Sheffield’s answer to the puzzle

In 2015, the University of Sheffield showed Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, two photographs:

  • One of the Orgreave coking plant that closed in 1990 – ‘a brown and broken edifice dissolving like a rust stain into a post-industrial landscape’
  • The other, taken a decade later, of a solitary gleaming building on the same site – the first AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) building

Today, the AMRC is a hub of a fast-growing, high-value manufacturing cluster

Customers include the likes of Airbus, McLaren and BAe – world champions indeed who seek ‘lung-busting leaps in progress, not a half-point improvement here or a percentage step forward there’

Improvements the AMRC has enabled include:

  • Messier-Dowty reducing landing gear production times by 80%
  • A 50% improvement in fan-disc production for Rolls Royce
  • Boeing cutting component manufacture from over two hours to under six minutes

And thanks to investment in AMRC’s advanced manufacturing systems, BMW Mini in Oxford and JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) in Coventry win more domestic and overseas orders

One question thus follows – can such productivity gains by the big boys in manufacturing be replicated at SME level in the same sector:

  • Their answer is ‘yes’
  • But only if the government intervenes and supports ‘collaborative R&D hubs’ where solutions can be tried and tested before SMEs adopt them, thereby offloading their risks
  • Also, ‘SMEs cannot retrain their staff to use these new tools, so universities up and down the country must have more freedom to lead on training and knowledge exchange’
  • Otherwise, they’re in serious danger of becoming ‘no longer economically viable’ – as per the coking plant

A further question has to be asked given the claim that the above will have a major impact on UK productivity:

  • Manufacturing comprises only some 15% of the UK economy, so even massive productivity gains in this narrow area will not solve the overall UK productivity problem
  • So is anyone investigating if there’s any big impact possible using AMRC applications in the other 85% of the economy i.e. services?
  • Surely digitally-integrated systems have a role there too?

At present, all we hear from Services is one or other of the following:

  • It’s too difficult to measure, so nigh impossible to improve
  • Most now employ computers/ ICT but their benefits don’t show up in the stats
  • Or AI (Artificial Intelligence) is only now gathering pace but will soon transform all sectors everywhere

Very few recognise the enormous waste of costly resources and time that they incur at present – often over 50% of their total costs! – so they do nothing about it

And those that do seek to improve tend to invest in leading edge ideas and technology rather than explore the potential most have by better use of their existing resources, so avoiding any major investment costs

It’s such pig-headed attitudes which, after WW2, drove the world famous American statisticians Deming, Juran and Crosby (DJC), who were ignored by American manufacturing, to advise Japanese competitors to first cut waste and use existing resources better before investing in major new processes and gear – and within just a decade, Japanese manufacturers became world leaders instead

The same attitude is now prevalent in western service sectors – if they do anything to improve, it’s investing in latest gizmos and techniques whilst wasting small fortunes, urged on by management consultants and business schools who position themselves at the same leading edge

I still only know of one UK consultancy out there (n.b. with which I have no contact) which achieves big quantifiable results by repeating the true message of DJC – shame on the rest




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