Scotland gains competitive edge through advanced manufacturing

Posted on: 21/01/2021
Close-up of welding

Ahead of Scotland’s CAN DO Innovation Summit on 3rd February, Dr Abigail Hird shares her insight on the impact of the pandemic on Scotland’s advanced manufacturing market and how the country is investing now to gain a competitive edge.

“The uptake of digital manufacturing technologies has been bubbling away in the background for a while now.

It is one of the keys to building a competitive manufacturing base here but, on its own, can be overhyped.

To really accelerate its impact, alignment with strategy, shared learning, collaboration and communities are critical. In Scotland, the appetite for networking and joined up thinking is stronger than ever, and this is what excites me most. Collaboration is such a critical aspect of innovation.

Digital manufacturing technologies are most effective in providing a competitive edge when they are used to enhance the core value proposition of the business.

That may be about strengthening the bond with customers; adding extra assurance and security; increasing the quality of the finished item; or enhancing the product development process.

Critically, the central motivation for adopting digital technology has to be core to the strategy of the business and the value you are offering customers. Many examples of this don’t sit neatly within the factory walls but instead stretch into the design offices, are customer facing and span the supply chain.

Transport innovator Alexander Dennis, for example, applied novel data analysis to improve the design planning process enabling them to respond to customer requests for quotation quicker, more accurately and with more confidence.

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone within Scotland’s innovation sector.

The ability to innovate and adapt quickly has been key. Companies that are agile and flexible have been able to find opportunities in the chaos and even thrive. Smaller firms and start-ups with an entrepreneurial mindset are the ones that have really jumped ahead.

Being able to make decisions quickly and reposition yourself without the inertia of existing infrastructure has been key. New businesses have been born or grown rapidly as a result of the crisis.

Adapting to the challenges brought about by the pandemic has revealed new business models and ways of working.

These will be increasingly relevant and useful when we establish a ‘new normal’.  The projects funded by Innovate UK’s Business-led innovation in response to global disruption competition really reflect this.

Great Scottish examples include Flour to the People, who responded rapidly to the flour shortages seen at the beginning of the pandemic, and Astrosat, who use satellite data to improve health and social care supply chains. 

The crisis has forced most businesses to evaluate operational resilience.

Although the crisis itself has been devastating in many cases, the evaluation of operations and strategy have motivated many to innovate and strengthen their position in the longer term.

In many instances, both demand and supply-side supply chains have been disrupted for manufacturers. The effects have impacted both local and global supply chains, and have made planning difficult in many cases.

Prior to the global disruption caused by COVID, the primary focus of supply chains was on operational efficiency: speed and reduced cost. The increased need for resilience has switched that emphasis and motivated innovation in both processes and products.

In some cases, supply chain weaknesses have been eliminated. In other cases, new markets have been reached and new product lines established. 

Crisis situations inevitably lead to innovation emerging.

Under pressure, people come up with new ways of working and great ideas – being part of the COVID fast-response team at Innovate UK has really made that clear to me. The Ventilator Challenge is an example of where companies have come together to respond.

A focus on looking after wider society rather than the bottom line has seen companies lower the drawbridges, build new relationships and alliances which will have benefits long into the future. 

At KTN we make connections to deliver positive change.

We can help you think through the project and can help find the right people or funding to support you on the journey – especially where you are embarking on something innovative.

Innovation doesn’t sit neatly within sector boxes, so we tend to work with other KTN sector and technology teams frequently. We can combine expertise and networks to help you think through the challenges you face and to find the best connections and support to accelerate your innovation.”


The CAN DO Innovation Summit will take place online on 3rd February – registration is free. Dr Abigail Hird will be hosting two drop-in sessions together with Matthew Wasley looking at the KTN Good Application Guide and how to deliver an investment pitch.

More about the KTN Manufacturing Team

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