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Q&A with Philippa Glover of CNC Robotics

We spoke with Philippa Glover, Managing Director at CNC Robotics. Here she talks about her role, her views on being a female MD, the future of automation and working with our Finance for Industry (FFI) team.

Tell me about your role and your background...

As an MChem graduate from the University of Sheffield, I have always been interested in working in the industry. Over the past 17 years, I have been fortunate enough to work in various roles and manufacturing industries. However, it is only after having my children that I discovered my drive to make a positive difference using the skills I acquired along the way and developing and honing new ones.

After working in large corporates for most of my career, I now draw on that experience at CNC Robotics in my first Director level role as the company's Managing Director. Every day I use my passion, integrity, and collaborative style to take a hands-on approach to balance the daily demands of a small business, leading transformation change and championing UK manufacturing.

CNC Robotics was founded in 2008 – tell me about the journey…

Husband-and-wife team Jason and Madina Barker own CNC Robotics. Jason is a serial innovator and used to own a theatre set construction business. As a classically trained sculptor, he has always had a creative approach to problem-solving as the economic crash was looming back in 2008.

Jason started to look at alternative ways to make large complex-shaped parts. Whilst there were machines available as an SME, he didn't have significant capital to invest. Jason started to look at more innovative, cost-effective solutions by turning a robot into a milling machine.

He soon learnt he was good at it and enjoyed making robots dance much more than his scenic construction work. Through trial and error, Jason learnt that that was real potential in the marketplace and, through his creative approach, unlocked the hidden capability to use robotics differently from how we traditionally think about them.

After successfully designing and building several robotic machining systems, he sold his previous business, so CNC Robotics was born.

I joined the company in Nov 2018, and it has been a real privilege to curate the business's growth story.  

What would a 'typical' day look like for you?

As a mum of two kids, my day typically starts with balancing parenting duties and getting ready for work. I'm often first out of the house as my husband pretty much works from home permanently now.

We are fortunate to live in the beautiful seaside town of West Kirby, meaning I commute through the Queensway Tunnel every day. I use this time to listen to a podcast or two. Whilst this isn't consistent, I can feel the difference when I do, as they almost always help me collect my thoughts and inspire me to act.

I like to start the day with a nice coffee, check-in with the team and the latest UK manufacturing news. Google Daily Alerts are a must and enable me to keep abreast of what's happening. It's surprising what you learn and how this can help set you up for a day.

My day gets inundated with meetings, emails, and calls. If I am in the office, I join our morning meeting before kicking off the day's conference calls, but usually, I am out and about. Leading a small business is all about balance - balancing tactical day-to-day activities with strategic positioning and ensuring you take a step forward every day even if you've just taken two steps back. 

What was the impact of the pandemic on your business and the wider manufacturing / robotics sector?

The pandemic has helped us unlock new capabilities and taught manufacturers what the word resilience means. For CNC Robotics, the pandemic taught us the value of people, strong communications, and marketing.

Without people, businesses can't function. We were fortunate enough that we didn't have to furlough, although, in the early days, it felt like a brave decision. But our people's tenacity and thirst for innovation drove us forward.

Without a strong marketing and communication plan, the business would not have been visible to our current and future clients, focusing on impact and making a difference for the company and the sector we represent. We are a regular on regional, national, and even appeared once on international news. Raising the profile of manufacturing and the role we all play, highlighting that SMEs do have a voice.  

Did the pandemic stimulate or dampen innovation?

The pandemic made us all think differently and look for new ways of doing things. It came at a time of challenge for businesses and helped us take an objective look at what we do and how we do it.

For the company, there were areas where we innovated and others where we struggled to get new ideas off the ground and implemented. This experience was echoed across our peer group.

Thanks to the support from Liverpool Combined Authority, we secured Future Innovation Funding to support an NPD project we had wanted to do which has been a catalyst for further innovation within the business.

Is Brexit having any meaningful impact on CNC Robotics? (If yes, what?)

As a business, we spent a lot of time preparing for Brexit and dealing with initial shock waves of supply chain challenges, rising costs, and issues with the movement of goods. It is echoed across the sector as manufacturing deals with troubling supply chains, rising costs and skills shortages. The impact will be long and far-reaching for the sector.

Focus on sustainability is becoming increasingly important for businesses, both from a commercial and an ethical perspective. What are you doing to ensure CNC Robotics operates sustainably, and how do your products contribute to a more sustainable world?

As a business, we are just scratching the surface, and I think it's important to recognise where you are and where you aren't. We are focusing on how we can positively impact our environment through energy efficiency, the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and adopting manufacturing best practice tools such as lean and 5s.

This year we will be accessing some of the support on offer through our Low Carbon initiative here in Liverpool to develop our plans further.  

As a female MD in a prominent sector, do you see yourself as a role model?

It is hard not to as there aren't many female MDs around. It was only after having my children and going through redundancy whilst on maternity leave that I started to recognise that I had a role to play. I didn't set out to be an MD - I set out to make a difference.

Is enough being done to encourage more women into the sector? What more could be done?

We still have a long way to go. Sadly, there are still industry events where a female's place is often perceived as ornamentation on company stands. It can take place in the same halls where someone is delivering a STEM event on how to promote and encourage a more diverse and inclusive workforce. There is still a huge contradiction in the industry.

What advice would you give to a woman who wants to pursue a career in your sector?

Manufacturing is a place to build a rewarding, prosperous career and make a difference in people's daily lives. I have met many inspiring role models in my career who continue to empower and inspire me.

I'll tell you a secret most of them are not women. Just because you are a woman doesn't mean you need to surround yourself with other women to succeed. Remember you have a seat at the table and that people respect you for who you are and the added value you bring. 

Yours is an increasingly fast-moving sector that is very innovative – how do you know what to back – and what to ignore?

We focus on designing and building systems that draw on our key strengths as a business but also help us to effectively solve our clients’ current and future challenges. We back our clients, and they back us.

Sometimes we are delivering a system design we have provided multiple times before. Other times we are creating something new. We support the things that matter to our clients and will make a difference to them.

Looking ahead, what are some of the exciting things we can look forward to?

Robotic Machining and large format additive manufacturing have the potential to transform companies and unlock hidden productivity. We are looking to productise further what we do and clarify our offer to the market. Whist we think it's simple, much more education is needed.

The 4th industrial revolution is predicted to see many manual jobs being automated – what is your view as to the benefits (or otherwise)? 

Industrial revolutions have taught us that with progress comes opportunities, new jobs and prosperity. There is always an inter-industry effect, or some would say a silver lining.

By adopting technology such as robotics and automation, we will see productivity gains that lower production costs, often contributing to the growth and the creation of higher-skilled roles.

Higher demand and more production raise demand in the supporting industries, which continues to have a knock-on effect across the supply chain and positively impacts society and the economy as a whole.

What's it like working with FFI – why do you continue to deal with us?

FFI are specialists at what they do and provide invaluable help, support and advice to businesses looking at investing in new capital purchases. Our clients need a trusted pair of hands to help them explore what is available.

They don't just care about understanding business and how we work but also about getting to know our clients and how they best can support them. We work with FFI because we met two people who care (and continue to do so).

It is because of Andy Bowyer and Oliver Shaw that we continue to work together. It is a testament to their approach that we are putting on our first open house since 2019 in partnership with FFI to help inspire, educate, and connect our networks.