The strength of Yorkshire’s innovation in manufacturing was recently celebrated at an event in Leeds which brought together some of the region’s leading manufacturing innovators to debate how innovation creates competitive advantage.
Hosted by business advisers Grant Thornton, law firm Clarion and Barclays, the event looked at how today’s successful manufacturers are putting the spirit of innovation into practice. It was attended by managing directors from key Yorkshire manufacturers including Stephenson Group Limited; Just Trays Limited; Perry Uniform; Ardent UK; Pland Stainless; Allied Textiles Limited; Airedale International; Ecologix Controls; Trojan Plastics; ATB Morley; The Cotswold Food Partnership; and Ritchey Limited.
Andy Wood, partner at Grant Thornton in Yorkshire, explains: “With its long and prestigious manufacturing heritage, Yorkshire is playing a key role in powering the UK’s economic recovery. Despite the doom and gloom, we see the resilience of the sector on a daily basis, working with a plethora of successful businesses that have adapted by developing niche products or exploring new global markets. From world-leading engineering companies to flourishing food producers, the region’s manufacturing industry is alive and well.”
One such company is Gripple in Sheffield, the market leader of wire joiners and tensioners for the agricultural and construction sectors. Mark Edmonds, managing director, explained how his organisation has evolved from producing a single basic product to becoming one of the most celebrated UK manufacturers, recently winning the Manufacturing Excellence and a hat trick of Queens Awards for International Trade, Sustainability and Innovation.
“Innovation is at the heart of our strategy and is the lifeblood of our success, our ethos has been to cascade innovation in to everything the business does, from new products and processes through to people development,” explained Mark. “One of the ways we keep on our toes and avoid complacency is by targeting 25 per cent of sales from products less than four years old in order to drive ongoing innovation.
“A focus on consistently providing extraordinary customer service is at the core of what we do – this means having significant numbers of staff in direct contact with customers, servicing current needs and also addressing future challenges. Most industrial orders are shipped the same day.”
Mr Edmonds continued: “Unusually, Gripple is an employee owned business with a flat structure. An open plan environment promotes the flow of ideas, we encourage our team to be open minded and to look for new ways of solving problems. Our equitable culture includes a ‘no offices (let alone corner offices) or allocated parking spaces’ policy, equal benefits and holidays, no monthly accounts, equal votes. New employees must invest 5 per cent of their first year’s salary to ensure that everyone is an owner and, therefore, takes ownership of the business.”
During a period when European markets are flat, spreading the risk internationally has been important to Gripple which has customers in over 80 countries and now operates factories on five continents; the driver is proximity to market rather than low cost of manufacture. Investment in state of the art manufacturing equipment has allowed rapid automated production of many different products – often an order can be manufactured and delivered the same day.
From its simple initial product, Gripple has evolved products across sectors, creating new technologies to solve traditional problems. Today, its products can be found in iconic buildings on London’s skyline such as The Shard as well as providing hanging solutions in the new Airbus A380 facility. Importantly, solutions often involve disruptive technologies that provide greater cost advantages. For example, the Gripple saves a huge amount of time when applied to suspending pipe and ductwork compared to traditional threaded rod products – a benefit of real value on fast track construction projects with revenue enhanced through earlier completion. More recently, the technology has been developed to provide seismic restraint solutions.
Mr Edmonds also stresses the importance of protecting intellectual property. “Our company was originally founded on a unique patented idea, allowing us to invest heavily in our state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and to continue to invest in both processes and product development.
“Since the original Gripple patent was filed, we have invested millions of pounds securing further IP rights, which include not only patents, but also trademarks and registered designs. Investment in IP is a key metric in our product development process - if we can’t patent a product, then we don’t pursue it.”
Leigh Martin, partner and head of law firm Clarion’s intellectual property practice, adds: “UK manufacturing is known throughout the world for leading the way in product development and technical innovation. Having invested substantial amounts in bringing a new product to market, it is essential that businesses recognise and protect the value of their IP both at home and internationally to ensure that it drives maximum value to the business.”
As ever, Gripple is looking ahead with the creation of a new sister company Loadhog which also has the primary mission of generating innovative products in its chosen sector, that or re-usable transit packaging. A third entrepreneurial branch recently founded is ‘Incub’, an ideas 'incubator' set to realise the dreams of budding entrepreneurs and imaginative inventors by fast tracking their product concepts to market through a unique collaborative approach.
Mr Edmonds continues: “Gripple is just one of many companies in the region which are leading the way in demonstrating that UK manufacturing is anything but out of date – manufacturing companies are some of the leanest, most innovative and most competitive businesses in the country and have a great deal to teach businesses in other sectors.”
Damian Connelly, relationship director at Barclays, concludes: “There is a growing awareness that as part of a balanced economy we need to increase our manufacturing output. At Barclays, we aim to support the manufacturing sector with innovative funding solutions to support customers trading both in the UK and overseas and also with sector specific advice to help customers grow.”
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