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Creative Manufacturing

Posted on 06/11/2016

The creative sector in the UK is able to contribute to the success of the whole through innovation and deep user insights.

Creative industries can help the whole of the UK to innovate and grow.

The UK is renowned for the strength of its creative industries. From publishing through to performing arts, designer fashion to video games, its businesses, institutions and artists are admired throughout the world. The latest official figures show a sector employing 1.8 million people and growing at almost twice the rate of the economy as a whole.

In addition, as is increasingly recognised, the creative sector is crucial to the success of the wider economy, generating innovations and pioneering new ways of working. The creative economy, which includes those in creative occupations based outside of the creative industries, now accounts for 2.8 million people, with creative firms and professionals embedded in industry supply chains and production processes across the private and public sector.

This is particularly the case with the manufacturing industries. Highly competitive, with companies around the world able to produce in large volumes and at low cost, market share increasingly depends on the application of creativity. Through improving the consumer experience, branding and high-quality design, UK manufacturers are able to compete on more than simply cost, and to develop world-beating goods that earn revenues in both established and emerging markets.

Materials from the Materials Library at the Institute of Making. Left: 3D printed nickel matrix. Right: silicon nitride ballbearing. Credit: Tas Kyprianou

Manufacturers can draw on creative industry disciplines such as user experience, visualisation, facilitation to drive growth.

Manufacturers today face a bewildering array of challenges: global markets and competitors, diverse and demanding consumers, regulatory constraints (particularly in terms of environmental impact), complex supply chains, and the need to maximise the application of digital technologies. As such, they need to draw on a wide range of creative attributes and practices in order to compete. This goes far beyond industrial design and advertising, and encompasses such disciplines as craftsmanship, user experience, visualisation, systems design, communications and facilitation.

Recognising this, the KTN and Innovate UK are working to ensure that the support is there for British manufacturers with the ambition to innovate and grow. In partnership with the Crafts Council, the KTN has supported a research study ‘Innovation Through Craft’, launching July 6th, which looks at how contemporary crafts can feed into the innovation processes. The potential for craft to make a significant contribution to the UK economy through cross sector collaboration is huge and under recognised. This report sets out the market failures, the routes to growth and the further investment and Government support needed to bridge the gap and accelerate collaboration and innovation.

Recently, Innovate UK has launched two major research funding competitions aimed at British manufacturers. Reflecting the challenges above, these funds will help enable the development of new revenue sources from manufacturing, encourage circular economy approaches to materials use, support innovative business models and promote the effective uptake of digital technologies in production processes.

But none of this will be possible without the participation of creative businesses and professionals. The competitions, and KTN’s ongoing programme, is intended to actively promote the collaborations and cross-disciplinary work required. If we are to increase the potential economic spill-overs between the creative industries and other sectors, we need to do more to systematically embed cross sector collaboration and learn more about how to make the most of the economic potential driven by these collaborations.

Fiona Kilkelly is a Creative Industries Specialist at the Knowledge Transfer Network.