Encouraging British manufacturing

Today we are witnessing a resurgence of interest in the importance of manufacturing to the success of the UK economy:

The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) features economy, enterprise and manufacturing and believes that the 21st century needs a new economics – one that has human and planetary welfare as its goal.

With the achievements of its founder much in mind, the Comino Foundation has long been concerned to promote in the UK innovative approaches to manufacturing which are relevant to the current global environment. The Foundation believes in the power of making and wants to help grow the infrastructure and opportunities for designing and making at a local level throughout the UK.

In the early 1990s also, there was an increasing recognition that a strong economy depends on a successful, exporting manufacturing sector. In addition all political parties agreed that the UK would need advanced technical excellence in order to compete globally.

At this time, assisted by a series of luncheons given by Sir Francis McWilliams, the Comino Foundation helped to secure the support of many leading figures from all walks of life in Britain for setting up a new charity – the Foundation for Manufacturing and Industry (FM&I). The objects for which the Charity was established were:

‘to advance the education of the public in factors which affect the success of industry (in particular, manufacturing industry in the UK) by conducting or commissioning research into economics, technology, political sciences, employment and training, industrial relations and social trends and such other relevant fields of study as the Trustees determine and by disseminating the useful results of such research’.

People from leading positions in politics, the Civil Service, education, broadcasting, trade unions, finance and industry agreed to act as Trustees and members of the Advisory body. There was active chairmanship from Sir Trevor Holdsworth, then Chairman of National Power and a past President of the CBI. Elizabeth Amos was recruited from the CBI to become the Director.

The formal launch of the FM&I took place at the Mansion House on the 27 September 1993 before a large gathering, with the Lord Mayor in the Chair. With the Lord Mayor’s backing, the whole operation had taken just fifteen months to establish following the consultation at St George’s House in June 1992. The initial funding from the Lord Mayors’ Appeal Fund provided £200,000; the Comino Foundation gave £50,000 a year for three years in addition to bearing the setting up costs; and corporate, charitable and individual contributions from a number of sources quickly provided a further £200,000 a year. With a small permanent staff led by Elizabeth Amos, this combination of funding enabled the FM&I to mount a very successful research programme as well as holding numerous discussion evenings which stimulated much useful discussion and attracted press publicity.

By the mid 1990’s the Trustees of the Comino Foundation considered that the task set in 1975 had been largely completed: attitudes to industry had been transformed in twenty years. The Industry and Parliament Trust now ensured increased understanding of industry in Parliament and Whitehall. The Foundation now believed that further change could be left to those institutions and organisations which had become committed to re-building industry in Britain, which included those provided by industry itself, for example the National Manufacturing Council of the CBI, the Industrial Society and the FM&I.

Maintaining momentum on manufacturing issues

Although the FM&I was able to organise and manage a successful and well-attended programme on important manufacturing issues of the day, funding from industry became increasingly difficult to maintain. Professor Michael Gregory, one of the regular attendees at the events organised by the FM&I and Head of the Manufacture and Management Division in the Engineering Department of Cambridge University, identified that the work carried out by the FM&I could extend the work of his Department. Discussions were initiated in late 1996 to merge the philosophy and activities of the FM&I with Cambridge University’s Manufacturing and Management Division and form the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM). The merger took place in November 1997.

From its inception in 1998 the IfM has pursued an innovative approach to manufacturing. Its interests have developed to encompass a broad range of activities from understanding markets and technologies, through process and product design, to production and supply chain operations – all within an economics and policy context. It remains under Mike Gregory’s leadership to this day.

The IfM’s research is carried out within seven main centres, each concentrating on a particular theme and covering the full spectrum of manufacturing issues. These centres work with industry to develop practical techniques, and findings are disseminated through courses, conferences, workbooks and direct services to industry.

The IfM integrates education, research and practice at every level, with each area of activity feeding into and informing the others. It provides undergraduate and postgraduate courses that integrate management, business and interpersonal skills with engineering and manufacturing knowledge and practice. By 2010 the IfM was supporting a large number of PhD students. It had also expanded to employ over 300 staff including researchers and moved to the purpose-built Alan Reece building which was opened in 2009.

Professor Sir Mike Gregory was awarded a knighthood in the 2011 New Years Honours for services to technology. Dimitri would have been pleased that his vision of improving attitudes to manufacturing led to the establishment of the FM&I and to the subsequent substantive work by the IfM to understand and – at a practical level – improve the factors, including the skill base, which help determine the success of manufacturing in the UK.

Nevertheless, the work continues.

On 19th June 2013, the RSA and the Comino Foundation hosted a day-long interactive showcase and celebration of contemporary approaches to ‘making’ in the newly opened basement galleries of Somerset House called ‘FutureMaker’. Its aim was to connect the varied groups interested in this agenda, as well as to introduce and showcase the innovative work that is being done in many areas of the UK by both formal and informal contributors to the new maker agenda. The day time drop-in session included interactive demos, presentations, workshops and screenings from a wide range of the Maker movement and from schools supported by the Comino Foundation. The evening provided an opportunity for presentations and discussion to be shared by a wide range of people interested in helping UK manufacturing to flourish, including one from Professor Bill Lucas of the Comino sponsored Centre for Real World Learning at the University of Winchester. This sought to establish the need for active learning through making in schools and the wider community. It is expected that the RSA with other collaborators will take this forward as an ongoing maker-Lab for the London community as part of a Makerversity initiative.

A video of the FutureMakers event:  https://vimeo.com/70771620