Hope for the future: British manufacturing during #Covid-19
Posted on 11/05/2020
This week (w/e 9 May 2020) we learnt there have now been in excess of 30,000 UK deaths attributable to Covid-19. It is a very difficult time for humankind and for the UK. As a nation, protecting our collective health is uniting us and bringing out innovative qualities in us and in our infrastructures that are indeed ‘unprecedented’.
Although the statistics on the economy and industry can be spun into a bleak tale, and many businesses indeed are suffering, that is not the whole story.
Thankfully there are countless examples that show it is human nature to venture boldly into unknown territory, to innovate and adapt, even in times of the most chaotic change. And we are seeing innovation and an ability to adapt being demonstrated in manufacturing organisations up and down the country.
An opportunity to regroup and innovate
Behind closed doors a fresh wave of innovative new businesses are being born. Having responded at pace, Innovate UK saw an unprecedented level of applications submitted to their Business-led 100% funded Covid-19 response competition. And at KTN we are seeing unprecedented demand for our current webinar series on how hardware innovations can be translated from an idea to a manufactured product.
A raft of funding and support, local and national, is being offered to support both business as usual as well as innovation.
More information on resources made available in response to #Covid19 can be found here.
Whilst almost two thirds of manufacturers continue to trade, busy meeting demand without any furloughed staff, the crisis has forced many to change. Rules have been reset: established businesses like British Airways and Airbus have been hit hard, whilst others continue to thrive. According to CBI analysis of the ONS data, throughout March 9 of the 17 manufacturing sub-sectors saw an increase in output volumes. 24% of firms said the volume of output over the last three months was up while 33% of firms said it was down, giving a rounded balance of -8% (from -11% in February).
Manufacturers up and down the country have demonstrated their agility, leadership and innovative capacity as they’ve responded to calls for ventilators, sanitiser and PPE.
Luxury manufacturers like Burberry, Mulberry, Jo Malone and Johnstons of Elgin alongside some of the UK breweries have all adapted their processes to produce soaps, sanitiser and protective equipment for NHS staff and key workers.
We are also seeing how manufacturers in sectors like office furniture and wholesalers such as JW Filshill and Braehead foods, are pivoting from B2B to a B2C model, now servicing a whole new market to meet customer demand.
Close attention to markets and supply chains – identifying how they’re changing, and what new opportunities are out there – is always an imperative driver for innovation.
Simon Cotton, CEO of luxury fashion brand Johnstons of Elgin, says:
“Great disruptions like the current one create a massive need for innovation. Short-term initiatives like making scrubs for front-line medical staff are just the most visible sign. Behind the scenes we are doing root and branch strategic reviews of every aspect of our business and questioning everything we do. Technology is bringing massive opportunity to improve our cost-effectiveness in communication, prototyping and sales. Even more fundamentally, the whole industry is suddenly open to innovations in planning our seasons to avoid waste and promote sustainability. We are effectively rewriting the value-stream-map for the whole industry and its extremely exciting.”
Finally, the benefits of productivity-enhancing technologies are well known. Those who already have taken measures to optimise productivity will be in a strong position, ready to sprint ahead as we start to recover. Overall, as many up their game (and sadly, as those who are ‘slow to adapt’ fail) it is likely that this will have an impact on net productivity across the manufacturing sector.
CNC Robotics MD Philippa Glover shares her perspective:
“Whilst we are in the midst of a crisis, business has to continue. I know many businesses are unsure of what the future holds and will be concerned about the longer term impact #Covid19 will have on their business and the wider economy. However we must not forget in times of crisis research shows that those who invest in technology are able to accelerate their recovery.”