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The world struggles to keep up with the pace of change in science and technology

By Peter Marsh, Financial Times, June 17, 2014 Among the many champions of their own specific area of science and technology, at least Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive of Lanzatech, has something to shout about. The Illinois-based company is developing a chemical treatment capable of turning the carbon-rich waste gases of many industries into valuable chemicals and fuels. Ms Holmgren estimates that if all the waste gases of the global steel business alone were treated using her company’s process, the world would instantly find a way to create a fifth of the annual fuel requirement of the global aircraft fleet. The Lanzatech technology “challenges our perceptions of waste and will have a game-changing impact on the way we think about commodity sourcing and supply”, Ms Holmgren says. The ideas under development at Lanzatech are just one instance of the range of technology-based concepts that look capable of transforming people’s lives over the next 30 years. The statistics behind the trends are impressive. This year, according to projections by Battelle, the US science and technology development group, the world will spend about $1.6tn on research and development in a range of engineering-related disciplines from robotics to social media. The numbers of people working in technology-related research now stands at more than 7m, with growing numbers in countries such as China, India and Brazil that have only in the past 15 years started to register in the top league of technology. Read full article

By |July 2nd, 2014|Categories: Observations|0 Comments

Seven reasons we should celebrate manufacturing

By James Woudhuysen, Spiked Online, June 14 2014 Despite the slew of advertising for fashion, cars and appliances, hostility to ‘stuff’ – manufactured products – has grown enormously in recent years. Books have been published in America, Australia and Britain on the subject of what they call ‘affluenza’, the nasty and even infectious side-effects of owning too much stuff. Since 2011, two American corporate high-flyers, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, have together penned seven books on so-called minimalist consumer habits – quite a feat of trees-to-paper consumption in itself. The London-based futurologist James Wallman has popularised the idea of ‘stuffocation’  – the feeling you get ‘when you look in your wardrobe and it’s bursting with clothes but you can’t find a thing to wear’. And every Christmas, the Guardian denounces consumers for a ‘peculiar form of mental illness’: buying toys, smart cuckoo clocks or mahogany skateboards, and failing to feel guilty about it. Read full article

Manufacturing takes the stage at Ways with Words festival in Devon

By Peter Marsh, May 25 2014 The UK features many great literary festivals - and of these the long-running Ways with Words event held in the splendid location of Dartington Hall (pictured left), in the countryside in south Devon, is one of the best. It's not often that the world of industry receives an airing at these occasions. But this year, there is a difference. I will be speaking on The New Industrial Revolution and its implications for the UK at the Ways with Words festival on July 10 at 6.30pm. Tickets are £10, available from the festival website. There are many other highly interesting speakers at this year's event, which starts on July 4 and lasts for 10 days. If you want to listen to Michael Meacher MP, he is speaking immediately before me, and afterwards it's Sir Harrison Birtwhistle in conversation with Fiona Maddocks. Other people giving talks include Lord Ashdown, Claire Tomalin, Roger Scruton, Julie Bindel, Gerard Lyons and Sir Mark Moody-Stuart.  The closest railway station is Totnes, connected by trains from London Paddington, and from here it's a 45 minute walk along the River Dart or 15 minutes by car. The festival programme titles my talk: "Industry: Past, Present and Future" and goes on to say:  "In a thrilling display of ingenuity, the world's factories every year produce 10bn types of products from a limited stock of materials. Now manufacturing is undergoing a revolution from which Britain, unexpectedly, is poised to benefit. Peter Marsh tells the fascinating story of industrial change, from the Iron Age to the biochip."        

By |May 25th, 2014|Categories: Observations|0 Comments

Europe’s niche manufacturers make a mark in difficult economy

By Peter Marsh, Financial Times, May 19, 2014 The future is far from rosy for many manufacturers in Europe but Roberto Gavazzi, chief executive of Boffi, a top Italian maker of upmarket kitchen and bathroom units, is upbeat “I am very confident that the current difficult markets are getting better for the best brands,” he declares. Underlying this sentiment is Gavazzi’s belief that Boffi – like many other European manufacturers of a similar mould – has built up strengths not just in product creation but in using service and design skills to offer customers something special that would be hard to obtain from rival businesses. “Consumers are even more selective – they want to choose only those products that have a real added value,” he says. “So [they choose] not only design and function, as is normal for our collections, kitchens and bathrooms, but now they want increasingly to buy something that gives them a very special mood or atmosphere. Here, I think we can do well.” Read full article

By |May 25th, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

End game nears in the war of the wheels

By Peter Marsh, May 9 2014 It is high noon in one of the world's longest running business battles. In beginning their competing efforts to acquire the prize of Alstom's electricity generation arm, Siemens  and General Electric have entered the final bout of a marathon heavy-weight contest to determine the identity of the global leader in power equipment. The German and US engineering giants have been sparring for well over a century for pole position in what could be termed the 'war of the wheels'. We live in an age dominated by passage of invisible globules of information passed silently over the internet. But the the global economy would come to a standstill without the spinning turbine machines central to the creation of electricity. Siemens and GE - set up within 30 years of each other during the 19th century's great burst of technology innovation - both attached great importance from early on to building up leadership in power generation machines. They were helped in this by the invention in 1884 of the steam turbine by the UK engineer Sir Charles Parsons. In what is now an immense global industry - supplying products and services worth about $150bn a year - Alstom has in the past decade occupied the number three position behind the German and US leaders by dint of its acquisition in 2000 of the power generation division of the Swiss-Swedish ABB. But it has been obvious for some time that the French company's position has been slipping as a result of missteps in both technology development and in global market penetration, while its big two competitors have been moving further ahead. As Siemens and GE start what will be a politically charged

By |May 3rd, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

An outsider’s approach at giant German Mittelstand business

By Peter Marsh, March 26 2014 Moshen Sohi has come a long way from the time – as a six-year-old in his native Tehran – he became fascinated by pictures of Caterpillar bulldozers and decided he wanted to be a mechanical engineer. Since those formative days, Mr Sohi has forged a career in manufacturing largely in the US, but has ended up in the quiet south German town of Weinheim where he is chief executive of Freudenberg, a family-owned business making everything from aerospace seals to mops. Holding forth in the company’s airy headquarters, Mr Sohi says he has been fortunate to experience a lot of different ways of running businesses, from the divergent styles of some of the big US companies that he worked for, to the time after joining Freudenberg in 2003 when he helped to run a big Japanese joint venture. Read full article

By |May 3rd, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

A French mid-sized success story in exotic technologies

By Peter Marsh,  April 15 2014 As a purveyor of subsea drones, blast doors and 3D printing machines for making replicas of human skulls, Raphaël Gorgé could be a James Bond villain in the making. But if Mr Gorgé has any threatening aspects to his personality, he disguises them masterfully as he describes his efforts to build up his collection of exotic high-tech businesses into a global force. Indeed, the chief executive and part owner of Groupe Gorgé is the personification of calm reasonableness, displaying a pleasant sense of humour as he explains what induced him 10 years ago to abandon a career in finance to join his father Jean-Pierre in an industrial company the latter had started in 1990. “My dad had achieved some progress but I felt with my background I could help steer the business in a new direction,” he says. “Finance is a great field: if you do well, everyone thinks you’re smart, and if you fail it’s because someone else [running the business being supported] has been stupid. I thought an industrial job would be more challenging and satisfying." Read full article 

By |May 2nd, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

UK manufacturing enters a new high-tech phase

by Peter Marsh | 3 March 2014 A series of gleaming machines being assembled on a nondescript Staffordshire industrial estate conjures up something rare – a positive image of the UK’s progress in manufacturing technology. The £400,000 machines are 3D printing devices made by Renishaw, one of Britain’s leading engineering companies. The backing Renishaw has provided for this emerging technology is a bright spot in the UK’s patchy record over the past 30 years in supporting technical innovation in industry. Read full article    

By |May 2nd, 2014|Categories: Observations|0 Comments

Manufacturing the future: view of the UK in global context

by Martin Earnshaw | 7 March 2013 Even the ghosts of England’s past oppose HS2 it seems. On 10th February 2013 the Observer ran a bizarre story about how HS2 mightgo through a historic battle site from the War of the Roses. The fact that the actual location of the battle is unknown is beside the point it seems. It’s one more reason why it shouldn’t be built. It is churlish, though, to blame the nimbys. Even those building the line show little enthusiasm for the project. Robert Skidelsky writes that the 20 year time frame for building the line “displays an unbelievable lack of energy. Railways can be built much faster than this.” The overwhelming sense that all of this engenders is a sluggish, slow motion decline of Britain compared to the ongoing dynamism of China and the East. When David Smith wrote The Dragon and the Elephant in 2008 he related the tale of a group of business leaders in which the fear was expressed that all of the West’s industries and services might go to China, leaving the West with nothing. So it is heartening that there have been a number of recent books that counter this pessimism arguing that not only does the West have a niche in the economic world of the future, but that it is in prime position to exploit the opportunities that new technologies will afford us. Peter Marsh’s book The New Industrial Revolution has been acclaimed as the best of these contributions... Read Full Article

By |February 10th, 2014|Categories: Observations, Rail|0 Comments

The changing shape of UK industry

 by Peter Marsh | 3 January 2014 The story of industrial decline in Britain has become so familiar , it takes some effort to realise  that things may not  be so gloomy after all. In fact,British manufacturing is performing well - though not in the traditional ways that most people understand it. As the shape of world manufacturing has shifted over the past 30 years, Britain has altered too and , in many ways, the country is ahead of the game when it comes to the necessary factors for 21st century industrial success. It could turn out to be one of the winners in the new industrial age. From  British industry: a photography special - FT magazine, Jan 4 2014. To read full article, go to http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/c54665e6-6c38-11e3-a216-00144feabdc0.html

By |February 10th, 2014|Categories: Observations|0 Comments