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17 October, 2021

We must apply the lessons of Covid to the future

15 June, 2021

UK manufacturing appears to have come through the Covid pandemic relatively well. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for industrial automation, argues that we need to apply the lessons learned during the past year to help improve our levels of growth and productivity, and to ensure that the UK achieves a sustainable competitive advantage.

In years to come, the 12 months to March 2021 will be looked at in different ways by different people. According to the latest PMI (Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), the UK manufacturing sector seems to have grown significantly, despite the many challenges and struggles it has faced. When I say significantly, it has expanded at its fastest rate since 1994, including output, orders, employment and more.

Data collected here at Gambica confirms that although there was a significant dip early last year – supposedly due to the transition to remote working – the industrial automation market has seen a significant recovery.

I can’t help wondering, however, how our industry would have performed without the obstacles of the pandemic, the political tensions between US and China, the continuing Brexit changes, and the blocking of the Suez Canal.

While we’re growing at this “faster than ever” rate, it is imperative that we do not slow down. We must continue to expand our industry. The European Commission recently revised its industrial strategy which laid the foundations to support the transition to a greener and digital economy. This was originally set out in March 2020, but the update in March this year took account of the recovery from the pandemic and aims to achieve a more globally competitive economy.

The UK must remain globally competitive and one way we can achieve this is to seek influence from those around the world who are already “trend-setters”. One example, with the idea of a greener economy in mind, is solar manufacturing. The world’s other economic powers are already well ahead of Europe in this technology. China, the US and India have all recently commissioned new solar power manufacturing facilities. Although these countries tend to have larger land masses than the EU and, dare I say, more sunshine, that doesn’t mean the UK and the rest of Europe should rule out making solar cells.

The EC industrial strategy mentioned above includes an idea around this in particular. It notes that the EU’s current investment in renewables, energy storage, grids and other related technologies are too low. It suggests that European industry must find better access to affordable and decarbonised electricity if the EU is to deliver “genuinely sustainable competitiveness”. The strategy also welcomes any effort to scale up solar manufacturing in Europe, specifically mentioning the European Solar Initiative which was launched earlier this year to drive an expansion of photovoltaic manufacturing.

UK industry demonstrated fantastic resilience in the development, manufacturing and roll out of the Covid vaccine. Using state-of-the-art technology and maximising efficiency from the resources we have, we were able to achieve what was required and ramp up production to reach the levels of inoculation that we’re at today.

How the UK manufacturing sector has dealt with the pandemic, how it has recovered, and how it is trying to fight its way back to “normality”, is a surefire example of the capabilities we have. As mentioned above, we must not be complacent and rest on our laurels. If we use this as a precedent going forward and look to improve our levels of growth and productivity, then the UK will be sure to maintain the sought-after global sustainable competitive advantage.

Although the UK economy has experienced major shocks and a great deal of uncertainty, it is evident how the market has fought back. If we continue to combine making processes more efficient with the better use of resources, and increase our use of renewable energy, then we can achieve the journey to greater competitivity.

 

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.

For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk




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