The challenge for manufacturing

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Like me, many of you are undoubtedly excited by the prospect of this year’s National Manufacturing Conference and Dinner. As an industry, we are looking to the opportunities and challenges ahead of us – from helping rebalance the economy to tooling up for the fourth industrial revolution. This event is the perfect opportunity to galvanise the collective will of industry and government.   

Lombard began its life just after the first industrial revolution, at the height of the Victorian age when steam and machines powered the country’s manufacturing capabilities. Looking back, we all have to admit that the landscape is more complicated today. While the UK still has a traditional manufacturing heartland, we are entering an era when data exchange and automation will be catalysts for speeding up the processes of manufacturing and allow manufacturers to develop new ways of organisation. Much as steam power allowed the Victorians to become leaders in manufacturing, we must harness today’s technologies too.

One problem we face is that many of the UK’s medium-sized manufacturers are slow to take up new technology, and they can be wedded to old business models that don’t suit new ways of streamlined production. Too often, the attitudes of manufacturers are shaped by a lack of awareness of the international competition. At the same time, they also face a conflict between planning ahead and being agile: being able to change course if circumstances dictate.

 

Addressing the needs of the UK’s manufacturers

This conference promises to address these major issues facing the industry. It will tackle how the UK positions itself globally, which is really a question of two parts: it’s not only about what we do, but how we perceive ourselves. In a recent report on the sector by NatWest, called Future Fit, the bank found that a number of the UK’s manufacturers are unsure of how well-positioned we are globally, and are aware that we need to step up to the challenge. As the 10th largest manufacturing country in the world we’re certainly not in a weak position; we should be confident and forge our ambitions.

I look forward to hearing from Alison Rose, our Ceo of Commercial and Private Banking, who will be tackling this topic in a panel debate. Alison joined the bank in 1992 and along the way has championed business start-ups throughout – Entrepreneurial Spark is the latest bank-led campaign to this end. It’s that kind of innovative attitude that we need to harness in the manufacturing sector. And I’m sure that, together with economist and CEBR board member Vicky Price, it will be an enlightening discussion.

We will also hear about how supply chains can be digitised. At the moment, many manufacturers feel isolated from the broader identity of their regional or national peers. Lacking a strong connection with your supply line can mean you’re not able to meet the needs of personalised manufacturing, sustainability or to anticipate future shocks. In short, it means fewer opportunities to grow.

All in all, there is a lot to contend with if we are to remain a competitive sector in the global economy. But the fact that we are addressing these issues is encouraging. In 1968 – a time before the UK joined the EEC – Lombard became a subsidiary of the National Westminster Bank and pioneered the leasing of machinery and assets to businesses. And after the UK leaves the EU, we will carry on. The uncertainty of exit will no doubt leave many of the UK’s manufacturers reflecting on what it means to participate in the global economy today. We will use this opportunity to make sure the sector moves forward.

 

This and other topics of business interest to UK manufacturers will be discussed at the National Manufacturing Conference on 22 February 2017. Tickets to the dinner are available now.

Author

Managing Director of Lombard

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