ESCO’s slow start fails to dampen its big ambitions

2 mins read

It's a year or so since the publication of Electronic Systems: Challenges and Opportunities, a report that layed out a vision for the development of what was determined to be a vital part of the UK's economy.

Since then, ESCO has assumed a new meaning: now, it's the Electronic Systems Community. Looking to achieve the report's vision, the community has an industry council to drive it forward. The ESCO report had big ambitions and short timescales. In the next five years, it wanted to grow the sector's contribution to GDP from 5.4% to 7.1%, whilst adding 150,000 jobs. Not only that, it wanted to develop the UK's reputation for electronic systems innovation. However, in order to achieve big ambitions, plans have to be put into motion quickly and those plans have to deliver. Unfortunately, ESCO doesn't appear to have got off to the start which was anticipated. Warren East, ESCO chairman, admitted as much when presenting the organisation's annual report recently. "Progress has been slower than we would have hoped for," he said. "But we're aiming to accelerate in year two and to increase the effectiveness of the council. We want to raise the visibility and the profile of electronic systems so people are not just talking about the latest phone, but also about how people are inspired to come and work in the sector." This isn't to say that little has happened. ESCO has set out its ambitions and established workgroups to help achieve them. The six workgroups are: Industrial Automation; Internet of Things; Healthcare; Robotics and Autonomous Systems; Skills; and Technology. Amongst the markets which are being targeted are automotive and healthcare. East believes there is a great opportunity to sell technology to the NHS. "But the NHS is buying from overseas," he said, "because it seems that working together is too difficult. Nevertheless, we're getting clinicians and industry together and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of those discussions." Martin Donnelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), gave a slightly different view. Discussing the growing economy and the contribution which innovation can make, he said: "Improving government procurement is a strategic tool and the NHS is critical for this." East also put skills high up the agenda. "Ideas are driving our sector," he asserted, "but these need a skilled workforce and that is vital to our competitiveness." But it's industrial automation which has the biggest focus – and Industry 4.0 in particular. East commented: "Electronic systems companies will play a key role in developing the robotics, sensors and the virtual reality technology that will deliver future factories the world over." As part of this focus, ESCO's industrial automation workstream has launched a technology demonstrator at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), located near Coventry. "The demonstrator we are launching is the culmination of industry and government collaboration," East continued, "and provides a platform for companies to test and demonstrate their technology to potential customers and to conduct research simulations." As well as featuring robots and the ability for technology simulations, the demonstrator – the first of its kind in the UK – features a virtual reality 'Living Lab' which allows the user to investigate how technologies can improve productivity and energy efficiency. Access to the Living Lab is currently through ESCO's manufacturing workstream, but Macken says the organisation has approached the Government for funding to develop what she called Phase 2. "When that happens," she said, "there will be wider access to the facilities, including a dedicated website." Pictured: Warren East, left, and MTC CEO Clive Hickman, try out the 'Living Lab'