As seen in Part 3, for all the wholly understandable moralistic bemoaning of its detractors, it must be understood that Capitalism is a notionally rationally optimised socio-economic system; apparently guided by the 'invisible hand' of Adam Smith. Though of course whilst EM Capitalism still demonstrates its powerful effectiveness, ever since the 2008 financial crisis Western Capitalism has, and continues to be, supported by major intervention of fiscal agencies.
Detractors then must instead recognise that negative experiences derive from the endemically entwined social, institutional and propagandist structures of any and all socio-economic systems.
The Ideal of Philanthropic Capitalism -
(As Part of a New Economic Era)
Thus Capitalism's detractors should instead look to the specific negative actions of the system's most powerful self-serving actors, and instead of wailing against an 'ism', preferably seek to ensure that through whatever practicable means, that such participants maintain a moral code by staying within touch of the broad populace, instead being “a world apart”. This better social balance perhaps best illustrated by the prime participants (wealthy families and individuals) of Nordic-Saxon Capitalism, from Sweden's Wallenbergs and Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA) to Germany's Quandts (BMW). Of note is IKEA's holding company, set up as charity, yet using tax minimisation and anti-takeover tools to boost the social influence of the mixed commercial and charitable enterprise.
Recognition of the ongoing socio-economic severity for many across Britain highlights the importance of the debate about exactly how UK economic reconstruction should continue. Prior to the Conservative-Liberal Coalition gaining power, the Tories looked to Scandanavian Fiscal policy for partial guidance. Today then, as the election looms, perhaps time to promote broader aspects of the Scandanavian social approach, especially that akin to IKEA's social conscience. Such a model would obviously maximise the positive tailwinds of QE directed through commerce and counter-act the 'austerity' headwind of reduced public spending.
[NB the recent events reported in Copenhagen are sadly more harmful to the social unity of the indigenous Christian and secular Danes, than actually for apparently 'victimised' jews or 'dis-enfranchised' muslims. This so given the proclivity for generally fair-minded Danes to inevitably “pick a side” (in the millennial-old battle) out of a sense of empathised injustice. However, outcomes could all too ironically create fractures within what has historically been a very unified society. And could possibly even eventually generate home-grown reactionaries (akin to Norway's Anders Breivik) whose actions were born directly from concern about foreign-influence and associated “values fragmentation” of his historically more isolated yet generally more honourable society].
Nonetheless, it is the inherent fairness of the historic Scandinavian social attitude, still very prevalent today, which has the greatest role to play in the UK today.
Britain's Ongoing Transformation -
As the BBC continues to reshape so as to befit both 'corporation' and “.co.uk” monikers, and likewise the NHS continues its seemingly traumatic journey of cost vs efficiency rationalisation, the most recent call for national enterprise vision has come from the civil engineering sector, seeking the creation of an 'Infrastructure Manifesto' by which energy, transport and habitation may be optimally directed so as to attract investment and provide something akin to a necessary 'national operational template'.
As previously detailed in Part 2 with mention of the Technical Strategy Board / InnovateUK, since the mid-2000s the nation's manufacturing sector has, from both the annuls of Whitehall and “the Regions” philosophically undergone its own epiphany. Whereby very necessarily it has been recognised that Britain must continue to progress itself further up the economic 'value-curve'; more broadly deploying those leading edge capabilities across research, engineering, production, distribution and (B2B / B2C) retailing. The phrase 'High Value Manufacturing' (HVM) now an increasing constituent part of the economic expansion discussion.
Four Pillars of HVM -
For the period of this post, the accompanying graphic depicts what are perhaps the four socio-technical elements required to, from 2015 onward, provide Britain with the impetus for economic fruition.
Previously investment-auto-motives described how for all the importance of a QE enabled “Phase 1” physical re-construction era in infrastructure – and beyond the still enormously vital role of the service sector (both public and private) - a great portion of future “Phase 2” economic prosperity will rely upon the en mass ability to embrace, utilise and further development a wide range of intellectual, practical and organisational capabilities which pertain to a wide spectrum technical advancement.
Moreover, such technical advancement in visible, tangible, physical guise would very probably gain from far greater respect for the additionally interactive and contributive skills of the capable crafts-person and indeed (as applicable) artist.
In this way, future premium, future luxury, future eco and future cyber orientated products gain not simply the market advantage of increasingly 'magical' technical prowess, but also - as warranted by product type and business-case – the addition of inherently value-enhancing “human connectivity”.
In this way technology is demonstrably seen to serve humanity, not vice versa, so re-directing the notion that humans continue to become psychologically enslaved by all that is connected to their own cognitive detriment.
“March of the Makers” -
Ambition for renewed 'economic reach' – which includes a thus far a generally lacklustre “March of the Makers” (given multi-sector restructuring) - consists of investor, managerial, labour and plant capabilities directed at both the UK's domestic requirements and its comparitive international industrial competitive advantage.
Very simplistically, the “four pillars” enabling 'economic reach' relative to 'HVM' are:
- Business “Nounce”
- Enthusiasm and Tenacity
- Multi-Aspect Advanced Engineering
- 3-D Precision meets Arts-Crafts
Personification and Example-
The 1990s rise of EM regions and simultaneous leveraging / gearing of the world's capital markets – largely situated in the West – created conditions by which resultant waves of liquidity (even after the burst bubble of the late 1990s dotcom boom) forever sought to plough that accumulated cash into “the next big thing”. As the promise of mass audience monetisation grew within that era of www-mania fervent 'animal spirits' overtook rationality, as anything and everything with a half plausible business model was financed in the expectation that the few big-win enterprises would more than off-set the losses incurred by failed start-ups.
This mania, though to an admittedly lesser degree, also took hold across mainstream financing of conventional business, with high street banks filling the newly created roles of 'Business Advisors' with young, minimally trained and sometimes commission pay-enhanced staff who in reality had never spent time with, let alone properly appreciate, the macro and micro complexities of SME firms.
Liquidity and so credit then wholly disorientated what had traditionally been an overtly conservative lending system which had previously matured over the preceding centuries with old-style business methods and perspectives.
Booming world markets across most regions and sectors appeared to be the “investor's oyster”, with even those under-performing sectors and associated assets considered ripe for transformation with business model modification. When one business idea was seen to “fly” less attention was drawn to the manner of its detailed execution than its “concept”, in turn creating a mania based upon ever more abstract hyper-reality. Increasingly lax lending attitudes spread across the broad spectrum of commerce; especially so where banks were happy to secure lending for the asset-rich middle classes seeking “alternative” and “personally enriching lifestyles” in business, ranging from going “all-in” into a capital intensive new SME venture (eg micro-brewing), to the turnaround of failed local businesses (various), to the scaling-up of a hobby business (eg home-kitchen cookery).
In short, the critical element of “business nounce”, which had provided systemic stability for generations, became increasingly conspicuous by its extended absence.
After the social tone set by the heady heights of the dotcom era, the word 'investment' itself became very much muddied and applied all to easily to give the impression of value, from business schemes which are little more than high-odds gamble, to uttered fast and loose in the everyday 'sales patter' of home-shopping TV presenters, lifestyle councillors, etcetera.
The first appearance of the TV series 'Dragon's Den' crystallised that zeitgeist, though thankfully also highlighting the harsh strategic, tactical and operational reality of the business world. (Its Japanese originators and producers far more “business savvy” than most of the entrepreneurial candidates; as witnessed by its successful international licensing and replication).
Instead, for the necessary reality check of commerce we should look to a very different TV show; one which aired during the early 1980s and produced by Yorkshire Television. Yorkshire itself a region undergoing major structural change during the period, as old family firms in declining industries continued to flail and were about to be publicly supplanted by a crop of new IT related businesses which espoused the new communications era (ie fax machine, mobile phone) and the shared-wealth promise of British Telecom's stock-market listing.
Though light entertainment humour in style, it offered over-egged but essentially 'real-world' content; content all too familiar to the SME business owner. The kinds of people who survive and possibly prosper using either their handed-down or hard-earned “Business Nounce”.
'The Gaffer' was personified by the fictional character Fred Moffatt, owner of 'Moffat Engineering Co', a small business situated within the Victorian back roads of aYorkshire town. He represents what might be called the 'canny grafter', someone who constantly assessing any given situation to turn challenges into opportunities. Episode plots demonstrate his pro-business yet cynical attitude, itself honed through experience. Critically he honed the ability to think laterally when dealing with issues; whether unionised staff demands, client prospecting, operational problems in order book fulfilment, dealing with the (olde worlde) bank manager etc.
He drove a battered old Rover P6 ( itself a nod to innovative engineering) and wore a battered old brown trilby hat (which itself might be analogous to the many “coloured hats” which must be worn by Edward de Bono's interpretation of a 'lateral-thinker')
His skill, though seemingly Machiavellian in appearance, was actually the ability to recognise the nub of a multi-faceted situation and orchestrate 'win-win' outcomes for himself and any 3rd party. With disdain for bull-shit, showiness, officialdom, social heirachy and pretence, he represented the pragmatic realist who was very much needed during the dark-times of the early 1980s.
Even though he was scruffy in appearance, the fact is that Fred Moffatt highlights the personality traits that UK plc requires at all levels of commerce and finance, from market stall holder to blue-chip CEO, from the small business lending managers of high street banks to the CFOs of utility and investment banks.
The character's golden quips abound, full of essential wisdom; such as when speaking about what he views as an inadequate council leader states: “its usually the man in the crow's nest who is last to know about the hole in the hull”.
The more Moffatt-type business acumen prevails in private and public spheres - though ideally without his gruffness - the more sound UK private industry, the public balance-sheet, and overall general investment would be.
Enthusiasm and Tenacity:
There still exists a perception that Britain often fails to develop and commercialise its home grown inventions, and that its own dedicated technology districts – from Cambridge Technology Park to the newer “Silicon Roundabout” - demonstrate that a singular business success story (around which the hub was essentially created) whilst attracting new entrants fail to create truly synergistic commercial relationships. Instead such tech-districts become populated by conventional firms which either seek to appear “tech-trendy” or who have simply negotiated a cheap per square foot rental rate, filling the occupational void of over-capacity, in the absence of suitable corollary firms.
There is an undoubted truth to this, given that when compared to the American model, funding comes not from individual billionaires, multi-millions or similarly funded syndicates who are able to swallow the often lengthy overhead losses of incurred by such premises, but from from far more stringent domestic funders: whether 'Boot-Strap', (small-time) 'Business Angels', fixed-income lenders or other traditional sources.
This fundamental US-UK difference engenders very different start-up and broader business environments and so consequentially a direct impact upon a founder's everyday outlook. This best illustrated through the often very real stereo-type of verbose American vs cautious Brit.
[NB a relatively recent FT column highlighted the perversity of such an optimistic, often ungrounded attitude with innate associated 'permission' to fail, in the mass gathering to celebrate of failure! Of course it may well be the case that at a higher level, the backers of that business simply sought to transfer the tangible results of that failed business into another venture for their own gain].
Hence the caricatures of US vs UK entrepreneurs abound, the latter very probably seen lacking “get-up and go”. Yet this is clearly not the case, especially amongst the well educated, monied and connected who seek to build their own dynasties and not simply rely upon parental wealth, and likewise amongst 2nd/3rd generation immigrants who, propelled by admiration for their own parents efforts and achievement, likewise feel almost obliged to succeed. Beyond these two groups are the sons and daughters of generational business families – a portion of the “UK Mittelstand” which whilst comfortable also works hard to be so – who parents were perhaps personified by Fred Moffat above.
But no doubt, because Britain is an innately different society – with a different establishment construct – it appears less cohesive than the USA, but these 3 very different entrepreneurial groups share a more subtle British version of “Can Do” enthusiasm.
If Fred Moffat reflected the parental generation, then in a different way Guy Martin reflects their generation through his charming, colourful yet also importantly very modest, unassuming but extremely ambitious manner. His ambition seemingly wholly self-directed (ie performing for himself) not akin to the all too common negative competitive streak of rivalry.
In a period when Britain requires industrial impetus, technical fascination and commercial progress since 2011 Guy Martin has been publicly and perfectly moulded as the poster-boy given his friendly persona and characterful “mutton-chop” whiskers.
Born at the time 'The Gaffer' was broadcast, he originates from the Lincolnshire town and port of Grimsby, the son of a HGV mechanical fitter and amateur competition motorcyclist, Martin (as with his brother) followed directly in his father's footsteps, becoming known for his semi-professional motorcycling prowess (such as the Isle of Man TT) and critically his fascination and enthusiasm for vehicles and machinery. (To this end he appears a modern spiritual successor to Yorkshire's Fred Dibnah, though far more closely related to the Victorian / Edwardian era).
His public persona was one created so as to connect modern Britain with the somewhat forgotten legacy and pride of yesteryear's heavy engineering (as directly illustrated by Dibnah), through the affiliation with 'sexy' and technically absorbing performance motorcycles; which themselves tend to be icons of advanced engineering.
This achieved by initially introducing him (and his friend) to the mass public through the TV screen in the recreation of yesteryear manufacturing techniques for the rebuild of an aged canal boat (see 'the Boat That Guy Built'); thereafter public attention drawn to his previous and ongoing IoM TT / Ulster GP / NW200 racing victories and performances; and thereafter the TV shows: “How Britain Worked” looking at various bygone engineering/construction techniques, thereafter “Passion For Life” and “Spitfire”, “Speed with Guy Martin” and latterly “Our Guy In India”.
The pertinent point, is that even though a TV celebrity - and so obviously managed by others as such - to the broad masses, and no doubt to himself, he seems “his own man” with “his own mind”. Combining engineering empathy and talent with realistic pragmatism, directed enthusiasm and stubborn tenacity.
Importantly, he has been effectively promoted as the 'celebrity everyman'; by which the very spotlight of fame, recognition and reward has been re-directed; away from the 'high celebrity' of film stars, pop singers and even footballers and towards the everyday world which the notion “average lad” occupies.
The point is that even though, as a professional motorcycle racer and TV star, his actual life and personal experiences are wholly removed from those of a typical HGV-fitter, the partially media-manufactured Guy Martin is himself a product of “high value media manufacturing”, so as to enthuse broad swathes of the less academically inclined younger male and female populace.
It is this innate persona- itself very real even if somewhat 'TV franchised' - then emanates and reflects Britain's much needed “Can Do” spirit.
Multi-Aspect Advanced Engineering:
The Socio-Economic Context...
Since the pace of progress seen by the “white-heat of technology” in the 1950s (ie computing, nuclear and space-travel) the term “advanced engineering” itself has become somewhat of an anathema to the general public as engineering and manufacturing largely disappeared from the national radar.
Sixty years ago people could visibly view the pace of progress as jet engines replaced internal combustion engines and propellers on airliners, and computers in large organisations were slowly adopted to replace a previous generation punch-card machines for calculation purposes. Progress transformed industries more so than lives directly and so the experience of the everyday for most appeared to alter at analogue pace, almost as if passing years were akin to the sweeping hands of the clock. Moreover, there was a real tangibility to much of the surrounding world, given the overtly practical and naturalistic mindsets and capabilities of the British population whereby fathers of whichever 'class' typically had a practical bent handed down by their own fathers, by trade or self education. Likewise for women in the handicrafts, from general clothes repair and knitting to self-creation or adaption of house-hold items (curtains, table-clothes etc) to the bygone craft of artistic hand-stitching.
Thus most of the British population, across the class divides, had some form of practical skill, and with that an appreciation (at what ever level) for the manufactured goods which surrounded them, from sewing machine to the automobile.
However, as increasingly specialist scientific and technical disciplines grew so that direct tangibility became ever more distant. The introduction of unfathomable computers in offices, the digital calculator in 'basic' and 'scientific' guises and the digital watch and effectively overlaid a new realm of technological existence by the early 1970s, such 'futurism' abetted by modernist and space-age inspired environments, creating an exciting leap into a little understood but 'magical' future which held great sway with a western mass populace during the then economic down-turn.
Yet unlike the inspiration for the original (post WW1) 'Futurists' who deified the social power of understandable mechanics (ie cars, planes, factories etc), 'digital futurism' was far less comprehensible to the masses. Moving from the crystal-pulse age and into the contemporary digital age has resulted in the broad population becoming entranced yet ignorant of technology; in effect its all to foreign clients.
Given its apparent “high-science” incomprehensibility to the average westerner, itself the result of 'digi-tech's' migration to Japan and later S.Korea relative to their own economic growth templates, unsurprisingly western social focus was gradually drawn away from science and technology, whereas Japanese and S.Korean populations became increasingly absorbed
As is well recognised, instead western orientation was toward those activities seen as 'up-stream' and closer to the 'wealth source' itself, in the service-sector arenas of finance, retail, property development, IT systems, and a wide spectrum of more human-centric 'people-soft' general services from private security to ever more notionally accredited 'health professionals'.
And given an increasingly media and information led societal existence, with a concomitant self-fulfilling high profile and so impact, even those broad range of everyday general services – the true economic stabilisers of the national economy - have for the most part been very much over-shadowed by an out of proportionate social focus on those 'culture industries'.
It must be recognised that those 'culture industries' (TV, film, theatre, advertising, video games and internet-based) themselves typically operate with a comparatively high-cost base which is heavily amortised over domestic and export markets, and given the “created value” from mass audiences view themselves as positioned high up the value-curve; even heavily reliant upon the mid and low order domestic and foreign digital technology makers. The irony today being that so much media programming has been created that even those once considered mundane everyday commercial activities, from truck driving to the junk-trade, have been given glossy TV make-overs and fictional excitement.
By the 1990s much of that which is considered 'digital engineering' quickly followed the mechanical route to lower cost production regions, with only some of those activities seen as most important to the creative process retained domestically. These being the 'high-end' of vision and audio modelling, mixing and compilation.
Thus, for all the good work of the previously mentioned Technical Strategy Board, and its associated efforts in boosting next-generation technologies, in actuality more industrial capability may have been potentially lost by the UK than is recognised - beyond the usual cries about lost “heavy-industry” and “light engineering” - compared to the obvious leading lights of Germany, Japan and S.Korea.
So inevitably for the UK, the ever broadening, ever re-morphing arenas that might be termed 'advanced engineering' became increasingly distant, and so hidden, discipline(s) to the vast majority of British people. With likewise seemingly a forever smaller proportion of ever growing the post-graduate populace educated in specific and conjoined 'advanced engineering' disciplines.
This reality had become recognised by seniors in industry and academia some time ago, salt metaphorically rubbed into the British wound as paradoxically, emergent words and phrases such as 'cyber' to 'nano' became increasingly engrained in everyday usage with little true understanding, yet giving an outward impression that swathes of modern people are tech-literate, when obviously not so.
The Academic and Commercial Context...
It is little wonder then that seemingly of the various dedicated Technology Parks set up in the mould of the original Cambridge model have gestated and incubated so few truly advanced, high-value enterprises. Instead such locales themselves housing those 'under-formed' and 'over-formed' occupants which sit either side of the technology development “Valley of Death” (to requote the Technology Strategy Board's metaphor). Either so small as to still be very exploratory and so typically academically/governmentally / externally funded, or conversely, the research-development function of an established large company, often drawn by advantageous leasehold rates and periods.
Furthermore, in need of occupants to furnish income and appear the hive of activity intended, often what may be termed as conventional SMEs will take up residence. Thus Technology Parks are themselves caught between original local and central government high ideals and the reality of the property marketplace.
Though typically mistakenly associated with Cambridge Technology Park, the poster-child of UK high-tech enterprise that is ARM Holdings plc actually originated from and is still head-quartered in the Peterhouse Technology Park, also obviously in Cambridge.
The difference between the early days of ARM and other latter incubated ventures across town, was that ARM (Advanced RISC Machines) was effectively under the wing of the very well funded Apple Computer (now Apple Inc) and its then partner Acorn Computers. Hence it was a combination of continued strong funding from above (as part of a strategy jigsaw ) and what appears an “in perpetuity” low cost residence agreement with Peterhouse College which supported ARM's birth, growth and continued success.
Given far harsher commercial realities faced by most, such 'examplar' instances are invariably far more the exception than the rule in Britain for very good reason, with the more exposed commercial climate of the typical Technology Park apparently unable to assist what to date may have been credible new research enterprises. Consequentially, and in stark contrast, it is no surprise then that for the vast majority of newly formed advanced technology companies without such protective 'harbour walls' and 'constant liquidity levels' that to date failure has been the norm.
Instead, in Britain far more expectation, and indeed reliance, has been sought from those blue-chip players in well established sectors.
Looking forward from the TSB's findings it will continue to be the likes of Automotive, Aerospace, Computing and Software, Optical, Pharmaceutical and Chemicals which are financially strong enough, able to provide protective environments and obviously have the incentive to drive forward UK innovation, including 'advanced engineering' and 'high value manufacturing'.
Yet even these seemingly structurally strong firms face challenges, perhaps most notably a national education system which invariably to date proportionately reduced focus upon innovation, engineering and manufacturing. Thus in the modern era there has been a dearth of previously well honed new young entrants (at 16+, 18+ and even 21+) for those available research and development environments, whether academic or corporate, which themselves gradually experienced declined investment levels as the prime investment monies sought greater near guaranteed returns through the consumer and business boom of the 1990s and 2000s based upon the commercialisation and 'monetisation' of previous research work; especially so in IT.
[NB perhaps the only environment which did not suffer, with the financial means and environmental stability, was Silicon Valley, which itself went from strength to strength].
Nevertheless, British blue-chips have sought to maintain and eye on tomorrow, by either working closely with academia (from individual PhD projects to the internal 'commercial bridging' functions within universities. Examples being the likes of:
Birmingham University's 'Advanced Manufacturing' Centre :
- Computer Aided Engineering
- Laser Processing
- Intelligent Robotics
- Non-Conventional Machining
Birmingham University is one of the TSB's 'Catapult Centres' with the AMC specialising in material removal processes, whilst the Metallurgy and Materials Centre, and Chemical Engineering Centre promote 'additive' materials processes. The Manufacturing Technology Centre, a dedicated site acting as a prime 'industry bridge' is located at the new Ansty (Technology) Park in Coventry.
[NB having recognised the commercial necessity of mixed-use business parks Ansty Park has welcomed in an administrative function of Sainsbury's supermarkets and latter stage office buildings].
Warwick University's Innovative Manufacturing and Advanced Materials Centre :
- High Value Manufacturing
- National Automotive Innovation Campus
- High Value / Low Eco Impact Manufacturing
- Bio-Tech Manufacturing
Warwick likewise acts as a 'Catapult Centre' for the TSB.
Fortunate then that it is often the older industrial realms, those central to economic development over the late 19th and early 20th centuries (ie automotive, aeronautical, construction) which have provided an engineering continuity and so, in comparison with digi-tech, enabled a far stronger societal connection and thus public appreciation for conventional engineering, which in turn has links to aspects of 'advanced engineering': across materials, construction, and propulsion.
Parts 1 and 2 of this web-log illustrated those 'leading lights' that help to make up “UK plc”, such as Rolls-Royce plc, BAE plc, Ricardo plc, their respective plethoras of domestic supply-chain firms, the might of motor-sport engineering and niche vehicle producers, aswell as those new ventures which have gained increased exposure through TSB funding.
Hence, though it has undoubtedly lost ground in specific disciplines to those more techno-centric economies elsewhere, and has seen some of its domestic sectors (eg locomotive and carriage building) effectively superceded by foreign firms (ie Hitachi and Bombardier), nonetheless Britain quite obviously still retains a powerful and highly competence engineering base. Indeed it has expanding in specific sectors such as eco-mega-tower architecture (ie Foster + Partners), and though far less visible the realm of domestic habitation should also be recognised for its 'leapfrog' eco examples.
[NB However, generally the UK has been far slower to advance than the likes of Germany or Scandanavia. This technical drag because of the triple forces of: a) failed examples of past progress (ie pre-fabricated concrete towers), b) British cultural predeliction for 'olde worlde' styles and methods, but critically c) the very economic model for popular housing itself endemically “value-laden” in materials and labour of 'the trade'].
The Technical Context...
An overtly broad yet 'catch-all' summary of those individual and combined disciplines which comprise the expanding world of “advanced engineering” is much needed; so as to provide a more rounded appreciation.
For the duration of this weblog the accompanying graphic (return / scroll-up to top) provides an overview. The lower left quandrant of the Union Flag backdrop presents a 'snap-shot' diagram.
The prime historical individual technology disciplines of Mechanical Systems, Electronic Systems, Control Systems and Computer Systems are shown wholly overlapped in Venn Diagram style. This overlap used to illustrate the central idea of broad 'Mechatronics'. Likewise there are intermediary overlaps between these categories which may be viewed as distinct mutual junctures. These being respectively: Electro-Mechanics, Control Electronics, Digital Control Systems and Mechanical CAD.
A selection of those commercial sectors which deploy these systems are shown at the circumference of the roundel, including: Materials (Handling and Processing), Manufacturing, for sectors such as Automotive, Aerospace, Defense, Medical etc. Not shown is Logistics and Distribution, which with applications such as the identity-scanning QR Codes, has itself been a prime driver of intelligent control systems.
Though the diagram is itself of older style and content, it was specifically chosen by investment-auto-motives as an apt visual vehicle to demonstrate how the control systems previously researched, developed and extolled within the innards of business will slowly but practicably become the systemic enablers behind “the internet of things”.
[NB Albeit with undoubted experiences of failed specific technology lifetimes (ie convenience vs complexity vs cost vs competition: akin to Betamax vs VHS video wars, or indeed decline of Kodak vs numerous phone-camaras and dedicated digital SLR camaras)].
Two obvious examples to date being:
a) the redeployment of QR code graphics squares initially from Toyota's inventory management of car-parts to its use as information short-cut in a 'virtually enhanced', smart-phone based digital world.
b) the potential of electronic cart guidance systems transplanted from factory-floor to central urban districts for the scheduling and routing of short-hop “driverless personal pods”.
Whilst the control systems are ostensibly invisible, very visible of course are, and will be, the objects (and object assisted services) directly experienced by people.
Just as seen with the evolution and periodic re-invention of the car (- from Benz prototype to Panhard packaging, to Ford Model T re-confuration and use, to original Mini efficiency, to latterly dedicated eco BMW i3), so obviously the very physicality of the objects themselves will continually progress dependent upon needs, wants and desires; these undoubtedly in part prompted by the very evolution of broader interacting control systems.
With the advent of increased urbanisation and MegaCities, objects will be designed to befit such as world, and as such, we could well see today's standard vehicle having reached its “capability pinnacle”, with instead the future demanding greater convergence of specific functional requirements.
Such as that of small, lightweight zero emissions EV “Buggy” for the inner-city, Hybrid ICE-EV for longer travel across suburbs and possibly even return of the ICE-only Luxury Grand Tourer for inter-city and rural usage; thus returning the car to its ostensibly the “separate species” of the Edwardian age.
Each of these differing types would require alternative 'packaging', different materials, requisite propulsion systems and dedicated manufacturing methods. Such an outcome would then theoretically provide for greater efficiency within a nation's personal transport system, whereby “the sum of the parts are greater than the whole”.
When such 'visioneering' is applied to all forms of human activity – as seen starting by the very human-centric innovation of health monitoring 'smart-wear' – so it appears that the 20th century engineered world will be required to become re-engineered, so as to befit the 'intelligent' systems inter-dependently monitoring and interacting the so termed 'advanced' regions of the world of the 21st century.
At a time-point in socio-economic history when the hippy ideology of “Gaia” Mother Earth juxtaposes and inter-relates with the “World Systems” ideology born by academia, much of the apparently unsustainable “given norm” is ripe for innovation, via recycling, retro-fitment or indeed phased whole-scale re-invention.
As with the evolution of long established engineering realms, Britain should obviously seek to be a leading global light in this endeavour, and so the role of 'advanced engineering' has perhaps at last, after 50 years cast into the shadows, become recognised for its innate importance as critical driver of productivity and wealth creation.
Technology meets Arts+Crafts:
Technical innovation has typically been reached through application of logic and scientific methods, inter-disciplinary learning and optimal application.
However, whilst usually developed for the purposes of pure function, such achievements both as breakthroughs and as improved enablers have for much of mankind's time-line often been embued with complimentary artistry.
This perhaps best illustrated by highly symbolic weaponry, such as (in chronological order) the sword, the suit of armour, the canon and the gun (from early flint-locks to paired side-by-side shot-guns) and even onto the graphical embellishment of bomber and fighter fuselages (from squadron related symbolism to the Vargas 'Pin-Up' Girls seen in WW2). [These latterly redeployed commercially by Virgin Atlantic on planes and Brietling Watches in store displays, for positive connetation].
The early established gun-makers thereafter sought to differentiate and raise the value of their products via the application of engraving on the barrel(s) and especially upon mechanism side-plates, with also on occasion, in addition to the usual light-relief carved pattern for grip on the stock, the use of woodwork marquetry derived from the separate lineage of furniture / cabinet-making. Today this match of precision engineering and artistic crafts undertaken by British gunsmiths such as James Purdy and Sons, Westley Richards, Boss and Co , William and Son, William Evans, J. Rigby and Co, Watson Bros, Ray Ward, Anderson Wheeler and Holland and Holland.
As regards the art of marquetry, wherein different wood veneers are placed stylistically within the shallow recess of a wooden or even metal item – from minute keep-sake boxes through to larger decorative dedicated storage pieces through to application on bespoke furniture, the most famous contemporary British proponent is David Linley furniture, fittings and accoutrement. But there are many other lesser recognised names who maintain this millennial-old practice
As for the main body of furniture-making, whilst legendary names such as Thomas Chippendale obviously still prevail as setting a standard, today a plethora of British furniture-makers working in wood exist countrywide, each using varying degrees of labour intensiveness depending upon construction type and level of ornamentation, whether carving, marquetry and fabric for seat coverings. Names such as Murfin Ltd, Corwell, Bristows, Browns (of West Wycombe), Iain James, REH Kennedy, Touchwood UK, Chris Sharp Cabinets, Arther Brett, and Revival Beds represent a mix of enterprises typically offering period specific pieces and sets. Whilst invariably there are new names originating from universities and small workshops who offer more eclectically styles items.
In addition, metal(s) based furniture has had lesser distinction, but since the 'industrial post-modernism' influence of the 1980s to date, has gained greater profile. The trend for up-cycling metal cabinets and furniture originally made for, or indeed commissioned by government and social institutions as re-contextualised hi-style items in retail premises and bars / restaurants and latterly filtering down to trendy household interiors has created a relative new and expanding consumer market which in turn has encouraged metals-orientated crafts-people.
Whilst undoubtedly age-old, the arena of ceramics has, albeit slowly, progressed far beyond the entrenched antique idioms of 'crude' rural earthenware to 'perfect' Sevres bone china. Since the 1960s the increasing demands for high-performance “shatter-proof” durability by restaurants has progressed materials science. Whilst as hand-made, crafted high value 'art', the modern UK renaissance has been led by the artist Grayson Perry. (His surface work seeks to inform and provoke by intellectually juxtaposing overtly strong social themes and messages of modern-times, themselves overlaid onto the fragile substrate). In the more traditional manner there seems a strong amateur base of hobby potters often members of associated bodies. Whilst in direct contrast, away from 'high art' and toward the arenas of medium and mass-market production and commerce, company names like Wedgewood, Royal Doulton, Royal Worcester continue (though periodically re-capitalised reletive to the economic cycle) whilst Moorcroft, Poole and latterly Portmeirion and Bridgewater are variously renowned and maintain classic and house styles.
Elsewhere, the once high-held notion of “designer” truly indicated uniquely designer-made, yet since the 1960s onward, because of the power of the brand to intimate lifestyle, there has been a continual commercial blurring of boundaries to satisfy ever broader consumer aspirations allied with corporate need for margins and earnings growth. 'Designer' branding became exploited to create ever more nuanced stratas of price, quality, style and so appeal. The concept of mass vs medium vs niche quality and price bands had been with class-bound British society since the early 1800s, but it was not until the the disposable income and cultural sensitivities of post WW2 baby-boomers had come of age in the 1960s that UK commerce (having learned from the US boom) was able to create new pyscho-sociological layers so creating vertical stratification on top of the previous horizontal stratas, so generating a matrix effect for consumer society, this matrix invariably with its own aspirant consumer ladder. From that '60s start-point - and icons such as Terence Conran's pared-back, high-brow Scandi-Modernist inspired domesticity - that matrix grew into an ever greater consumer patchwork. Today's plethera of 'designer' applications well exemplified by the likes of (Irish born) Orla Keily, spanning originally from trendy hats onto handbags and onto kitchen-ware and even special edition Citroen cars.
However, the creativity and care of the seemingly long-lost designer-maker is still very much alive in what appear farther, less immediate, corners of consumer consciousness. Unsurprisingly, given the necessarily lengthy handwork time-scales involved and the often rare or high cost materials employed, such designer-makers invariably require premium prices.
Yet whilst channels to teach and promote such next generation individuals do exist, by way of dedicated Art Schools (eg RCA, 'Chelsea', the Princes School of Traditional Arts and other regional centres), specific start-up funding schemes (national Arts Councils), and temporary high profile exhibition space (from the dedicated Design Business Centre to Fortnum and Mason's and nationally elsewhere), such channels appear somewhat limited, often rarefied, and unsurprisingly London-centric. Encouragingly though counter-balances have emerged, such as possible 'new designer-makers' exhibition space in Harvey Nichols' stores in Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol, self-sponsored 'artists districts' necessarily migrating to cities beyond London for cost reasons, and from the local authority perspective the use of previously occupied space turned into gallery space to promote local light industry.
Most pronounced though, in the modern consumerist era is of course fashion apparel. And it is here where artistry and craftsmanship reigns supreme, given the history of clothing and accessories as social signifiers. More than elsewhere the designer label has become nigh-on ubiquitous, with the end result (itself ironic paradox) that label and product stratification and associated heirachies have arisen. From true one-off sky-high priced couture pieces born from 'cost-plus' pricing, to fashion sector business analysts' own plotting of pyramidial trickle-down business models for ever increased volumes of supposedly 'limited edition' ranges, through to high-street interpretations. The stratification eventually feeding through to the intended ironically titled “thrift shop collections” by a greater number of cash-poor, young “fashion self-directors”.
[NB The ideology of populist 'trash culture' itself recycled far upward into the accessories of designer brands, such as Moschino's 'McDonald's handbag'; so creating the supposedly intellectual irony of apparent “high-cost, throw-away”, itself 'artistically' reflective of the speedy turnover in the world of high fashion. This followed by Anya Hindmarsh's various bags referencing iconic FMCG packaging themes. Such creatives possibly thinking they are following in the hallowed footsteps of Andy Warhol and demonstrating oh so post-modern artistic awarenes].
This said, as seen in the downturn of the late '70s and early '80s, it has often been the cash-poor, but time and creativity rich, sections of society who have at critical times made greatest impact, by creating new avenues in fashion philosophy and themes.
In the UK and across the world, from apparently scantly resource beginnings, the name Paul Smith has become revered given its original evocation for classical tailoring with a twist. And whilst the Smith name has been periodically applied across various consumer spheres, from run-out specials of the original Mini to now Smith 'curated' furniture collections, the founder still holds tight control over product and shop design integrity.
Furthermore, those who do not to enter the obvious fashion industry – itself the clothing sector renamed for glamour – may well enter the theatrical, operatic, ballet or dance worlds. Herein the production dedicated costumes created must not only have visually impact, obviously befitting the character, but must also be wholly functional regards physical exertion, performance after performance, so requiring perhaps even greater quality than that of a couture piece.
Credible artistic and well crafted items undoubted deserve far more respect than recognised in the mainstream, precisely because for so long they have existed in a rarefied atmosphere.
So unfortunately whilst high end apparel has been elevated to that of almost mythical high standing, outside the high fashion arena and beyond more purist arts worlds, “arts and crafts” have become rather an anathema for the vast majority of the population. Unsurprising, since that mainstream consumer has had little opportunity to reach into arts and crafts for access and cost reasons, given the massive sway of mass produced goods which enabled affordability from the mid-point of the British industrial revolution right up until the global export drive of EM regions in the mid 1990s onward.
Lastly, keeping with textiles, there appears to have been a revival of things fabric. Possibly led (as before) by the likes of Grayson Perry, but with many younger participants for whom the austrity years have promoted “make do and mend” attitudes, which in turn leads to textiles orientated self-creation. Perry's own fabric work is itself a modern take on traditional methods, created and manufactured via CAD-CAM facilities (laptop, graphics software and downloaded to industrial loom). So as to provide new era tapestries for wall hanging which typically offer social commentary - possibly seeking to replace the horror of bland, colour coordinated 'accessory' pictures (the abhorance of anyone of creative spirit) and very possibly to supersede (or at least mask) the domestic dominance of wall mounted flat-screens.
This interestingly not for the first time in a consumerist led, materialistic, commercialised and mass manufacture world.
Social and design histories permanently retell the story of William Morris, who under the guise of socialism apparently sought to bring arts and crafts awareness to the masses. Yet interestingly also recognised optimum profitability came not from the poor masses but from the bulging purses of left-leaning upper-class, and middle-class liberals; themselves in sizeable numbers at the end of the commercially and industrial vibrant 19th century.
In this regard, as a supposed social progressive, his was a failed effort to revolutionise the mass-market's mind away from “cheap tat” with little aesthetic merit, and toward less ornate but higher quality hand and semi hand-crafted items. However, a major commercial success given the ferver and spending power of his well targeted and conquered upmarket audience.
The British middle-class of course grew immeasurably during the 20th century, at least by way of population numbers and earnings power, and somewhat by artistic understanding given the proclivity for suburban idealism. This itself originally under-pinned by the William Morris ethos and translated by Ebinezer Howard's proto-typical Garden Cities movement, which in turn formed the idealised template for the suburbs.
But today, as a result of eroded British 'grande narratives', increased cultural diversity through immigration (cultural pros and cons), an 'apartheid' educational system regards science and humanities, academia and vocational, when viewed in context of post industrial-boom decline with thereafter post credit-boom decline, it seems that the once high ideals of Arts and Crafts are largely lost. Lost not just more obviously to the high volume mass market, but worryingly, also lost to the much culturally diminished, more socially immobile middle-class.
The social application of “Arts and Crafts” in the 21st century, is perhaps more important than ever before. An over-used phrase but all too true. If honed properly it offers an up-lifting socio-economic philosophy, something critically for the national psyche and overall well-being, avoiding the increasing alienation of modern life. And as educated consumers, willing to purchase not today's immediate but empty off-the-peg 'life-styles', but the possibility of 'life-enhancing' or 'life-enriching' consumer choices; choices made from improved learning and discernment.
To this end, Britain's manufacturing future – itself centred around 'High Value Manufacturing' – should be directed at coalescing the technologies (3D, 'augmented-reality' and otherwise) which provide 'eco' and 'cyber' advancement together with a much improved mass appreciation for the intrinsically valuable application of Arts and Crafts.
Concise Conclusion -
Technology and Craftsmanship have historically been polar opposites. Tomorrow they should become entwined bed-fellows if Britain wishes to nurture a tenable and long-lasting national economic template. One better supported and re-balanced by a marriage of capital-goods intensive manufacturing and product enhancing human contribution.
To Follow (Part 5) -
An extended conclusion which captures the pertinent points of investment-auto-motive's research, observations, analysis and emergent reasoning.