Annette Weekes, managing director of Lancashire-based PDS Engineering Group says collaboration in the supply chain is critical to developing a robust aerospace manufacturing sector for the future.
Defined as 'working together to achieve a common goal', the pandemic has shown what can be achieved through collaboration, which in itself is a vital component in advanced manufacturing and engineering – even more so in an industry that prides itself on innovation.
We're blessed with a 'can-do' approach in the North West, and when a barrier to success is presented, you can bet we'll find a way to overcome it. But we're also very good at sharing best practice, which is exactly what happened when we worked with other manufacturers on the ThrustSSC.
A prime example of working together was when we established the Covid-19 Manufacturing Cluster for Lancashire and South Cumbria by bringing together aerospace and other manufacturers to lend their expertise and resources to help the NHS deal with the pandemic. Businesses pivoted quickly and used their capacity to supply local NHS shortages.
The same ethos also saw the creation of sector champions such as the North West Automotive Alliance and North West Aerospace Alliance – helping to showcase our impressive supply chain across the globe. More importantly, both groups bring people together to collaborate and keep the region at the forefront of manufacturing and innovation.
Those outside our industry often see us engineers as insular and process-driven, when really, we're the most creative and innovative thinkers, and that creativity can be amplified hugely through collaboration. When supply chain members come together and share ideas and working practices, we immediately improve the process, products and service our clients receive, which then provides a better experience for the end-user.
We also make a significant impact on a client’s business by bringing together a number of minds instead of working in silos. Ultimately, we’re there to help achieve a common purpose. Collaborating toward an objective, whether that be customer-specific or on a broader basis, as we strive towards Net-Zero. Our approach to working together makes achieving goals more manageable, achieving higher productivity rates, eliminating inefficiencies, and helping OEMs achieve more benefits than just impacting the bottom line.
Collaboration isn't always the easy option, and in our sector, there are commercial considerations and sensitivity which work against a concept of openness. However, society as a whole is changing; following the impact of the pandemic and with a drive towards new thinking and new ways of working, bringing opportunities around Industry 4.0 and digitalisation, there is a cultural shift happening which fosters and encourages more co-working.
Granted, we’re always going to be conscious of sharing our individual USPs or added value, but there's an overlap in how the supply chain works, and while it's essential to protect your business, there is a greater need for the supply chain to work seamlessly for all. We've all seen the opportunities that Covid and Brexit have brought concerning possibilities around onshoring and generally driving towards local sourcing, and OEMs are expectant of agile ways of working, and they'll want to see a supply chain in place that embraces collaboration with the strength that brings.
It's not a new concept. Cluster groups are essential cogs in industry that bring firms together to help solve challenges that are sometimes too big to solve by one organisation. For example, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Lancashire, dedicated to collaborative research, helped BAE Systems develop robotic countersinking technology to save it millions of pounds in capital and operational costs.
That's when the evolution from working in silos to participating in collaborative workgroups reaps rewards for the industry and propels it forwards. As Covid restrictions reduce and we begin to move into a new normal where people can more easily meet, new opportunities are emerging via collaboration.
Groups like the Covid-19 Manufacturing Cluster that came together to solve a specific problem can, by holding fast to the ethos of 'in it together' and collaboration, take on the next challenge and the one after, but I'm excited to see what the future holds and what can be achieved when we work together.