Tag Archives: manufacturing

Open for Business: The story of contemporary British industry

Curator Ben Russell reflects on the story of contemporary British industry, on show in our Open for Business exhibition. 

Our collections include some of most celebrated icons of manufacturing and engineering in history, including Puffing Billy, Newcomen’s engine and Stephensons’s Rocket. These objects embody the ingenuity, resourcefulness and resolve of the engineers and manufacturers who created them.

Stephenson's 'Rocket' (1829) on display at the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ (1829) on display at the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

Fast forward to the present day, and it seems like many people’s perceptions of manufacturing continue to be dominated by heavy industrial images of men in boiler suits bathed in oil, up to their elbows in a machine. Of course, that’s still an integral part of industry, and one not without its attractions. But what we don’t often recognise is just how much contemporary British manufacturing has (literally) smashed these conventions into pieces.

Many people think Britain doesn’t actually make things anymore, but the reality is very different. Making things and selling them around the world remains strategically important for Britain, and its resilience continues to draw many manufacturing companies back to the UK after relocating to the Far East. As well as the mass production of everything from tin can tops to cars, many British companies thrive by carving out their own unique niches, from building yachts to weaving fine textiles. Many companies make a reputation for the excellence of their product: Quality sells.

Princess Yachts. Plymouth. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Chris Steele-Perkins, Magnum Photos

Princess Yachts. Plymouth. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Chris Steele-Perkins, Magnum Photos

Our exhibition Open for Business tells the story of contemporary British manufacturing through the images of nine Magum photographers. They each concentrated on a different region of the UK, visiting one-man businesses and FTSE 100 companies like Airbus and Renishaw, to try and create a snapshot of industry across the UK.

Their subjects can seem surprising, with photographs that include Aardman animators and theatre propmakers, as well as shipbuilding and factory workers. Renowned photographer David Hurn wanted to show the variety of manufacturing in Wales. Rather than just focus on the coal mines more commonly associated with industry in Wales, he chose to photograph Corgi Hosiery, a Welsh company that produces a range of socks designed by Prince Charles.

Renewable Energy. Scotland. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Stuart Franklin, Magnum Photos

Renewable Energy. Scotland. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Stuart Franklin, Magnum Photos

The incredible diversity of British manufacturing challenges the perceptions of what’s needed behind-the-scenes to make things. Roles in contemporary UK industry are vast, varied and can no longer be defined by the image of men in boiler suits.

Of course, it was ever thus: in the Industrial Revolution, Britain’s reputation as workshop of the world was attributed, not to the rise of the machines, but to the excellence of her people. In 1803, a French commentator praised ‘the wonderful practical skills’ of Britain’s ‘adventurers in the useful application of knowledge, and the superiority of her workmen in rapid and masterly execution’. The same could equally be said about making things in Britain today.

See more stunning images in our Open for Business exhibition, which closes 2 November 2014. 

Purpose-built fuel cell motorbike

Make it in Great Britain: an update from our exhibitors

Have you taken the chance to visit Make it in Great Britain yet? The exhibition celebrates the importance and success of British manufacturing and features some of the most exciting British innovations happening today. Halfway through, some of our exhibitors review their experiences:

Geoff Bryant, Head of R&D, Mars Chocolate UK
‘The exhibition has given us the chance to showcase our ‘bean to bar’ story which captures every stage of the chocolate making process. It shows the journey from the Ivory Coast cocoa farms through to the state of the art production line at our Slough factory which produces 2.5 million Mars bars every day.

It would be easy to miss the scientific expertise that goes into food manufacturing whilst we tuck into our favourite chocolate treats. But you would be hard pressed to find a more diverse group of scientists and innovators.

There is a common misconception that the jobs available in science aren’t applied or interesting – this couldn’t be further from the truth, particularly within the food and drink industry; a sector continuously looking for solutions to challenges with raw ingredients and improving the nutritional credentials of its products. In 2010 we reduced the saturated fat content in Mars bars by 15% while maintaining the same great taste. We couldn’t have done this without the dedication and expertise of our R&D team, whose scientific and technical skills are so important to continually pushing product innovation and formulation development.’

The Mars Factory

Intelligent Energy
‘It was a great to be chosen as one of the companies in the exhibition, representing the best of British manufacturing, one of the most dynamic and important sectors in the UK economy.

Why were we chosen? Well, we design and develop fuel cell technologies at our Loughborough Headquarters, and then work with our partners and customers across the globe to manufacture and integrate that technology into their products. Our fuel cell systems power everything from consumer electronics, homes and other buildings, to a wide range of vehicles including the ENV motorbike and our fuel cell electric London taxis.

Our award winning ENV, which is on display in the exhibition, is the world’s first purpose built fuel cell motorbike. We chose to exhibit the ENV, partly because it is a world first, but mainly because we think it is very possibly the best looking example of fuel cell technology ever made!’

Purpose-built fuel cell motorbike

The Green Roof Tile Company
As you stroll around Make it in Great Britain you are instantly struck by the iconic brands: Jaguar Land Rover, BAE Systems, McLaren, Rolls-Royce, but in amongst these giants of industry there are examples of the small, innovative companies that provide employment for the bulk of the 2.5 million people involved in the UK manufacturing sector.

We are one such business – The Green Roof Tile Company. Established in 2007, we have designed, developed, worried about, manufactured and commercialised Envirotile – a roofing system manufactured from plastic containing over 70% recycled material.

In developing the groundbreaking design for Envirotile, we enlisted the help of the Caparo Innovation Centre at the University of Wolverhampton. Key features of the product include: rain water channels to facilitate run-off; drip water channels prevent rain water ingress under the tile and strengthening ribs and controlled variations in material thickness provide rigidity to the tiles.

Furthermore, the market potential for Envirotile is considerable. The export market for traditional roof tiles is virtually non-existent because weight and fragility makes it difficult to export, whereas a single Envirotile is 80% lighter than a traditional concrete rooftile and is virtually unbreakable.’

Make it in Great Britain Exhibition

Make it in Great Britain ends on 9 September and is free to enter. It was developed in collaboration with the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

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