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A national success story

14 November 2013

Despite the misconceptions that have been allowed to flourish in recent years, manufacturing is a national success story in the UK, so says Business Minister, Michael Fallon, in this article written exclusively for Controls, Drives & Automation.

Manufacturing contributes around 10% of GDP and makes a significant contribution to overall levels of productivity generating over half the UK’s export of goods, and almost three quarters of our business R&D and thus the innovation which drives growth. That’s why we are working with businesses to strengthen the UK’s manufacturing capability, addressing technology commercialisation, business investment, exports and skills as well as innovation.

The best way to rebalance the economy and build and sustain a strong manufacturing sector is to provide a dynamic business environment, driven by open and competitive markets. First of all, we need responsible Government finances – this is fundamental for growth. But we have gone further to strengthen the macroeconomic framework by ring-fencing support for science, promoting exports – particularly in emerging markets – and by creating one of the most competitive business tax regimes in the G8.

To succeed we need to make the most of our competitive advantages and sustain them. In collaboration with industry, we have published strategies in eleven key areas: Life Sciences, Aerospace, Nuclear, Oil & Gas, Information Economy, Construction, Professional and Business Services, Automotive, Agri-Tech, International Education and Off-shore Wind. These Industrial Strategies set out our long-term vision, providing the certainty and confidence that companies need to invest and grow. Tackling economic weakness and instability will lead to improved opportunities, better jobs and economic prosperity for the UK.

During my recent visits to Airbus and Nissan, I met the teams who are working on some of the latest manufacturing processes behind the A350 XWB fleet and the new Note model.  Developments in technology are crucial to the future of these industries.

Electronic systems

Electronic systems underpin many of the world’s economic activities across almost all sectors. From control systems for automobiles to sensor technologies for assisted living, electronics feature heavily in the Industrial Strategies and are widely acknowledged to be key enablers. This is a growing trend and we expect to see more products and services relying on electronics.

Recognising the value to all our industries, particularly advanced manufacturing and services, we are working in partnership with the recently-formed Electronic Systems Community (ESCO) Council to support the UK’s vibrant electronics community. ESCO’s vision is to grow the UK electronics industry to £120 billion (up 55%) by 2020 and create an additional 150,000 highly-skilled jobs. I will co-chair the Council and its focus is on delivering this vision.

The rapidly-evolving nature of such technologies is revolutionising our economy and society. Touring Michelin’s plant in August, I saw the value of new manufacturing lines not only on the automotive supply chain but also in terms of job opportunities and training schemes. I also visited Johnson Matthey Battery Systems (formerly known as Axeon), a low-carbon business whose investment in research and the development of new, advanced technologies could completely change perceptions of electric vehicles.

Emerging technologies will have a significant impact upon the manufacturing sector, both here and abroad, with processes becoming more cost-effective and energy efficient. But we must support industry if it is to capitalise on the opportunities presented.

A key aspect in our approach is a commitment to invest in technologies. Based on the collective recommendations of the science community, research councils and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), eight great technologies were selected: big data, space, robotics; autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science, advanced materials and energy All eight were considered important areas of scientific advance, notably with identifiable commercial opportunities, in which Britain has existing, distinctive capability.

Crucially we believe that as a result of the UK’s research expertise and business capability, these fields have the potential to propel the UK to future growth and help it stay ahead in the global race.

Of the £600 million we have invested in total, 35 million has been assigned to creating centres of excellence in robotics and autonomous systems. These hubs of technical expertise and training will not only provide state-of-the-art facilities but also opportunities for business networking. By bringing together research bases and industry, the centres will address the missing link between lab and marketplace which has previously hindered the development of some scientific discoveries into successful commercial applications.

The UK’s recognised abilities in software programming and data handling are particularly promising for robotics and autonomous systems

Building on solid foundations in industrial automation, the UK’s recognised abilities in software programming and data handling are particularly promising for robotics and autonomous systems. Our expertise, from applying automation systems to industry to programming autonomous systems to handle massive data flows, has already attracted significant investment and interest. With further capital investment and targeted support from the Government, the UK is in a strong position to become a world leader in developing these technologies.

The application of these technologies will transform not only the manufacturing sector but areas such as defence, agriculture, transport and healthcare as well.  As such, we have been encouraged to see industry partnering with the Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the TSB. So far, collaborations have ranged from flapless flight by an unmanned vehicle and robotic mining to autonomous vacuum cleaners and humanoid robots.

I welcome the steps taken by ESCO to address this area as one of its priority targets. In line with Government findings, the industry’s report highlights the UK’s strengths in industrial automation, in particular the existing community of innovative SMEs as well as the established university research base. Advances in this field, will enable UK industry to take advantage of changes in manufacturing, thus delivering both growth and profitability.

With the imminent Foresight Report, due later this year, we will have a better understanding of how the UK can gain long-term future value from the manufacturing sector. Overseen by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, ‘The Future of Manufacturing’ identifies key global trends and the factors which are likely to have an impact on the sector over the next few decades. The report, which has drawn on industry and academic expertise, will provide a strong evidence base informing the policy decisions we make to support the sector.


In anticipation of these changes, and recognising that our society is becoming increasingly digitised, we have been supporting efforts to create a digitally-literate workforce. One such example is Nesta, Mozilla and Nominet Trust’s joint initiative ‘Make Things Do Stuff’ (MTDS). The campaign brings together a number of partners, including big business, to offer opportunities for young people to develop their digital-making skills. Having offered over 100,000 offline and online experiences, MTDS has enabled students to shift from consuming digital technologies, to making and building their own.

The Government has shown that it is serious about stabilising the UK economy and encouraging investment and growth. We are pursuing a long-term approach, of which the Industrial Strategies and the accompanying eight great technologies are only two aspects.

We are clear in recognising that though not always visible, electronic systems are pervasive. As an enabling technology, the world around us is very much dependent on electronics from controls and drives to semiconductors and robotics. We are committed to supporting the UK industry which is already in a strong position and has the opportunity to become a world leader.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) is the department for economic growth. The department invests in skills and education to promote trade, boost innovation and help people to start and grow a business. BIS also protects consumers and reduces the impact of regulation.

Michael Fallon is Minister of State for Business and Energy and is responsible for:

  • business sectors, including low carbon economy, low emission vehicles, electronics
  • competitiveness and economic growth
  • deregulation and better regulation
  • regional and local economic development (including grants for business investment)