The West Midlands can still be a force in world manufacturing as long as it continues to invest in innovation and research and development, according to the new head of a manufacturing body.
That was the message from Simon Griffiths, the new chief executive of the Manufacturing Advisory Service – West Midlands (MAS-WM), after he replaced David Wright at the helm of the specialist support body.
The automotive expert, who has worked in senior positions at Land Rover and GKN, believes that whilst getting firms through the recession is the first major challenge a bigger opportunity exists in making the most of new advancements in the automotive, aerospace, rail, medical technologies and low carbon industries.
“Manufacturing is still the biggest creator of wealth in the West Midlands and accounts for 27 per cent of the region’s GVA,” explained Mr Griffiths, who is a keen motorsport competitor.
“Whilst it has been hit hard by the global recession, the sector is again showing its resilience by facing the challenging trading conditions head on and looking at ways of improving efficiency, eliminating waste and, importantly, winning new business.”
He continued: “One of the key ways they can gain that competitive edge is by continuing to invest in innovation and new products, something that is not easily achieved when budgets are being cut and cashflow is tight.
“This is why we need to help bridge the gap between industry and academia and look at ways where we can transfer the knowledge of leading universities to our manufacturing base so they can commercialise the ground-breaking work taking place in the region.”
A qualified mechanical engineer, Simon has spent more than 25 years in the automotive sector after starting work with Land Rover before moving to IHW Engineering in Warwick and then to GKN in 1994.
Specialising in product development and project management, he was the driving force behind the joint venture between GKN and Dana that resulted in the formation of Chassis Systems Ltd, a £50 million business employing over 300, producing chassis frames for the Range Rover Sport and Land Rover Discovery.
“Although I have been responsible for 24 companies in 14 different countries, I have always remained a West Midlands lad born and bred and am extremely excited at the prospect of being able to lead MAS-WM in the next stage of its development.”
Mr Griffiths added: “The recent announcement of a £3.5 million automotive restructuring programme shows exactly how we are evolving our own offer and I genuinely feel we have a massive role to play in ensuring our manufacturing base is fit for purpose and in a position whereby it can continue to create jobs and bring wealth to the region.”
Colin Tivey, chairman of MAS-WM, said: “After the sterling work that David Wright did in setting up and developing the organisation, I’m thrilled we have found someone who is as committed and as passionate about supporting manufacturing in the West Midlands.
“Simon is an extremely talented engineer who has been at the coalface of what many of our companies are currently facing. He is also someone who believes wholeheartedly in product innovation and in R&D, two issues that will be crucial to the industry’s future development.”
Established in 2002, MAS-WM has assisted over 6,000 companies to improve their products, productivity, processes and people.
This support has created more than £60 million of new added value and over £250 million to the turnovers of firms that have embarked upon in-depth business improvement projects.
A spokesman for the organisation said it had helped safeguard in excess of 720 jobs in the last 12 months through specialist support that ranges from the helpdesk and supply chain improvement to sourcing programmes and strategic change projects.
Mr Griffiths added: “West Midlands manufacturing is in my blood and I now have an opportunity to shape its evolution and ensure the region continues to be an important industrial leader across the world.”