Thursday, 8 January 2015

Industry Practice – UK Manufacturing – Renaissance and Revolution: 2015+ (Part 1)

Here in Britain, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's 'Autumn Statement' of late 2014 presented the fact that rebalancing the books of the country across the accounting measures of Debt, Deficit and Structural Deficit will take nigh-on twice the timespan forecast back in 2010.

Memory of any Christmas / New Year celebrations are now replaced by consideration of the economic future. An individual's prosperity the theoretical result of personal education and efforts combined with potency of the nation's development capability: any visionary economic agenda supported by strength of public and private finances.

The Historical Context -

In this critical regard from an investment perspective, Britain - like much of the west – may be viewed by economic rationalists with an overt historical perspective, as past its best. Long gone are the tentacles of a militarily gained empire with its inbound gains of associated trade, processing industries and increased consumption seen over the 18th, 19th century's; its tail-end the early 20th century model of supporting the economic development of the Commonwealth likewise dwindled as those newly independent countries themselves import critical developmental capital goods and consumer goods from elsewhere.

Instead, by the early 1980s the UK's economy had started to grow ever more “post-industrial” and consequentially toward being “services-orientated” aided by “new-tech” both facilitated by the central hub of “financial services”, itself plying increasing liquidity from increasingly private and global institutional sources. National industries privatised to enable either substantial re-investment in future-forward sectors (typically allied with the transformative IT revolution), or divested to better placed, low cost-base foreign companies. To counter-act such losses, a world of new possibilities with solutions directed at commercial 'info-tech' and domestic 'leisure-tech' realms, with the goals of respectively improving commercial and inter-social efficiency and deepening the escapist experience.

Critically by the mid 1990s the emergent topic of balancing global development with the need to temper humanity's adverse effects upon nature had become ideologically prevalent. The “eco” dimension thereafter became increasingly apparent and applied; the auto-sector the leading activist regards feasible eco-evolution, in recognition of its own responsibilities whilst bounded by business reality.

By the turn of the millennium the 'communication age' had become wholly crystallised, the seemingly exponential growth of data-streaming speeds for internet connected and tablets and smart-phones providing the basis for the apparent new economic miracle of web-based commercial and social existence.

Beyond Today, Into Tomorrow -

Although today there still remains partial focus upon the broad universe and 'outer-space' the days of cold-war technical competition have gone, at least for the west, as the overt force of nationalism is replaced by a corporatism that seeks to better explore and extract value from the 'shared-space' of an urbanised global society and reaching further into the psychological 'inner-space' of individual and group preference and behaviour.

As stated previously through-out investment-auto-motives' web-logs, wholly critical will be the ability to better connect the 20th century's “physical world” (of infrastructure, consumer goods and capital equipment) to the newer “e-based new-world”. This to be achieved via by which emergent trends, whether they be policy-driven, media-driven or apparently people-drive. Never before has such an increasingly strong connection between the social will and physical outcome been created. Whether via newly manufactured 'green' goods, recycled / “up-cycled” items or indeed the retro-fitment of green-tech to specific items where plausible.

To do so, and to derive an expanded economic development template, Britain must continue to re-invent itself with vision and tenacity toward what today may be described as the 'shared-space' and 'inner-space' idioms.

The Default Position for Phase 1 Re-Development -

Presently UK government focus spotlights the tried and tested road to economic growth: that of infrastructure spending. It is a formulae that spans back to the policies of Egyptian Pharaohs, Feudal Lords, Victorian Social Reformers and Global Presidents; the EM nations seen as most prevalent practitioners. Likewise for Britain today, road, rail, airport and domestic build projects have been publicised as economic catalysts, to be undertaken via the necessary template of public-private finance initiatives.

This portends well for the critically important initial stages of economic recovery, as the new dual sourced liquidity is injected into such enterprises, and a mosaic mix of executives, managers, technical and operational staff gain income, thereafter recirculating these monies across the broad social stratum and ultimately into various commercial realms; from food and farming to culture and sport.

However, this must be viewed as the typical 'default position' for Phase 1 of national re-growth.

As this very visible physical expansion and physical renewal gains ground, so simultaneously renewed vision(s) for Britain's continued place and role within advanced 'eco' and 'cyber' manufacturing must become equally, and ideally far more, concrete.

Formulating a Progressive Phase 2 -

It is all to obvious, that as never before, there is a requirement for yet speedier Renaissance and Revolution in Britain's manufacturing base. Itself credibly led by the scaling-up and diversified application of laboratory and test-bed efforts to date. Herein, the ostensibly high-profile yet paradoxically oft over-looked arena that is “Advanced Automotive” should be seen as a guiding light and enabler.

The philosophy of 'advanced automotive' has effectively been part and parcel of Britain ever since the efforts of the Lanchester Brothers amongst many others.

Although arguably over-shadowed by Germany in the 1930s, 1950s and 2000s, the French periodocally and the Japanese since the 1980s - such progress driven by pressures of motor-sport, brand kudos, performance and eco mass-manufacture – it has meant that over the past 25 years or so even Britain's comparitively under-funded research and development impetus has stretched over a wide spectrum.

From the creation of a hybrid-engined Mini Metro concept 'mule' by Rover Group in the early 1990s to the exploration of multi-directional avenues for efficient powertrain, electrical, chassis, structural and external body solutions.

With regards to the former: hydrogen-stacks for EVs, super-capacitors applied to EVs and hybrids, variable forced induction of small sized conventional engines, variable valve timing also applied to exhaust gas escape, the dynamic de-coupling and re-coupling of ancillery equipment to reduce parasitic losses, to the now well publicised use of 'KERS' technology in F1 racers; Britain the sport's technology-hub. The other four systems arenas likewise explored in old and new ways to improve singular and combined performance.

Interestingly, a fore-runner to the modern KERS energy harvesting process was initially deployed by early innovators such as Dr Porsche, and in the early 1930s seen in pantagraph powered electric trolley-buses during an age of geo-political instability and energy 'insecurity'. Yet this technology's cost-benefit in turn surpassed by changed macro back-drops as the development of the lightweight monocoque Routemaster bus in the mid 1950s was designed as to now be powered by lower-cost petrol, itself sourced from the “stabilised” (ie UK aligned) Middle East.

Critically, these previous examples from the 30's, 50's, 90's and 2010's provide a but a few illustrations of the history and progress of advanced vehicle creation and deployment in the UK, itself a technically diverse field at the centre of energy and ecological matters.

Proof is seen by the macro-aligned broad and constantly re-focusing engineering activities of various UK firms, Ricardo plc perhaps the best known example.

National Ambition -

In this regard Britain, whilst new infrastructure projects will indeed boost the economy both as short and mid term fiscal generator and as long-term facilitator, and whilst the e-economy continues to offer much hope (even with its many inherent failed ventures), government must simultaneously ascertain how best to subtly prompt and assist SME and blue-chip firms which explore and promote those physical goods provide re-engineered and newly-engineered 'eco' and 'cyber' solutions.

Thereby rebalancing the activities of the wider national economy, and the re-weighting of the country's Balance of Trade account back toward high-value 'visible' goods given that portions of the services based 'invisible' trade have long been replicated at reduced cost by EM nations seeking their own path.

For the UK continuing down the right road to future prosperity is crucial, but critical also is the need to plausibly re-imagine and re-engineer the everyday items we interact with, this process core to Phase 2 of ongoing economic renewal.

A period which might be termed “Renaissance and Revolution”

To Follow -

The second part of this weblog presents a snap-shot picture of Britain's economic and industrial challenge:

- its standing still amongst the ruins of the 2008 crash
- its weakened position magnified vis-a-vis obvious EM nations
- its re-aligned industrial competencies
- its lessons learned from UK Autos “travails of yesteryear”
- its counter-play of UK Autos thru' foreign FDI
- its need to recognised 'warning signs' ahead
- its high value products and identities
- its need for continued Renaissance matched by Revolution
- its need to soundly assess and develop future industrial projects