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April 20th, 2016

Frontrunners, Followers or Firefighters?

I was pleasantly surprised to read a report from NatWest,‘Future Fit: the road ahead for UK Manufacturing’ which chimes with many of our experiences of working with a range of UK SME’s over the past twenty years.

As the Mark Twain quote goes ‘rumours of my death are grossly exaggerated’, could be applied to UK Manufacturing. We have a national preoccupation with the demise of manufacturing in the UK, but it might be surprising to some of you to know we are still the 10th largest manufacturing country out of 200.

We may well be moving towards a tipping point such as described by proponents’ of Industry 4.0 and it is incumbent on all supporters of Manufacturing, be it central and local government, banking, universities or consultancies to work together to ensure the wealth creators in manufacturing remain a key ingredient of the future UK Plc.

SME’s today are facing an array of threats and opportunities some of which they have heard of but no real plan on how to build them into their forward plans. Here are just a few of the buzzwords doing the rounds at the moment. It might be worth using this as an exercise to understand where you are today and where you’d like to be in the future?

Buzzword Bingo Frontrunner Follower Firefighter
Industry 4.0
The Internet of Things (IOT)
Made in China 2025
New composite materials
Big Data
High Value Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing
Digital connectivity
3D printing
Industrial ecosystems
Bridging the gaps between universities, government funding and SME’s


Perhaps the first step for manufacturers is to understand the wealth of new opportunities that are out there, both domestically and internationally and then make plans to tap into those which make sense in the world for the next 3-5-10 years. Events such as BIS’s ‘meet the buyers’; speed dating style business events where hundreds of people turn up could be a good place to start.

Manufacturers however hold the key to decide do they want to become a Frontrunner, a Follower or a Firefighter? Their future depends on which route they take before it’s decided for them.


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