There’s long been a meeting of minds between Academia and Manufacturing in Wales, with successful collaboration shaping many noteworthy products and market developments over the past few decades.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise. There’s ample evidence that businesses which persistently invest in R&D grow twice as fast as non-innovators, enjoying higher levels of profits and exports - as well as benefiting from the organisational resilience and creativity that comes with having subject experts focused on delivering tangible competitive advantages.
“Businesses which persistently invest in R&D grow twice as fast as non-innovators”
The benefit is far from one-way, of course. It’s a symbiotic relationship that delivers both a financial return and valuable employment opportunities to the academic community - and this “win-win” is about to metamorphose into a whole new level of partnership, with last month’s launch of Manufacturing Wales’ Membership community, offering both firms and academic institutions the opportunity to work together to maximise (and create) joint opportunities across Wales, the UK and the wider world.
Cardiff Metropolitan University has become Manufacturing Wales’ first Academic Affiliate Member and Business News Wales sought the views of Matthew Taylor, Cardiff Met’s Director of Innovation, about his ambitions for this new collaborative community - and how he sees his university helping propel Welsh manufacturing businesses higher, further and faster.
“The opportunity to create and maximise joint opportunities across Wales and the wider world”
“Our own knowledge and expertise here at Cardiff Met extends across many diverse industries - from manufacturing to services - encompassing design, education, food, health and a wide range of other sectors” explains Matthew “and we work with companies in many different ways, too - providing everything from Business Services, Consultancy and Contract Research, to SME support and even the funding of opportunities to collaborate. We work very much in partnership to help manufacturers make that all-important strategic step change - and that can involve improving existing products, developing new products, streamlining manufacturing processes, implementing new business strategies and expanding into new markets. We have a track record of delivering across an incredibly varied project-base - from working with Odoni-Elwell to design ‘Bike Cloud’, to developing medical products for rural Zambia through disruptive innovation. So for us, the opportunity to work in partnership with members of Manufacturing Wales feels like a natural extension of our own vision to raise the ambition of our indigenous manufacturers.”
“We’re a small and clever nation, with the natural advantage of geographical proximity.”
How does Matthew view the Wales-based manufacturing landscape right now? “We’re a small and clever nation, with the natural advantage of geographical proximity. It’s up to us to use that ‘closeness’ intelligently. We’re doing that well by building clusters of excellence in areas such as Compound Semiconductors, Cyber and Medical Devices, with world-class universities being part of that local supply chain. We also have a global footprint and a growing international presence, with strong brands such as Penderyn. But let’s not forget those areas that we need to improve in, such as widening access for smaller companies in the supply chain.
“That means nurturing relationships and building trust between the large and not-so-large enterprises, harnessing that Welsh passion for mutual benefit. We’re seeing it on a government level, with ten local authorities joining forces to become Cardiff Capital Region. We now need to create those close ties across the manufacturing sector, building resilience and unleashing our potential at the same time.”
“Skilling, Reskilling, Upskilling and Knowledge Transfer is what Universities do best”
Can the partnership between firms and academia be a catalyst for all this? “Absolutely”, affirms Matthew. “Skilling, Upskilling and Reskilling is a crucial part to what Wales needs - and that’s what universities are best at. At Cardiff Met we’re involved in everything from Apprentice training to Knowledge Transfer Partnerships where we supervise graduates to work on defined projects for the companies we partner with. And the potential for this is vast, not just in South East Wales but in the rural enterprise, SME and green economy of Mid, West and North Wales. It’s easy to forget that the Welsh economy is home to a wide variety of world-famous brands, as diverse as Aston Martin and Welsh Lamb - so this is our chance to re-define what manufacturing as a function and as a career means to people in Wales.”
“Now there’s no excuse for manufacturers not to engage with universities”
When asked his immediate ambition for Manufacturing Wales, Matthew leaves us with one final and very compelling thought: “At the most basic level, Manufacturing Wales is overcoming perhaps the single biggest obstacle to collaboration between Manufacturing firms and Academia. Simply put, companies sometimes find it difficult to engage with universities. Now there’s no excuse - just a great opportunity.”