What’s the challenge?

Manufacturing in the UK has changed. Globalisation has increased competition and opened up new markets, new technology has increased efficiency, and 3D printing, the Maker movement, and online marketplaces such as Etsy have democratised the sector. Heavy industry of the 1960’s has been replaced with high-value production, and the UK now exports a diverse range of goods including electronics and plastics, pharmaceuticals, chocolate and beer, aerospace and defence equipment, furniture and textiles.

These changes have consequences for jobs and skills, innovation and the economy, and sustainability. How can the UK adapt to these challenges in order to sustain economic growth and resilience? And how can we build on our proud manufacturing history and capitalise on the opportunities to make the UK a 21st Century manufacturing powerhouse?

What is manufacturing?

“The application of leading-edge technical knowledge and expertise for the creation of products, production processes and associated services, which have strong potential to bring sustainable growth and high economic value to the UK.”

Technology Strategy Board, 2012.


  • The manufacturing sector’s contribution to the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011 was £139 billion.
  • The UK’s manufacturing productivity grew by 2.3% per year from 1980 to 2009
  • In 2011, 3 million people were employed in the UK’s manufacturing sector.
  • The average salary in the manufacturing sector is £25,000 compared to £20,000 across other service sectors.
  • The north-west region had a manufacturing turnover of 14.1% in 2012; the highest contribution of all the UK regions.
  • £230.7 billion: the total value of manufactured goods exported from the UK in 2013.

Sources: Government Office for Science,Foresight, 2013. The Future of Manufacturing: A New Era of Opportunity and Challenge for the UK, POST, ONS, BIS

LEAN manufacturing

LEAN Manufacturing is a strategy which, through the manufacturing process, promotes efficient, maximum work output, whilst at the same time encouraging cost effectiveness and the delivery of quality products.

An example of the LEAN concept within the manufacturing process is the elimination of waste material as an output.

The concept of LEAN began in the 1990s and is a sustainable business method within the manufacturing process.

3D Printing

3D printing is the method of creating three dimensional physical objects from a digital model. This new form of manufacturing is likely to have a profound impact on manufacturing due to this technique allowing:

1. Flexibility on the location of manufacturing.
2. An increase in the creation of personalised products.
3. Opportunities for ‘DIY’ Manufacturing.
4. Products to be made from lighter materials and a reduced number of parts.

The Strati was the first car to be created from 3D printing; consisting of 49 parts compared to the approximate 25,000 found in the average car.

9 of the top 20 highest value exports shipped from the UK in 2013

  • Petroleum oils
  • Cars
  • Gold, diamonds and coins
  • Whiskey and liqueurs
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Mobile phones
  • Blood
  • Artwork
  • Aircraft parts

Sources: Observatory of Economic complexity, World Economic Outlook Database

Panel discussion

Peter Marsh, journalist
Peter Marsh (Chair), author of ‘The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production’ and former Manufacturing Editor at the Financial Times.

Peter Marsh is the author of “The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production”. From 1983 to 2013 he worked as a journalist at the Financial Times where his most recent job was manufacturing editor. He also covered technology, economics and the chemicals industry. Peter has a degree in chemistry from the University of Nottingham.  His other books have  covered microchips (“The Silicon Chip Book“, Abacus), robotics (“The Robot Age”, Abacus) and the space industry (“The Space Business”, Penguin). Before working at the FT, Peter was employed as a journalist at the Luton Evening Post, Building Design magazine, and New Scientist.


Will Butler-Adams OBE FRGS, Managing Director, Brompton Bicycle

Brompton Bicycle Managing Director, Will Butler-Adams is an entrepreneur and keynote speaker with truly impressive business knowledge. As boss of Brompton Bicycle, Will is helping spearhead a new surge in British manufacturing. His company designs, produces and distributes over 40,000 folding bikes each year from their UK factory – with half the 1200 parts in every Brompton made onsite. Even in the current economic climate, Brompton Bicycle is enjoying exponential growth.

Along with the founder and inventor Andrew Richie, Will has taken the company from a cottage industry to a rapidly growing international brand – by combining expert engineering with a very genuine passion for the product. He sees it not as a leisure item, but as urban public transport. His overseas customers account for 75% of his sales.

Will passionately believes in ‘building out’ obsolescence. Alongside his Brompton mission, Will is one of the champions of the ‘Make It In Great Britain’ campaign and a trustee of Inspiring the Future. He believes we are still capable of manufacturing excellence, and argues that with investment and encouragement our export market can produce real growth. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).



Dr Eddie Kirkby, Charity & Operations Support Manager at the Manufacturing Institute and Fab Lab.

Eddie is a multi-disciplinary engineer who graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1st class honours degree in Mechatronics and spent a year as a Manufacturing Engineer at Vauxhall Motors. Eddie spent some time lecturing and performing research at the university before completing his PhD there in the field of computer numerical modelling of light transmission through optical fibres. Eddie then became involved in the quality and commercial management of automotive injection mould tooling projects for Global Engineering Solutions where he further developed his knowledge of quality systems and product design in addition to managing the IT function.

Eddie began his career with The Manufacturing Institute within the New Product Development department, developing many of The Manufacturing Institute’s training and educational programmes. Eddie progressed through the Institute to his current role of Charity Operations Manager, supporting charitable projects such as the Make It campaign whilst developing the Institute’s business management systems. He led the introduction of the UK’s first Fab Lab in Manchester and more recently set up Fab Lab Ellesmere Port. Eddie has supported 8 other organisations around the UK to set up new Fab Labs and grow the Fab UK network to its current size of 14 Fab Labs. Eddie continues to work with over 30 other organisations wishing to set up Fab Labs in the UK and maintains a keen interest in the research potential of both the UK and the Global Fab Lab network.



Simon Middleton, Founder of the Shackleton brand
Simon Middleton is founder of the Shackleton brand. He is a leading brand advisor, founder and managing director of The Great British Banjo Company, and author of three books, the most recent of which is Brand New You.



Further reading

Rise of offshore manufacturing, Geographical Magazine, September 2014

The commodity trail of cheap goods, Dr Alison Hulme for ‘Ask the experts’,

The Making of Geographies of Manufacturing, Thomas Birtchnell, for ‘Ask the experts’,

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