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Yorkshire manufacturers urged to embrace the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ in order to compete globally

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Attendees of the ExportExchange and Make UK event touring the Produmax factory

Driving productivity in order to make the region’s businesses fighting fit for export is the way forward according to Mike Maddock, managing director of Performance Engineered Solutions (PES) Ltd and visiting professor to The University of Sheffield.

Maddock was speaking at the latest ExportExchange ‘Live’ event, organised in association with Make UK, which saw manufacturers from across the Leeds City Region visit Produmax, a global expert in flight control components and assemblies based in Shipley. He stressed the need for businesses to move forward, adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude and shape themselves for the future as well as taking advantage of the export opportunities offered by depressed sterling.

Maddock, who is also a Northern Powerhouse export champion, commented that many people lacked understanding of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR or 4.0) which rather than focussing on the introduction of automation, seeks ways to make machines work more effectively by improving connectivity and data interrogation.

“While there is often some resistance to the concept of 4IR due to a lack of digital understanding, many businesses are actually already on the journey which is all about making continuous improvements to productivity,” he explained.

With a shortage of skills in Europe, British manufacturers are going to need strong leadership to help the workforce understand and embrace more automation which will, in fact, secure jobs and help to future-proof businesses.

Keith Jackson, CEO of Brandon Medical and visiting professor to The University of Sheffield, warned that running a business only in the UK was risky and Yorkshire manufacturers needed to operate in multiple markets. Brandon Medical, a family business based in Morley which exports operating theatre equipment globally, has embraced 4.0 by integrating its equipment and sending monitoring information into the cloud. The company has delivered projects in over 70 countries, it is currently focussing on the Middle East and Asia Pacific, and export now accounts for over half of its turnover.

“Interestingly, research shows that companies which start to export see a 34% rise in productivity in their first year of trading overseas,” comments Jackson. “There’s lots of support out there, particularly through the Department of International Trade (DIT) which is a great asset – I urge Yorkshire manufacturers to explore export, it’s also a fantastic energiser for a business.”

Mandy Ridyard, financial director of Produmax, explained how the company has been transformed into an international business, stressing the need to bring along employees on the journey. She talked about the way in which Produmax had engaged the workforce and turned them into ‘engineering super heroes’ who shared the company’s vision, mission and values. She concluded: “Success in business is all about people.”

As well as listening to presentations, attendees at the Produmax event, which took place on 17th September, were also able to tour the precision engineering company’s factory and see its high tech production facilities and experience its ‘one team’ culture following a SiG (Sharing in Growth) transformation programme. The £8.5m international business employs a 85-strong team and exports now account for 70% of turnover.

Aimed at manufacturers in the Leeds City Region, the event also included the latest information from a number of DIT and LCR export support organisations.

The ExportExchange initiative, which launched in 2017 to bring together experts in overseas trade within firms from the Leeds City Region, has helped share exporting knowledge with many growing exporters who have registered to receive advice from experienced Yorkshire mentors or ‘patrons’.

The ExportExchange programme is backed by the European Regional Development Fund and supported by the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Department for International Trade (DIT), and a number of private sector export specialists.

For more information, and to join the network, visit the ExportExchange website.

Make UK were partners in the event at Produmax, supporting the manufacturing organisation’s national membership board’s key priority of improving business performance in order to be in a healthier position to optimise export performance. The event panel consisted of Make UK regional board members and export champions. For more information about how Make UK supports manufacturers, visit its website.