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Accelerating our journey to cultivate a world-leading engineering sector

Nick Roberts | 01 Feb 2017 | Comments

The industrial strategy was published exactly seven months to the day since we voted to leave the EU. Despite our well-known productivity challenges, I’m not sure it would have been conceived was it not for Brexit. But with many uncertainties ahead in the next few years and a pressing need to find relevance in the global marketplace independent of the EU for the first time in almost half a century the requirement for a plan is clear.

Within the strategy we have been set an ‘open door challenge’ to go to the government with proposals to ‘transform and upgrade our sector’. The ball is therefore in our court. If we don’t do anything, government isn’t going to come knocking on our door with solutions on a plate and millions of pounds of funding to throw at the challenge.

British engineering is in the midst of a renaissance which I believe aligns perfectly with the ‘cultivating world-leading sectors’ pillar of the industrial strategy.  The evidence of our past successes in this regard is plain to see all around the world, from railways to buildings, and if we can do it once we can do it again. Whether we like it or not, change – in the form of technology – is happening in our sector. We must adapt to the opportunities this offers quicker than everyone else in order to capitalise and put British expertise in high demand around the world.

To a large degree we’ve already mastered physical infrastructure. But we’re still at a relatively early stage of the area where physical meets digital, and for me, this is where we can cultivate a world-leading sector. We know that technology will continue to enable us to achieve things that haven’t been possible previously or deliver more for less. We know that there will be increasing amounts of data and sensor technology that will allow assets to be managed better over their whole lifetime. And we know that technology increasingly puts the end user at the heart of infrastructure decisions. It’s not as though we aren’t already making progress, but if we want to be that world-leading sector we have to accelerate our progress. That is the challenge we need to solve.

Technology will continue to develop at a rapid, driven by the tech companies. Our focus must remain on our strength which is the application of the technology to the infrastructure environment. It will be disruptive to the norm – for governments, infrastructure owners and suppliers.  If we want to speed up our progress it means being bolder with the risks of trying new solutions, it means taking a new approach to coordinating a supply chain which is focused around innovation, it means looking for the gaps in traditional approaches to infrastructure planning. We need to be open to modifying and adopting developments in other sectors, like nano-manufacturing and advanced materials.

The journey towards digital and intelligent infrastructure is something we’d already started. The industrial strategy has provided us with a framework to gain government support and acts as a call to arms for us to be quicker and more agile in our pursuit to ensure the UK is bold, relevant, innovative and competitive in our new, post-Brexit world order.