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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones