British manufacturing alive and kicking!

Published:  05 May, 2016

If anyone visited the NEC last month and saw the manufacturing innovation and technological excellence on display at the Drives & Controls, Plant & Asset Management, Air-Tech, Fluid Power Systems, European Offshore Energy, and MACH exhibitions, you would already know that British manufacturing is well and truly alive and kicking!

This was also recently highlighted by the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), which has published a dataset on the leading manufacturing economies based on their share of world manufacturing output, and the last update shows that Britain has maintained its position as the 7th largest manufacturing nation in the world, which is where we were in 2010.

Chris Richards, senior business environment policy adviser at EEF, commented in his recent blog that although we were 6th in 2005, changes in manufacturing have taken place at a global level. With the liberalisation of trade, the global centres of manufacturing production have shifted with countries increasingly competing on their relative comparative advantages – in the case of manufacturing, primarily unit cost. What this means is that while manufacturing in the UK declined as a share of total UK output, this mirrors a decline in other countries as well. And that actually the UK is not doing too bad – although we mustn’t be complacent as we’re in for another revolution. The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) as we have all heard about by now, which carries with it the potential to disrupt global manufacturing yet again.

With greater levels of automation, mass customisation, distributed manufacturing and other technologies, the formula underlying the relative comparative advantage of countries will once again fundamentally shift. This was highlighted at the Drives & Controls exhibition, where seminar speakers emphasised the importance of UK manufacturers getting on board the 4IR train early to take full advantage and avoid being left behind. As Richards highlights in his blog, playing 4IR catch up will be much more difficult and costly than keeping pace with our main competitors, therefore we need to continue adapting to modern manufacturing now to ensure we not only maintain our position in the world rankings – but better it.

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