Northwest Aerospace Alliance Annual Conference

We spent a fascinating day at the NWAA’s annual conference last Thursday as part of Finch’s drive into the Manufacturing sector. It was great to immerse ourselves in another industry, get a better understanding of the issues they face and generally improve our understanding of our clients’ and prospective clients’ challenges. Thursday was no exception – we had a great day, met some interesting people and learnt a huge amount.


Some of the key challenges facing the Aerospace manufacturing industry in the North West are similar to other industries. They include:


·        Skills Shortage – not just attracting and retaining young talent via apprenticeships and graduates, but the conference also recognised the need to maintain and improve the skills of  Learning from other sectors more experienced workers in an increasingly competitive world. They are learning from sectors such as Automotive.

·        Competition from abroad – the UK is the second largest Aerospace manufacturer in the world, only beaten by the USA, and competition is fierce not only from other European countries but increasingly from Asia.  The need to cut costs without affecting quality is common across many areas.

·        The need to collaborate – probably one area where the Aerospace industry is at the leading edge, with major manufacturers relying on their supply chain more than ever.  Generally between 75 and 80% of any major component’s value is supplied by sub contractors rather than the main supplier.  As a result, responsibility for innovation is shared between all parties.

·        Use of new technology – these range from new methods of production through the use of AI to the adoption of Industry 4.0.


One other interesting observation was that, like every area and industry, Aerospace loves its own language – from NPI’s, Catapult Centres, rate readiness, LCC (No not Lancashire Cricket Club!) and all the usual business speak.  If we had been playing BS Bingo we would have had a whale of a time!


There were some very specialist discussions around challenges that are unique to the sector, such as how manufacturers are going to ramp up production to meet the increasing demands of major providers.  20% growth in an industry already struggling to cope is a serious challenge.


Similarly, the need to prove your green credentials and to meet legislative requirements from around the world will always be a challenge.  I personally hadn’t even heard of “Conflict Minerals” never mind considered this as an issue.


Finally, me being me, I always remember the off the wall comments and topics.  I found the presentation by David Short of BAE Systems on maintaining competitive advantage in the Military field fascinating.  Particularly his historical review of the battles of Thermopylae, Crecy and Britain and the reasons as to how new technology affected the outcomes.

For those interested it was 15 foot spears and heavy shields – the longbow and radar respectively.


However, for me the one take away came from Dr Gareth Williams of Airbus, describing a wing as “a fuel tank with 14,000 rivets in it or 14,000 opportunities to puncture it” – Brilliant.


Ged Smith, Finch Client Director