Thinking Outside the Box | Manufacturing Growth Programme

The Manufacturing Growth Programme can help your business to improve and become more efficient in many different ways. Our team of expert Manufacturing Growth Managers have spent thousands of hours with real manufacturers across the country – they like to think outside the box.

 Here are some of their thoughts on current issues in manufacturing…


  • It is something that shouldn’t be feared but also something that shouldn’t be taken lightly as it often involves a culture change.
  • It’s a good idea for those companies who don’t class themselves as a company that lean applies to, go and understand what lean is and how it applies to you.

Not all companies believe that lean is appropriate for them. It is highly advisable that such companies fully understand lean and the real benefits that can be realized.

New Products or Markets

  • Make sure the production element of any new product is considered at the concept stage. The earlier you think about how the product is going to be made, the easier, quicker and cheaper it will be to manufacture.
  • If you are going to be outsourcing the production then get your suppliers involved as soon as possible.
  • It is essential that you understand the real value of your product and its various potential markets. Is there a market out there you haven’t thought about that could be far greater in size than the current markets you supply?
  • Progress should be planned, measured and monitored against a set of pre-defined stages in terms of cost, time and design maturity.


  • Capacity covers two areas – labour (hours) and physical (floor utilisation).
  • It is important when looking for new products/markets that you are not running at maximum capacity otherwise you are going to let down either your new clients or your existing ones.
  • If you’re struggling with capacity, have a good look around the business. Are your processes as efficient as they could be? Are your employees wasting valuable time looking for tools and equipment, waiting for a part or waiting for information? How good is your scheduling and do you have lots of ‘queue jumping’? Adoption of Lean can often free up much needed capacity and postpone the need to expand or move premises.

Sales & Marketing

  • Sales and marketing are the front facing aspect of your business and it is important to develop your brand and protect it. Your brand is essential to acquiring new customers.
  • Companies are often reluctant to look at marketing strategies and often work from a word of mouth basis and quality of reputation. If this is working for companies who are at maximum capacity and turning work down then fine… for the moment… however there will come a time when, if you don’t look at marketing, (particularly online) your competitors could take market share away from you.


  • Certification can help to improve processes, make them more consistent and almost always save money. They can also help to improve morale, so long as employees are properly engaged.
  • Most official certifications – ISO 9001/14001 – are not as onerous as you think they are. Be aware of any changes to legislation/certifications and make the necessary internal changes in order to retain company certifications (ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 are coming into place replacing ISO9001:2008 and ISO14001:2004 by September 2018).
  • GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation, a regulation by which the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission will strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). This comes into place May 2018.


  • You cannot patent a product if it has hit the public domain. Often people advertise their product on YouTube or other social media platforms to showcase the product to start selling it. By this time, it is too late.
  • IP must be researched and decided at the very beginning of the product life cycle and advice is essential – this is a legal world where disputes can cost a business everything.
  • It is advisable to seek professional consultation before embarking down any IP route to gain a full understanding of your options. There are various protection routes through different times of the life cycle of the product and for different aspects of the product that can have huge effect or consequences depending on the outcome.
  • Clearly understand what your IP is and what can be defended in court without fear of losing, also understand what you want to defend. iPhone defended rounded corners on full phone screens, Samsung lost millions on trying to get around it and took a legal hit with their rounded corner model. The screen was not protected, only the corners.


  • Design is worth investment as poor design will cost companies dearly later on.

New Equipment

  • Try to complete a ‘URS’ (User Requirement Specification) beforehand if you are looking for a non-off the shelf purchase.
  • When implementing a new piece of machinery into the workplace, ensure the employees working with it are fully trained to work with it, avoid errors and the mis-use of machinery where possible.
  • When purchasing large scale machinery, ensure you have the space for it to operate but also for it to be easily transported out of the premises if needed. Do not build a workshop around a piece of equipment or machinery.


  • An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a long term commitment and a successful way of working.
  • Longer term an organisation should try to integrate environmental factors into its actions and decisions and not consider only as an after thought.
  • Look at ways you can become more sustainable and implement a quarterly review.

Final Thoughts

  • Have you developed a process/product that you use in your business that you could sell to other businesses? If you have applied innovative thinking to help solve a problem in your own business it’s possible there are other businesses out there that could benefit. Often companies develop ‘in-house’ solutions because they can’t find anything that meet their requirements externally. Software is often a good area to look at as well as training and consultancy. If you have a process or design expert, their skills can sometimes be as valuable than the goods you manufacture.
  • Be passionate about shop floor generated improvements, put in rigorous systems to facilitate and recognise input from those that know.
  • Spend some time with your customers, following how your product/service is used and talk to the people who physically interact with it (e.g. assembly operators).
  • Spend time with your suppliers – see how they deal with one of your orders. Is the way you do things creating unnecessary problems for them? What can you learn from each other? What improvements can be made?
  • Swap roles for a week (or month) – get the Ops director to take on the sales director’s role and vice versa. See in reality how your role and function has a direct impact on others!
  • Benchmark yourself against another business not in your sector. For example if you are an engineering company with stock management/obsolescence issues, go and see how a food manufacturer or retailer manages this.
  • Get someone independent from your business to act as a sounding board and to challenge existing assumptions.  Your Manufacturing Growth Manager (MGM) can help, we are independent, impartial and trusted by many MDs of manufacturing businesses.


If you are looking to make improvements to your business, grants* of up to 35% of the cost of an improvement project are available to help drive business growth.

If you’d like more advice on growing your business you can speak to your local MGM (contact list here) or call the office on 01664 501301 or email

*Grants are subject to eligibility rules.

Copyright © Economic Growth Solutions, 18th October 2017.