Ensuring UK plc is a winner as we navigate the ‘new normal’
My latest phone bill was a bit of a frightener, but is probably a good indicator of the time I’ve spent chatting to friends and colleagues in the industry over the last few weeks. Not being to get out and talk to people in person, my phone line has been engaged more often than not as I’ve tried to keep abreast of developments within our industry and to find out how businesses are holding up through the current crisis.
Particularly fascinating have been some of the discussions around how companies have tackled social distancing as they look to get their facilities into shape so that people can work safely. As an example, I spoke to colleagues at drives specialist Control Techniques which, as the Coronavirus struck, was just in the midst of reshoring exercise to bring more of its manufacturing back to the UK. That’s an investment in itself, but just as frightening was the money the company has had to spend on personal safety measures, including a one way system around the factory. If you’re lost in thought and miss your station, it’s quite a walk to go all the way round again.
As you’d expect, there are copious hand sanitisers and kilometres of tape on the floor, but there are also some creative solutions to production problems. Need two people working in close proximity on a part of the line? Not a problem when you’re the biggest employers in the area: just put two family members together. The result for Control Techniques is that is was only closed for three weeks during the crisis, primarily to get its safety measures in place.
I guess these are the sorts of working changes that we’ll all get used to over the next few months, part of what defines the ‘new normal’. What we don’t know yet is what sort of trading environment we’re all coming back to. Undoubtedly there will be winners and losers, but can our sector as a whole be one of the winners? Right now manufacturing has been identified as somewhere in between, with an IMD report suggesting it can either benefit or suffer depending on how it responds. From production logistics to supply chain disruption to the challenges of customer engagement in a socially distanced world, the difficulties are many.
I believe Industrial Technology has a role to play, which is where our two ‘Back to Business’ special issues come in. In this first part, we’ve garnered expert opinion on what the trading environment is going to look like, and what some of the challenges are going to be. In part two, we’ll be talking to suppliers about how they can help in addressing these challenges. Together, we can look to maximise opportunities and ensure that our sector comes out of the crisis as a winner rather than a loser.
Mark Simms Editor