Editor's comment: How COVID-19 is impacting UK manufacturing...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 July 2020

MG lockdown headshot_580x280
MG lockdown headshot_580x280

As the nation takes its first tentative steps to restart the economy, many are wondering what life after lockdown will look like: what will change & what will stay the same? As I pondered these questions while writing my column this month, I was invited to attend an online press event featuring a panel of industrial experts discussing the effects of this COVID-19 pandemic on UK manufacturing...

A version of this editorial was originally featured in the July 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

The members of this digital panel were drawn from some of the key industry and trade associations serving UK manufacturing and engineering:
•    Paul O’Donnell, Head of External Affairs at the MTA (Manufacturing Technologies Association) – the trade association for the UK’s high-tech advanced manufacturing sector
•    Steve Brambley, Chief Executive at GAMBICA – the UK trade association for instrumentation, control, automation & laboratory technology, including test & measurement equipment for electrical & electronics industries
•    Vanda Jones, Executive Director at BCAS (British Compressed Air Society) – the UK technical trade association for compressed air, a key resource for many manufacturers
•    Stephanie Baxter, Skills & Education Policy Lead at the IET (Institution of Engineering & Technology) – the professional institution for electrical & electronics engineers & technicians

The panel began by talking about the advice their associations could offer to members around COVID-19 – from navigating government support, such as the loans and furlough schemes on offer, to switching production to help support coronavirus efforts (for instance, for PPE or ventilators) or making their facilities COVID-secure.

On the topic of the ‘new normal’, while the panel accepted that some changes precipitated by the current crisis – such as the shift to working from home – may end up being systemic changes, manufacturing will still need factory shop floors. But COVID-19 may end up being an accelerant to industrial change, encouraging some manufacturers to step up investment in Industry 4.0 technologies (for more on this topic, read my intro to EPDT’s IoT & Industry 4.0 supplement on p23).

Alongside this potential investment in technology and automation, savvy firms will also look to invest in their human capital, through learning and training – the panel all agreed that STEM skills will be vital to economic recovery, as well as transitioning to new ways of working. A reduction in business travel, commuting and attending live events, driven by people becoming more comfortable with digital tools, as well as improvements in those tools and infrastructure, will help improve productivity, wellness and satisfaction – and also support the climate change imperative.

The biggest worry the panel identified was around investment and the unknown nature of a potential financial hit from the pandemic – not to mention ongoing concerns around Brexit, which they noted hasn’t gone away, but has just been drowned out for now.

For sure, many of these issues will be themes that are explored at the MTA’s MACH Exhibition, the UK’s largest manufacturing trade show, now rescheduled for January 2021.

EPDT July’s issue also contains features on Embedded technologies & Mil/Aero applications, plus EPDT’s regular IoT & Industry 4.0 supplement. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

Mark Gradwell
EPDT Editor

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