Sunday, September 12, 2021

What do we mean by manufacturing?

I tend to see manufacturing, as distinct from making, where there is an element of mass production and/or mechanisation. 

In historic terms, we see manufacturing appearing when textiles were produced in a manufactory such as a mill driven by water power, instead of the cottage.  Birmingham gunsmiths offer a different example with the manufacturing process split down into constituent parts with each carried out by a different person, often in a different workshop. We can see how the production line developed from this.

A related question is which pairs of hands are manufacturing and which are providing a related service. The Office of National Statistics, I think, stumbled across this issue when comparing manufacturing employment over the post war period where they saw services being outsourced and so the related employees no longer being included in the returns made by manufacturing companies. This links to an example I found on a manufacturing blog in which manufacturing companies are placed in the spotlight. I was surprised to find a component distributor included and was told that it was part of the supply chain.

There are then questions of ownership and geography. Rolls-Royce and JCB are British manufacturing companies which manufacture both in the UK and elsewhere. Nissan is a Japanese company which manufactures in many countries including Britain; the same is true of the growing number of electric vehicle related companies building manufacturing plant in Britain. Some toy manufacturers, for example, who used to manufacture in the UK now have their products made in China Are they all British manufacturers? 

What about Manufacturers and makers? This image from the Bovey Tracy Craft Fair shows a few of the two hundred stands where makers sell the pieces they have made. This is a vibrant part of the economy and can lead to manufacturing.

I have friends who design and make table wear. If a particular design attracts great interest they may ask 'manufacturing' businesses to make them. They are no longer hand made, but who is the manufacturer? An article in Monocle magazine tells of the revival in Stoke’s pottery manufacturers. Another friend told me of Somerset textile factories which are more and more undertaking contract work for makers. 

Are they all part of the bigger manufacturing picture ?

The British electronics company ARM came out of Acorn computers where it designed operating systems. These then have to be printed on silicon chips. Are both parts manufacturing? ARM decided to licence its designs for other companies to process  is it still a manufacturer? A comparison is with EMI which designed the brain scanner. They had a choice of whether to make it themselves or license the design for others to make. They chose the first route only to find themselves unable to meet demand..

You can read my take on How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World  


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How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World is now available to pre-order

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