Swindell & Pearson at Made in the Midlands with Baker Tilly

April 01, 2015

Swindell & Pearson recently hosted a joint roundtable discussion with Baker Tilly, bringing together members of manufacturing organisation, Made in the Midlands to discuss R&D, innovation and new product development.

On the 24 March 2015, Swindell & Pearson and Baker Tilly convened to host a roundtable discussion with members of Made in the Midlands themed around innovation, R&D and new product development within the manufacturing sector. As patrons of Made in the Midlands, both Michael Skinner of Swindell & Pearson and Rebecca Reading of Baker Tilly wanted to hear from the organisation’s members about the challenges and difficulties they face and what help and support they feel is available to them.

Chaired by Charles Addison of Made in the Midlands, the morning opened with a free-ranging discussion around general R&D which quickly developed into an interesting debate about why our European counterparts are so far ahead of us as knowledge economies despite previous governments’ efforts to address this.

It was commonly agreed that we suffer from a cultural syndrome whereby our engineers, inventors and innovators are often shunned, being seen as ‘mad inventors’ who need to be locked away to get on with whatever schemes they have. An incredibly different mind-set to Germany, where such professions are highly esteemed and lauded for the benefits they bring to their country.

This perception it was felt is ingrained into our national psyche going back to the decline of us as a manufacturing nation. One of the members present backed this up, stating that in the 70s, manufacturing accounted for 25% of our GDP and today stands at little over 10%. The same attendee however felt that rather positively, a change in mind-set is currently underway and that the manufacturing sector has been rightly commended for its role in helping lead the way out of recession.

The next part of the debate broke off into a discussion around Patent Box and why this scheme has not seen the uptake we all feel it perhaps should have done. Rebecca stated that they have seen an increase in activity over the last 12 to 18 months, whilst Michael felt that through discussions he has with clients there is often tentative interest but there hasn’t been a significant increase in the number of filings as the scheme was designed to encourage. This was felt to be partly due to a lack of clarity around patents and the Patent Box scheme’s specific requirements putting potential applicants off.

Using various measurements, Michael found that Germany is around four times more active than we are in filing patents. It was clear from the discussions around the table that at least some of those present may have been underestimating the significance of their R&D in relation to the possibility of patents and may be missing out on valuable tax relief as a result. Several notes were jotted down in haste and mentions of looking into that further followed.

Charles had researched some of the grant funding available around innovation, seeking to explore whether firms were themselves aware of such initiatives and schemes and if they had any experience of going through an application process. There was some concern expressed that though the schemes sound attractive, they can often be very awkward and arduous to navigate, requiring a significant input of time, energy and resource but all however agreed that the benefits to their business were worth the effort. Lack of awareness however was again cited as a particular issue.

An example initiative mentioned by Michael was the Fit for Nuclear programme, designed to help UK manufacturing companies enter or expand within the civil nuclear sector. The majority around the table had not come across the initiative but all felt that it was an interesting area to explore particularly as Made in the Midlands members have a great track record in automotive and aerospace engineering fields and those sectors transfer across; a fantastic opportunity for the Midlands to once again lead the way in manufacturing and engineering developments.

The discussion finally came onto possible future importance of additive manufacturing and the rapid development of 3-D printing. From initially creating prototypes at huge expense to now being able to create complex components from high-performance materials, what have been the significant impacts of this technology now becoming more widely available?

Two members present were already successfully making use of such technologies and allayed concerns around any high costs. The machines had made an almost instant return upon their investment and were adding value to their business. There was a lot of interest from the other members around the table in understanding how they could also adopt the technology and whether it could change their processes. It remains to be seen as to the full scope and capabilities of 3-D printers in the longer term and just how they will become a part of manufacturing processes. As with so many of the points and topics raised, it was an area to watch with interest.

We would like to thank our friends at Baker Tilly for kindly hosting the event, the Made in the Midlands members for taking part in the roundtable and so passionately sharing their insights and finally to Made in the Midlands for arranging the discussion.

If you are a manufacturer we’d love to hear from you about some of the challenges and issues you’ve faced. If you have any comments or questions regarding the article please do get in touch with your usual contact at Swindell & Pearson or at [email protected].