26 Feb Foundry to foundry – Encouraging Innovation Collaboration

Supply chain innovation collaboration is a common activity in the UK’s cast metals sector, but less collaboration exists between foundry to foundry, study finds.

The findings are from the first phase of a research study focused on practices that contribute to productivity improvements and possible barriers to innovation collaboration. Segmented into three phases over a three-year period, the study – ‘Diffusing Excellence Across UK Foundries and Metal-Forming Firms’ – is being undertaken by Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) at the Warwick Business School, in conjunction with the Cast Metals Federation (CMF) and the Confederation of British Metalforming (CBM), as part of the UK government industrial strategy.

Key findings show that whilst many foundries consider innovation as a practice they engage in, they are particularly related to the business strategy within the supply chain; for example, the creation of new products, novelty or finding a new alternative, significant step change, solving problems and technological breakthrough.

In general, smaller companies consider innovation in terms of creation of new products for competitive advantage, whilst medium-sized companies and suppliers relate to innovation with regards to incremental changes that improve products, processes and services to meet customer demands and market expectations. Diversification of business to spread risk was also pinpointed as an innovation driver.

Innovation partnership types can currently be split into five areas: partnership with universities, research centres, trade associations, external partners, and within supply chains. However, the practice of developing new inventions or creating new products between foundries is less common and is more likely to occur in terms of outsourcing rather than innovation collaboration. Barriers to such collaborative projects are cited as: market competition, trust, IP ownership and management, size of company, knowledge, and financial and time constraint. Concerns over revealing competitive advantages is a dominant factor.

The research also shows that in-house research & development is the most popular form of innovation, thus keeping the activity within the confines of the organisation.

Findings also indicate that trustworthiness plays a key role in decisions to collaborate as is lack of knowledge of capabilities and creativity of different companies. However, on a positive note, respondents identified that methods of understanding the capabilities of a potential collaborative partner, as: exhibitions and conferences, internal research, supply chain partners and trade associations. Clearly, this places active CMF members, who engage with the Trade Association and network with other members, at an advantage.

Speaking about the initial findings, Cast Metals Federation CEO Dr Pam Murrell FICME said: “This highlights the very real value of networking through Trade Association membership, not least in terms of fact-finding exercises. However, it should also be remembered that collective thinking and campaigning can lead to greater representation not just with government but with OEMs, offering SMEs the ability to engage further with their potential customer base.”

The next phase of the project will focus on the development of robust and generalisable outcomes based on preliminary findings from the first phase qualitative study, by use of a larger sample size. This is to inform a detailed understanding of innovation collaboration practice, the degree of adoption of innovation collaboration, barriers to collaborative innovation, the influence of ambition on innovation adoption, and extent of digital adoption across the sector.



  • A key ambition of the Industrial Strategy is to close the gap between the UK’s most productive companies and the rest. This project, funded by the ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council) and undertaken in partnership with the ERC (Enterprise Research Centre) team at the Warwick Business School, two industry lead-bodies; CMF (Cast Metals Federation) and CBM (Confederation of British Metal-forming), aims to identify those innovations which have led to significant productivity improvements in leading-edge firms, explore the barriers and incentives for diffusing these innovations throughout the sector and develop strategies to promote diffusion.
  • In the first phase (February 2018 – January 2019) 25 interviews were conducted across the UK metal sector, of which 13 were from the cast metals sector, to provide answers to the research questions for this study. Suppliers were also interviewed. Interviewees comprised of CEOs, Managing Directors, and Managers working across roles focused on innovation, R&D, business development, market expansion, and product and process development.


Further Reading

Nola Hewitt-Dundasa, Areti Gkypalib and Stephen Roperb


Does learning from prior collaboration help firms to overcome the ‘two-worlds’ paradox in university-business collaboration?


Author details: a Enterprise Research Centre and Queen’s University Management School, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, BT9 5EE, United Kingdom, b Enterprise Research Centre and Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom

Further Details: Dr Pam Murrell, Cast Metals Federation, admin@cmfed.co.uk, tel: 0121 601 6397


Abigail Southall
Abigail Southall