Creative thinking and innovation are crucial to manufacturing growth

Addressing the challenges facing UK manufacturing requires creative thinking, innovation and fundamentally investment if it is grow in the medium and longer term. Especially where real growth can only be achieved by exporting those products and services we provide.

Unfortunately, too many of the analyses published in the media focus only on the short term and are often also simplistic.

Where one commentator suggests that manufacturing is benefiting from the reduction in oil and raw materials prices, another focuses on the difficulties that the high value of sterling causes for exports. Where one analyst sees a continuing downward trend from the first two quarters of 2015, another focuses on the expansion in trade shown by an increase in trade and orders in October.

All this suggests that it is foolish to draw conclusions for the whole sector and that what may be helpful to one manufacturer can be a problem for another.

For example a manufacturer of specialist equipment for the oil industry is likely to see a contraction in orders due to the contraction in the oil industry whereas a manufacturer that relies on fossil fuels for energy may actually benefit from energy cost reductions.

However, these are relatively short term fluctuations and in the longer term all UK manufacturers need to play to their strengths, which are their reputation for high-quality, precision and speed of supply.

UK manufacturing cannot hope to compete in the mass market with competitors from places like Asia where wages are lower.

It may be that their most sustainable route to success and growth is to focus on using doing things differently and using innovative technology such as robotics, on supplying high-quality short run products, and on offering support and maintenance services that all rely on their valuing skilled engineers and technicians.

All this means investing much more in R & D, technology, plant & machinery and employee skills.

Essentially we need to invest in manufacturing if it is to grow and in particular if we want to grow exports.

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