steers the event. Controls, Drives and Automation spoke to Rosa Wilkinson, director of policy at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult about her involvement in the advisory council and how both it and Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week are a natural extension of her life’s work supporting manufacturing

“IF YOU want to be the sort of person who makes this world a better place, if you want to be the sort of person who makes your community a better place then get into manufacturing,” extols Rosa Wilkinson, “because it's either engineers or manufacturers who deliver the tools that protect our environment and allow us to transition to net zero, that help us tackle some of the horrors we have inflicted upon our environment. It’s also the manufacturers who deliver the products that drive growth which leads to more prosperous communities.”

Transformed landscape

Wilkinson’s passion for manufacturing is deeply rooted from her childhood in Doncaster. She remembers the 1980s when the police were heavily involved in controlling the miners' strike. One community she picks out is Orgreave near Rotherham which was the site of some shocking confrontations between the authorities and the striking miners.

“The community was dying,” says Wilkinson. “There was no hope, there was no aspiration. If you go to Orgreave today what you will find is a landscape of transformed industry. You will find McLaren, Boeing, Rolls Royce and all the companies supplying them. Why? It’s partially because the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, one of the seven High Value Manufacturing Catapult Centres across the UK, set up a location there, supporting businesses in their innovation work, helping to transform those businesses and in turn transforming the community. The impacts are breathtaking.”

Wilkinson’s passion and the focus of the HVM Catapult dovetail nicely with her work on the advisory council and a partnership with Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week.

“The reality is that industrial transformation begins with the transformation of individual companies and what SM&E Week provides either on its exhibition stands or via various platforms and theatres is the opportunity to engage with a significant number of companies that want to be the best that they can be, to start a conversation about how they can raise their game and strengthen their bottom line and do that without some of the risks involved in innovation," she says.

“At the same time, being on the advisory council gives me the opportunity to suggest to the organisers what it is that people are interested in when they are talking to us, what difficulties they are wrestling with and what is it that they need from such an event to be the best that they can be. By feeding this back we can help to shape an event which is not just appealing but is useful.”

Holistic view

Wilkinson’s view of Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week is that it offers a holistic view of the landscape in which manufacturers operate, bringing skills, finance, the regulatory environment and the taxation environment together.

“One of the things I remember clearly from last year,” says Wilkinson, “is that the event had a few spaces where people could just drop down and have a conversation. Sometimes it’s about serendipity – who do you bump into? What’s the conversation that you have? SM&E Week does give people from diverse sectors and with diverse interests the chance to get together and have these serendipitous conversations.”

About her role at this year’s event, the HVM Catapult will be part of Innovate UK’s stand with a space where colleagues from across the organisation will be answering people's questions.

“We are quite nice people to talk to,” Wilkinson deadpans “and change always starts with a conversation. It’s always possible to Google things as a first step but speaking to someone who understands the challenges you face, who gets what might be worrying you and knows how to reduce the risks in making change happen does make a difference.”

A more ringing endorsement of Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week and its aspirations you couldn’t hope to find.