Collaboration: the driving force behind UK manufacturing

Guest post from Dr John Conti-Ramsden, Director of the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC).

These days, there is a common misconception that the UK has moved away from its manufacturing roots, but for myself and the team at the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC), the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In fact,15% of the UK’s GDP comes from businesses that produce and process materials, so the sector is strong. But in order to ensure its continued growth, new connections will need to be forged between research and industry.

We are all well aware of the grand challenges facing society – climate change, sustainable energy and the ageing populationare just three of them. While they may seem daunting, it is the sheer scale of these challenges that creates the best opportunities for us to innovate. However, it’s clear that no single company has all the answers. The innovative solutions of tomorrow can only be found by a diverse team of players – from universities, the knowledge base and start-ups, to SMEs, established manufacturers and product designers.

One example of a British company that has taken this approach is William Blythe who are developing the next generation of fire resistant materials. Through the KCMC, William Blythe collaborated with the University of Bolton to investigate the effectiveness of their current flame retardant products, and to search for novel, environmentally-friendly compounds for future products.Victrex, a world-leading materials company in the north-west, have developedpolymer gears that are 15 times more durable than metal ones. Their collaboration with the KCMC and University of Manchester was key to Victrex’s growth, and they continue to work together today.

The UK has a large number of creative, innovative companies working on the leading edge of the materials industry, but we also have a remarkably strong pipeline of talent and ideas from the country’s universities. Their role in changing manufacturing cannot be overstated. We are at a tipping point in UK innovation – the quality of fundamental research shows that we are not short of ideas, but in order for those ideas to shape the world around us, innovator companies and academics working together must be supported through the so-called “innovation valley of death”.

At the start of July, theRoyal Academy of Engineering published the Dowling Review – a strategic review of the status in UK business-university research collaborations. As part of the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), we inputted to the review, and were pleased to see a recommendation to “prioritise knowledge exchange over short-term income generation” was highlighted. This is a key priority for us too – we believe that is only through open, collaborative R&D that we can deliver real innovation. Come and join us!

 For further details on the KCMC, or to find out about working together, please visit

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