Are Perceptions Right About Manufacturing? An Interview with Tom Lane

Are Perceptions Right About Manufacturing? An Interview with Tom Lane

Dull, dirty, dangerous and in decline. This is how some people still see manufacturing in the UK. However, as Tom Lane of the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) points out, these views are inaccurate and outdated.

In this Manufacturing Matters Magazine interview, Tom explains how manufacturing is undergoing significant, positive change, and why we should be prepared to alter our perception of it.


Manufacturing Diversity

“There’s a tendency to view manufacturing as a single, monolithic construct. This unfortunately then evokes the idea of it being slow, lumbering and outdated, when nothing could be further from the truth.”

“The UK’s manufacturing sector is diverse, and increasingly so. It ranges from subsectors such as food products to other, niche suppliers of technological solutions.”


“There is a growth in regional manufacturing centres, acting as hubs which then access localised supply chains. This agility makes modern manufacturers both dynamically responsive and proactive in how they adapt to meet the demands of the market”

Tom Lane, Manufacturing Technologies Association


These developments demonstrate, as the MTA has reported, that manufacturing’s impact has been underestimated, especially as it supports other industries, such as catering and logistics.

“There are growing networks whose interdependencies create a strength that individual manufacturers can draw on.”


Precision in Productivity

The emphasis for manufacturing is now on precision and harnessing technology to improve processes, shorten supply chains and bring production as close to demand as possible.

“After an era of mass production, we are entering an age of mass customisation.”


“Manufacturers must become more efficient in meeting the expectations of end-users and the way they will do this is with smart technology”

Tom Lane, Manufacturing Technologies Association


The UK Government’s Made Smarter Review looks at how manufacturers might make the most of adopting digital technology to increase the sector’s growth.

Industrial digital technology is set to transform UK manufacturing, and the suppliers and creators of this technology can help speed up the whole process of prototyping and production.

The review suggests that industrial digital technology (IDT) could boost manufacturing in the UK by £455bn over a 10 year period.


 A Dynamic Employer

Employment in UK manufacturing is growing, according to a recent survey of purchasing managers working in manufacturing.

“The sector has been expanding. Manufacturing jobs are becoming more specialised, requiring a skilled, adaptable workforce. This is why there is an upskilling agenda.”


Tom Lane - Manufacturing Technologies Association

Tom Lane


While some see the growth of artificial intelligence as a challenge to current employment levels, the MTA stresses that it will bring with it new opportunities for a more skilled workforce.

“The idea of manufacturing jobs as being merely dull and repetitive is outdated. The rise of robotics may well remove the repetitiveness, but it will mean other human-led tasks become critical in the production process. People will always need to be on hand to support these systems.”


Perceptions Count

While manufacturing continues to evolve, it is vital that people gain a clearer understanding of it.

Perceptions matter when it comes to manufacturing, because they help drive investment in the sector. Also, showing it in a positive light will help boost the skilled recruitment it needs to thrive in the future.”

“Manufacturing is different from how it has been in the past,” Tom concludes, “but it is a growing, vital force.

Manufacturing Matters Magazine thanks Tom Lane for his insights in this interview.  To discover more out the Manufacturing Technologies Association and how it supports its members, please call 0207 298 6400  or visit