HVM meets its makers

Robin Wilson, Lead Technologist for High Value Manufacturing (HVM) at the Technology Strategy Board, is convinced he’s just met his successor! Along with 120 young and very talented designers and ‘makers’, he joined in with the two-day Enabled by Design-athon workshop event on 2nd and 3rd of November at Ravensbourne, an elegantly designed, purpose built higher education institution innovating in digital media and design situated right next to the O2 arena in Greenwich, London.

 He writes ...

 The aim of this extraordinary event, inspired and led by Denise Stephens who has set up a social business and community called Enabled by Design, was to bring together a group of people from the Enabled by Design community and beyond to design and make a variety of products suitable for a wide range of people so as to make their lives that little bit easier and support independent living.

Designers, health and social care professionals and people with experiences and views on independent living worked in competing teams after being given their different challenges just before lunch on the Friday and set about designing and making their proposed solutions.

The standard of design and production skills was quite exceptional; what happened over those two days has convinced me that the next generation of ‘makers’ is already in full flight and thriving here in the UK. They don’t just play with computers; these are practical individuals who use computers and tools to design and make things, with the skills and confidence to go beyond that and start buying materials and selling products and services commercially on line.

First class prototyping facilities at Ravensbourne, including some very up to date 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) machines, enabled teams to translate real, everyday human needs into a set of possible ideas for products.

One idea was a device to help parents track their children in a shopping centre or someone with a visual impairment locate and meet up with a new acquaintance in a crowded place. Another was a decorative clip-on piece for a hearing aid, where the team not only made a set of three stylish and different coloured designs presented in a gift box but the whole thing was properly specified and priced, the market quantified and the essence of a business plan presented.

To my mind, the only thing missing here is the big picture: the more traditional members of the manufacturing industry, like me, have simply failed to spot that these people from the ‘maker’ community are in all probability the new designers, engineers, producers, sellers and entrepreneurs of the future.

Reflecting on my own career having spent the best part of four decades in the aerospace and automotive industry, where I have seen far too many occasions when young, aspiring designers and engineers turn away from these industries in favour of the city or other career paths, people of my generation have started referring to this real and worrying skills gap as ‘the lost generation’.

In a strange sort of way, the 2008 credit crunch and everything we have learnt since about the dangers of an economy fuelled by debt, have actually helped to show us a much better way forward: being so highly dependent on financial markets and the service sector just doesn’t work any more, we need to build a modern economy in which the desire and ability to make things for ourselves becomes important again.

With new technologies like additive manufacturing, which can produce anything from jet engine parts to jewellery, we believe the UK can compete successfully with bigger nations, because not everything has to be mass produced in large factories any more.

Distributed manufacturing and fragmented supply chains may well become a source of competitive advantage in the future and an approach which lends itself well to what we like and are good at doing here in the UK. If we can inspire younger generations to help shape this new and more attractive kind of manufacturing culture, we have the potential to mobilise this enthusiastic, creative and practical talent base to open up new horizons for individuals and companies that want to make and sell things close to home.

Back at the Design-athon, the judges found great difficulty coming up with a single winner out of the 14 entries, all were good, and some were exceptional. There was still so much energy and enthusiasm in the whole group that security staff had to throw us all out at 5pm on the Saturday evening; if left to their own devices, many of the people there would have carried on and perfected their products, started making them in small batches and had them up for sale on a new website by the Monday morning.

Spurred on by this truly innovative and inspiring event I am now even more optimistic about the future of manufacturing in the UK. These are the individuals we’ve been looking for who will quickly make up for the lost generation and become tomorrow’s most influential and successful producers. Manufacturing is coming home again, to a maker near you, in fact it’s probably a young enthusiast working right now in the house next door!



Last updated on Tuesday 18 December 2012 at 16:33

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