Have your say on region’s multi-billion manufacturing industry

The NAAME group wants to support advanced manufacturing and engineering in the region. Pictured is a

The NAAME group wants to support advanced manufacturing and engineering in the region. Pictured is a new laser cutting machine bought earlier this year by Optima Stainless in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

A trade body for one of Norfolk and Suffolk's biggest industries is seeking feedback on its proposals to advance the sector's development.

The NAAME group wants to support advanced manufacturing and engineering in the region. Pictured is a

The NAAME group wants to support advanced manufacturing and engineering in the region. Pictured is a new laser cutting machine bought earlier this year by Optima Stainless in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt. - Credit: Archant

The New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering group (NAAME) has published a draft sector growth strategy which looks to supercharge the sector locally by playing on existing strengths and improving business productivity and competitiveness.

Backed by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), NAAME is a business-led industry body which seeks to act as a voice for and provide direction and support for the sector.

Advanced manufacturing and engineering in Norfolk and Suffolk

It is the region's third largest employer – around 84,5000 people are estimated to be employed in the sector at 5,900 businesses, with an additional 145,000 non-engineering jobs also supported by it.

It has grown by 8.6% since 2010 and now contributes around £5.1bn in gross value added (GVA) to the regional economy per year.

It underpins various industries including energy, transport, composites, electronics and food and drink manufacture, and has sparked the creation of technology hubs like Hethel Engineering Centre.

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The report lists various innovative technologies which are being worked on by AME firms in Norfolk and Suffolk, including energy storage solutions, autonomous vehicles and nanotechnology.

What are the challenges?

Like many sectors, AME is being held back by poor productivity.

The NAAME strategy document lays out some unflattering statistics about New Anglia's productivity performance compared to other UK LEPs – ranked 23rd out of 38 for process innovation and 24th for employment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), with only 16% of firms collaborating for innovation, compared to the national average of 23%.

The document claims the UK's manufacturing industry has been 'stagnating since the 2007 economic downturn as a result of its productivity and innovation dwindling' – with Norfolk and Suffolk lagging behind the rest of the UK due to physical, economic and social characteristics.

The report says New Anglia LEP has 'highlighted the importance of AME' in the region's development – it is listed as one of nine high impact sectors for Norfolk and Suffolk, which would support the innovation needed to improve productivity but require investment to progress.

But it says the region's rural location, with 'limited movement' of people and ideas, has led to thousands of small businesses competing with each other rather than collaborating – something which it said was crucial for the sector's development.

In short, we are at a 'comparatively unfavourable starting point'.

How will the challenges be addressed?

Looking at the government's assessment of how the 'productivity puzzle' should be tackled – laid out in the industrial strategy white paper – NAAME has formed its own set of strategic recommendations for its sector including:

– The creation of business support programmes and masterclasses with sector leaders.

– Training in 'lean practice, competitiveness and commercialisation'.

– Supporting the University of East Anglia, University of Suffolk and others to develop their engineering courses.

– Linking STEM hubs like Framlingham Technology Centre and Hethel Engineering Centre.

– Laying the infrastructure to support developing supply chains.

– Supporting innovation projects developed by businesses, academics and students.

– Creating industry clusters to improve collaboration and 'influence local policy'.

NAAME says developing successful AME clusters across Norfolk and Suffolk could influence the region's 'economic identity', which in turn could generate international investment and help bring in new talent.

It also wants to create two specific institutes – the East's Institute of Technology to provide advanced qualifications, and the Institute of Productivity to create a 'regional ecosystem' for the manufacturing, engineering and technology sectors, focused on training and career development.

While the focus is on homegrown success, the report said there could be opportunities in the relocation of Cambridge-based AME firms to Norfolk and Suffolk, or large sector organisations which could generate a 'market pull' for products and processes.

It concludes that co-operation and co-ordination between major partners in the public and private sector will be key to successful and sustained sector growth.

What do the experts say?

Jamie Thums, NAAME chairman and chief operating officer at Lintott Control Systems in Norwich, said manufacturing and engineering was an 'enabling sector', meaning the products that are produced 'deliver benefits to the economy'.

'The sector is recognised as a cornerstone of the economy, nationally and regionally,' he said.

'Whilst the UK and our region has greatness, it's a fact that we do needs to be done better.

'The sector growth strategy, in its first draft, seeks to define the elements to achieve this and to solicit the opinions of industry and partners so that our region goes from strength to strength. The ability to do this requires a galvanized approach which links partners from across various sectors.'

The NAAME sector growth strategy can be found here. Comments should be sent to areeve@hethelinnovation.com.

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