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Paul T Kidd's Competitive Manufacturing Enterprise Pages

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What is Wrong with European Manufacturing?

What is Wrong with European Manufacturing?


What is wrong with European Manufacturing? Struggling to cope with increasing global competition, Europe’s manufacturing base is being slowly eroded away. But the problem is not a new one. As far back as the 1970s, UK manufacturing was probably the first to experience the effects of increasing global competition, and now, manufacturing industries in all the nations of the European Union are feeling the pressure. So what is the answer? This must surely be to invest in industry-driven research of course. This is the latest cry, the latest silver bullet. Add in some buzz words (and quite dated ones from the late 90s about value adding chains, and competition among these chains (as opposed to competition among single enterprise entities) and one has the solution to the problem of lack of competitiveness.

Well, actually one does not, because industry-driven research is what national governments and the European Commission (and industry itself) have been supporting since the early 1980s, and to what effect? And as for the use of buzzword, well, that actually may be part of the problem. So what is wrong with European Manufacturing?

Part of the answer lies with the people who work in manufacturing—with executives, managers, engineers, and technologists. These are the people who have the power to choose to do something different, but choose not to. And the academics who educate the next generation of manufacturing professionals must also accept blame, for they too are often part of the problem. All these people are living in the past, caught up in paradigms that lead most European Manufacturing companies to do the right things, only 15 to 20 years after they are relevant!

If manufacturing research stakeholders are just waking up to the importance of competing value adding chains, well over ten years since they were first discussed by business thinkers, then when are they ever going to catch-up with current business insights? The world of business changes very rapidly and there is no point in turning up for a train, ten years after it left the station.

It is time to change and the best way to do this is to stop investing public funds in research ideas that that are based on the past. Time instead to focus on supporting research that leads to transformational changes and radical business approaches that wrong-foot those global competitors that people in Europe are so keen to blame for our Manufacturing industries woes. It is not externalities that are the problem, but internalities. So, what is wrong with European Manufacturing? Nothing that changing people, and what they assume and think, and the way they behave, cannot begin to resolve. It is time also for vision and leadership, which today, as in the past, is missing.

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