DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.53289/KZNW7745

Focussing insights and talent to improve manufacturing performance

Katherine Bennett

Katherine Bennett CBE FRAeS joined the High Value Manufacturing Catapult as CEO in June 2021 after 16 years at Airbus where she was a Senior Vice President. At Airbus, Katherine was the UK voice and face of the global aerospace manufacturer and her responsibilities included developing the strategy of Airbus in the UK, leading the company’s public affairs activities, high-profile media engagement and representing the company on various committees, boards and initiatives including Ventilator Challenge UK.


  • Manufacturing is still being buffeted by global cross-currents that impact on industry
  • Catapults exist to bridge the gap between universities and industry
  • The challenge is to make economic progress consistent with our climate change goals
  • Catapults act as a link between universities, national labs such as NPL and industry
  • There is so much potential that we can realise by working closer together.

The High Value Manufacturing Catapult works with many sectors, from nuclear to pharma, energy to construction, automotive to aerospace. We work with initiatives such as the Faraday Challenge and on projects such as lightweight materials, medical tech, vaccines and composites.

At our Composites Centre in Bristol, we have Europe's largest advanced manufacturing capability. Since the Catapult was established, it has supported 22,000 companies. Catapults are about bridging the gap between UK universities and industries: indeed, several of our centres are affiliated with universities.


People have different views about what the term ‘hardtech’ means. I describe it as the application of engineering and science in combination with hardware and software to solve a problem, whether a specific industry issue or a particular business challenge.

In early 2023, the global pandemic and the European war continue to impact many of our industry sectors, as well as other issues such as climate change which is increasingly affecting us all. The thread running through the solution to many of the challenges is the power of high value manufacturing. This is a critical enabler in arriving at the solutions needed to move in the right direction and strengthen our national resilience – we need to be better prepared against future shocks that may hit industry.

Levelling up is an important focus across the UK. Manufacturing in this country is worth around £180 billion a year and the average wage is 12% higher than for the economy as a whole. How do we help then to level up and contribute to bridging that income gap? One way is to focus on creating commercialisation, scaling up more low carbon and sustainable options for industry, and working with our partners to find better ways, for example, of measuring and reporting environmental factors across the whole product lifecycle.

The equation that we are trying to solve is one where we can make economic progress while also meeting our climate change goals. Deep collaboration strengthens climate action and supply-chain stability in the UK, while at the same time making it possible to coordinate performance improvements and policy decisions for entire sectors and geographic regions.

In business, there is always the bottom line. We have to demonstrate how measuring emissions can actually help improve business, creating a magnet for inward investment from international companies who are looking for simpler, easier ways to reduce the report their lifecycle impacts. Leveraging that global market will create long term jobs.

Sustainable steel

To give a couple of examples of projects that are very apposite at the moment, there is currently a big discussion within the steel industry about a sustainable future – sustainable steel. This affects so many sectors and the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry is working with the construction sector (a big user of steel), as well as experts in composites and additive manufacturing, to help the steel industry improve their situation.

Since I joined the Catapult, I have seen very impressive results just from bringing the right people together. For example, the Ventilator Challenge brought aerospace and automotive companies together in a very short period of time to build 13,000 ventilators in just 12 weeks. People brought a huge amount of effort and dedication to that project – it really does need to be better known.

I was at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington recently, and aside from my interest as a non-engineer at seeing the work under way in their labs (I saw their work on optical lattice clocks for example) we had a discussion about closer collaboration. The NPL is a great national asset.

Another project being pursued there is called ‘Optimum’ (Optical Tracking Instrument for Measurement Using Multilateration). NPL is working with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in North Wales, and with Airbus, to develop a new way of measuring using a self-calibrating coordinating measurement system. It was the brainchild of two people who got together in a room and found a solution to a problem!

Offshore energy

Another opportunity where our centres want to collaborate with industry is on offshore energy. There is so much more that can be done in the design and development of more environmentally-friendly products such more sustainable blades, etc, for offshore wind turbines.

Finally, it is not just a question of high value manufacturing but also of high value design. This is another area where the UK has significant expertise. There are people I worked alongside at Airbus in Bristol, who spend their

lives designing more environmentally-friendly wings and helping to reduce fuel burn. That same laser-focus and dedication on improvement in design and manufacture is something that has really impressed me since I started work at the Catapult. There is so much potential that we can realise by working closer together.