Almost two years on from the Brexit vote, manufacturers still know very little about how the future business landscape will look for those employing overseas staff, importing products and exporting their goods to the continent. EEF is lobbying government on a number of key areas including access to key markets for goods and services, ensuring regulatory certainty, addressing the UK skills gap and having a domestic policy focused on shoring up investment.

But despite this short-term uncertainty, the wheels of the manufacturing sector continue to turn, and the North West’s makers are looking beyond the next few months at what the coming decades will hold.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already beginning to revolutionise the manufacturing process from top to bottom as cyber-physical systems communicate with each other, bringing new levels of autonomy and efficiency to production and greater personalisation for customers.

Attendees at EEF’s recent Manufacturing Connect event, held at EEF member Siemens’s Congleton plant, witnessed first-hand the way that blending technological advancements with traditional manufacture can benefit business and society. The company is embracing digitisation and using Virtual Reality to improve the way it develops products and optimise the production process.

Innovation is happening in all its forms, though, and I have been lucky to uncover some of the North West’s success stories in the past couple of months. EEF organised a visit to Thornton-Cleveleys-based polymer manufacturer Victrex in recent weeks, which was attended by Wajid Khan, Labour MEP for the North West of England.

The company continues to invest in research and development to access new markets in environments where high performance polymers can replace other materials, including the aerospace, automotive and medical industries. This included the completion of its £10m Polymer Innovation Centre last year.

Mr Khan discussed issues currently affecting the company with executive director Tim Cooper. This included progress on Brexit negotiations and getting the best deal for the company’s international footprint. The two also discussed skills the company would need to continue its innovation and growth.

Skills are never far from the agenda in manufacturing, and attracting talented young people to drive forward 4IR and other innovations is recognised as a key hurdle to overcome, especially when the future of access to labour from the continent is under review. However, constructive steps are being taken all over the North West to address short term gaps and plan for a bright manufacturing future.

The devolution process is well underway in the region, bringing with it greater policy power in areas like skills, investment and infrastructure, which is being driven locally – putting the North West in control, more than ever, of its own manufacturing future.

Andy Burnham is leading the charge in Greater Manchester as metro mayor, with Steve Rotheram his Liverpool counterpart. This is giving manufacturers the power to shape the future of their business landscape.

Steve Rotheram’s Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is working with the Liverpool City Region LEP to deliver the region’s growth strategy. Advanced manufacturing is recognised as one of the region’s core sectors and this has seen the creation of the LCR 4.0 project, which provides support for companies working on Industry 4.0 technologies. It aims to make Liverpool a hotbed for the future of manufacturing.

EEF is a member of LCR4.0’s Making It board and it’s been an eye-opener to see first-hand the level of engagement between Liverpool City Region’s leadership, and its manufacturing sector.