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Nadhim Zahawi MP: Net-zero is not just good for the environment, but for business and manufacturing too

Nadhim Zahawi MP: Net-zero is not just good for the environment, but for business and manufacturing too

High Value Manufacturing Catapult

5 min read Partner content

Speaking at an event at Conservative Party Conference, Nadhim Zahawi MP said that net-zero can bring significant benefits for both business and the environment.

The industry minister said his department were focused on developing a "route map" on how the government will help support the manufacturing industry in its bid to hit net-zero by 2050.

Speaking at Policy Connect fringe event, sponsored by High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVM), Siemens and ABB, Mr Zahawi said a focus on clean growth would be an “umbrella that encapsulates” all policy development going forward.

“[It is] the law of the land, now being that we will get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” he said.

“So, clean growth is going to be incredibly important and will play a significant role in our decision making as a government and as a department.

“The first thing you’ll see us deliver is a route map... of how we are going to get to net-zero. This isn’t an ambition or a headline, this has to be delivered.

“And I actually think that it’s not just good for the environment, but its good business. And if we take a leadership position on this, we can sell much of this stuff to the rest of the world.”

He added: “What we can't do is predict what the world will look like in thirty years’ time, vis-a-vis the electricity generation or infrastructure in the UK.

“But what you certainly can do, is have a 10-year plan then make sure you deliver that. Then follow up with the next 10 years where you may have to flex your strategy.

“You are going to see us very much focus on the SME sector and how we can drive that fourth industrial revolution.”

But Dick Elsy, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HMV) said there was other challenges, especially around the polarisation between large companies and SMEs in the adoption of new manufacturing technologies which had to be tackled.

"We are great at science and scientific endeavour, but we are not great at turning that into manufacturing value add for the UK," he said.

"The mainstream companies…are adopting the advanced technologies, the automation. They are beginning to embrace the whole Industry 4.0 and you can see this fantastic uplift in productivity."

"But further down the supply chains, deep down on the periphery of smaller companies, I go in and they are busy but they are using thirty or forty year old machinery.

"And the managing director will say with some pride that they are sweating the assets.

"And I’ve just seen a factory in Austria or Germany that will have dispensed with its three-year-old machinery because the latest stuff is ever more productive. So we do have a number of challenges."

And one of these significant challenges, according to Ian Funnell, Chief Executive of the ABB, is tackling “urban myths” around automation.

“There are some very, very simple steps that manufacturers can take to start creating and collecting data,” he said.

“It's not the big bang approach. You don't want to change everything and boil the ocean overnight. You can't do that and in fact we would absolutely advice against that.

“But looking at where the critical pieces of your manufacturing are and what you can do is collect the data. And it is not a high cost or high-tech entry into industry 4.0.”

And this polarity between larger and smaller companies was highlighted by Bobbie Davies, UK Public Affairs Manager for Tata Steel, who said a focus on automation had been critical for their success and that it was “critical in making sure that customers want to keep buying from a UK based steel manufacturer”.

But for Mr Elsy, this polarity is partly driven because some in the SME community have a “lack of confidence” when it comes to adopting new tech.

He said: “We've got Industry 4.0 which has come on us, and I've got some of our SMEs saying: 'I think we need some Industry 4.0, but I don't really know what it is about'.

“And it needs, in terms of solution, Industry 4.0 needs to be deconstructed into something simple. It's a journey.”

However, he outlined projects launched by the HVM Catapult, such as ‘Industry 4.0 for less than a grand,’ which aimed to show SMEs they could start to develop these skills without needing to make a significant investment.

“You can get started by gathering some data, putting some sensors on a machine tool, and starting to get a sense of being in control of what you are doing.

“So, we are putting a lot of effort into that. But if there is something missing, it is that diffusion process. We are sitting on some solutions; how do we get that out to the thousands of SMEs?”

Meanwhile, Juergen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens UK, said organisations such as the HVM Catapult were helping lead the way in developing these skills among SMEs but urged the government to continue supporting the projects.

“The good news is that we are building better ecosystems to do that,” he said.

“We’ve got the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and we’ve got the Digital Catapult which I chair, so we can create an ecosystem to de-risk these technologies and connect the industry.

“Connect the smaller companies with the larger companies so that we can help them adopt, and ultimately accelerate that adoption.”

He added: “There is a lot more that we can do, but I think what is really important for keeping this going, especially in current times, is the advocacy, the support, the partnership between the industry and the government, to keep driving and keep the momentum going.”

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