TTIP opens Ceramics UK Conference
Telford International Centre, UK, 10 & 11th July 2019
It was a great honour to deliver the opening speech at this year’s Ceramics UK conference and to be able to present my views on the current state of the UK Advanced Ceramics market. And then to chair the first plenary panel session with such distinguished guests as Laura Cohen, Tony Kinsella and Alan McLelland. You can read the full transcript of my opening speech below;
‘The State of the UK Advanced Ceramics Market’ by Dr Andy Wynn
Poised for Growth
The global Advanced Ceramics market size was valued at around USD 73 billion last year and is expected to exhibit a CAGR of 9.1% over the next few years. The UK ceramic industry is considered to be around USD 3 billion and last year, the British Ceramic Confederation outlined its ambition to see the UK ceramic manufacturing sector achieve 15% year-on-year growth, well above the global average.
These figures are good to hear, but to put them into context, we must remember that the Advanced Ceramics sector is essentially a Business-to-Business service industry. We’re making things for other companies, other sectors. We design clever components that go inside more complex assemblies or devices. Our customers are Automotive component companies, Aerospace companies, Petrochemical companies, Electronics companies, Medical device companies, and many more. But the components we design and deliver are often the most critical ones. They are often the reason that the device works. Think ceramic hip joint, think high temperature furnace linings, think electroceramic components.
And the new materials being developed in the UK are creating new and improved functionalities all the time, in thermal management, in wear resistance, in corrosion resistance, in electrical properties. And these new functionalities allow our customers to solve their own design challenges and develop their own next generation devices; new battery designs, improved catalytic systems, higher temperature petrochemical processes, etc.
And not only new materials, but the improvements in manufacturing techniques for advanced ceramics are opening up new applications, with the ever advancing additive manufacturing field for ceramics, tighter machining tolerances, more repeatable and tighter property tolerances generally, and the whole wave of Industry 4.0 coming our way, all helping to deliver the enhanced functionality of advanced ceramics to ever new applications in other industries and for our customers.
So our industry is essential to making other sectors flourish and that should give us strong leverage in the wider industry, both domestically & abroad. As our customers’ markets grow, so will the advanced ceramics market grow. And when you consider many of these industries we serve, many, if not most, are truly global industries and we’re serving largely multinational players. So for the UK advanced ceramics industry to flourish, yes we need a solid foundation in our domestic market, but our growth is largely going to come from playing on the global field.
We need to get better at thinking globally and BREXIT offers potentially more opportunity to do that. Whatever is decided politically and tariff wise. Whether the tariffs and duties go our way or not, the game is changing and we need to change with it and exploit the new situation to the full.
So how do we do that? There are four key things I believe we need to focus on in order to deliver the forecast growth that I know we are capable of achieving.
1) Think Globally
I think the UK Advanced Ceramics industry is poised for real positive growth. Often as I talk with business leaders in this sector, they say have just returned from a trip to the US, or to some other country, so there is lots of overseas activity. But we should not forget to look east, because that’s where the next round of threats, and the opportunities will come from. This is where the big growth is happening, with increasing demand for consumer electronics and for advanced medical technologies, particularly in the Asia Pacific growth engines of India and China.
UK companies need to get better at tapping into this, either directly or through Joint Ventures or other forms of partnerships. Particularly as the European market is forecast to lose some market share to the growing Asian regions in the coming years. And that is important to consider, because the 9% plus growth that is forecast for our sector is the global average. But that is not distributed evenly. So if you want to achieve this level of growth, it is not going to come from focusing on the UK market, it is not likely even to come from looking just at the European market. This level of growth can only realistically be achieved if you look to Asia, and particularly China for new business.
2) Think Innovation
I hear concerns of BREXIT potentially opening up a tsunami of cheap knock-offs, and if the tariffs and duties go the wrong way for UK manufacturers, then this will happen. I have seen first-hand during my time living in China, my own company’s products and even critical internal secret manufacturing parts, for sale as knock offs on the intranet. Cheap copies of our carbon brushes, foundry crucibles, insulating firebricks, even the bespoke spinner designs used for manufacturing ceramic fibres, you could buy all these things on Alibaba & Taobao. I’ve seen rip-off logos, rip-off product codes, and I was frequently embroiled in trademark disputes in China. It is a reality.
To combat this, we need to stay one step ahead, and innovation is the key, new technologies and new products will take us there. And it is fantastic to see so many new products and technologies being showcased at this conference over the next two days. Britain has always been at the forefront of bringing new technologies to the fore. But we should not forget that developing clever new technologies is only the start of a long process of scale up, establishing robust and repeatable manufacturing processes and successful commercialisation. All of which I question whether many of our businesses are properly prepared for, which brings me to my 3rd point.
3) Think Commercially
Whilst I think we are getting better at technological innovation, and getting better at collaborating and partnering, which is throwing up more new and exciting technologies, too many businesses focus on the clever technology they have created but struggle to transform this into successful commercial reality. And from what I see, I believe that our industry is far behind other countries in terms of commercial nous and entrepreneurial attitude. China in particular is a nation of entrepreneurs, full of business people willing to chase opportunities they see in the market place. In China, these people don’t see barriers, they don’t have all the skills, they hire in people with the skills, and when it comes to advanced ceramics, they hire in overseas experts, people like you and I. I don’t see much of that attitude in our sector. I don’t think it’s a British thing, I think we have much more entrepreneurial attitudes in other sectors, particularly software & IT, but in the Advanced Ceramics sector I feel that these days, maybe we have too many engineers and not enough business leadership. Which brings me on to point 4.
4) Think People
Talent Development, skills, training, next generation of people are all critical in delivering growth. And whilst I see good progress on cultivating fresh new talent on the technology and materials side, to support the future growth that I know this industry is capable of, we also need to equip those people with a broader set of business skills so they can better appreciate where technology fits into their business and into wider industry. And whilst technology is a perfect grounding to build a career in the industry, we recognise that we need practical skills as well. Machinists, production engineers and multi-disciplinary engineers are all essential roles that our industry needs to thrive.
I believe our industry is poised for growth. I believe it punches well above its weight and I believe that our new technologies can stand up there amongst the best in the world.
We are poised for growth, but to deliver on this potential we need to;
Dr Andy Wynn
Managing Director, TTIP Consulting