Berwick Partners recently held our Annual Advanced Materials Dinner which set out to discuss and debate common issues and opportunities facing the development and commercial application of advanced materials.
Britain was a leader in the early development of advanced materials technology, but other countries, notably Japan, now have a very dominant position in key parts of the market (e.g. pre-cursor chemicals and carbon fibre production).
There was what seemed universal acknowledgement of a skills shortage; in engineering generally as a result of what has happened within British Manufacturing in the last 30 years, and advanced materials in particular as a specialised segment of the engineering market. There is an acute shortage of application engineers leading to a requirement for specialised training centres and courses such as those being run by the NCC. Engineering has to regain its position as an important and attractive career in the UK.
Quality and volume were recurring themes. In addition there was some feeling that not enough interest is being shown by the industry in automation processes, which would enable the transition from craft businesses with manufacturing processes that reduce cost and enable organisations to take advantage of the performance benefits of advanced materials.
- The UK is well placed to lead the development of advanced materials in the global economy but is falling behind. More needs to be done, particularly in developing specialised application engineers.
- The Government needs to support the development of advanced materials as a strategic concern at the forefront of technology innovation.
- The advanced materials industry needs to be less insular and look outside for ideas to make manufacturing processes more efficient and cost effective.
- Highly specialised materials have their place and we should always seek to innovate, but focus should also be on materials that are ‘good enough’ for the chosen application.
The overriding message from the room was incredibly positive with growth opportunities being experienced across various applicable sectors; the only caveat was skill shortages as the most likely inhibitor to success.
David Thomas works within Berwick Partners Energy, Manufacturing and Infrastructure Practice, recruiting nationally for senior leaders in industrial businesses.