Keith Cochrane: Innovation is expensive and risky, but it could be game-changer for the UK

Weir has come a long way since it began as a supplier of engineering equipment to Britain's growing naval and merchant shipping industry in the late 19th century.

Today, we design and manufacture equipment for the mining, oil & gas and power markets, from vital pipeline transportation pumps to flow-control equipment for onshore and offshore oil production and nuclear safety valves for reactors from South Korea to the US. This ability to seek out new markets is one of Weir's and UK manufacturing's strengths.

We make our equipment all over the world, but our UK operations remain among our best. "Made in Britain" is a resonant calling card in the overseas markets on which we focus. The challenge is to build on that position.

First, UK manufacturers must continue to focus on their critical success factors. Innovation – and that needn't mean constant "game-changing" technology.

Incremental product improvement is important, ideally intellectual-property protected to sustain leading market positions and safeguard customers.

Low-cost competition is a reality for us all. Operational excellence underpins product quality and keeps costs controlled. At Weir, we use lean methodologies, eliminating any resources other than those that create value for our customers, from the factory floor through key functions such as supply chain and IT.

This manufacturing excellence in highly engineered products can differentiate the UK from its competitors.

Finally, UK manufacturers must build a compelling model around their product offering.

We focus on mission-critical products used in challenging operating environments.

Weir technology is differentiated by engineered hydraulics and materials developed for longer wear life and therefore greater efficiency.

But we combine this with a global support network to enable Weir to rapidly deploy on-the-ground engineering expertise to our customers, wherever they may be.

This model sustains our competitive advantage, but we guard against complacency at all times. We have a healthy respect for global competitors.

But it's not just manufacturing businesses that can ensure "Made in Britain" continues to mean something special. Broader issues will shape our future competitiveness. Rebalancing the economy back towards "making things" is laudable, but this requires intervention in the education and skills sector. Engineering careers are rich and rewarding and young people must get that message early – ideally from primary school. More can also be made of manufacturing's links with further and higher education. This is critical in developing a pipeline of talent from future generations.

The UK could also do more to develop effective domestic supply chains. Industry would be prepared to co-invest with government and development agencies, stimulating employment and building global excellence in certain sectors.

Fundamental innovation can be game changing, but is expensive and can be risky to undertake. At present, only the largest businesses can afford to take this risk on, despite the fact some of the best brains are in smaller businesses. R&D incentives could be enhanced to de-risk and spread the innovation load across all sizes of UK manufacturer.

I am optimistic about the future of UK manufacturing. With action in these areas, things could be even better.

Keith Cochrane is chief executive of Weir Group

Suggested Topics
News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Web Developer/UI Developer (HTML5, CSS3,Jquery) London

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

C# Web Developer (C#, MS Dynamics CRM, SQL, SQl Server) London

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Oracle developer- (Oracle, PL/SQL, UNIX/LINUX) - Trade- London

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the global leaders in prov...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering