Think of Brazil and your thoughts probably turn to World Cup winning football, Sugarloaf Mountain or its recent successful bid to host the 2016 Olympics. You may not immediately associate Brazil with innovation and industrial success.
However, findings from a recent study tour of the country by students from the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) have illustrated the potential of the South American nation.
Their investigation revealed that Brazil has developed forward-thinking energy policies, boasts innovative manufacturing practices and has developed world-leading industry. And, as one of the so-called BRIC Countries, (Brazil, Russia, India and China) has been tipped to become one of the world’s leading economies by 2050.
The students’ findings were unveiled on the day a UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) supported-event was held in the Brazilian capital. UKTI is staging the event in Brasilia – attended by Professor Mike Gregory, head of the IfM – to showcase UK Advanced Engineering expertise and bring UK and Brazilian companies together to form successful partnerships in the Advanced Engineering sector.
Each year masters students from the IfM’s Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management course undertake an overseas research project. This year 25 students visited Brazil and focused on the industrialised “Golden Triangle”, an area of Brazil between Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.
The tour group has just issued its findings which reveal Brazil as well placed to fulfil its economic potential. The country is investing heavily in hydroelectric and nuclear energy in order to help power its industrial growth – even though it possesses huge oil reserves. Rather than base its energy need on the fast-dwindling resource, it is instead using profits from the oil industry as a ‘pension’ to fund further expansion.
Tom Ridgman, Tour leader and key member of the ISMM team, said “The Brazilians have adopted a very positive thoughtful type of approach to development .They have invested heavily in technology and are an oil rich nation which hasn’t pegged its energy needs to oil.
“In 1994 they launched the real stabilisation plan. Originally it was focused on stabilising the currency, strengthening agriculture and reducing the foreign trade balance, but the real success of the plan was to sow the seeds for successful future government interventions.”
This has enabled the Brazilian government to encourage foreign investment in the country with tax breaks and other incentives. This influx of cash has allowed the building of improved infrastructure, development of housing and educational programmes for workers.
Frank Hay, who took part in the tour as a student, said: “They are doing things really well by putting great store in human capital.
“Scholle, a multinational packaging firm, has seen its Brazil operation outperforming other plants in the organisation. It leads on 7 of 8 performance metrics. A mobile phone company are producing units cheaper than they can in China.
“They’ve achieved this through some innovative practices. For example twice-a-day Scholle halt production so staff can do yoga. The result has been to cut down staff repetitive strain injuries, improve fitness, moral and output.”
The Brazilians have also tried to tackle issues of infrastructure and worker welfare. Nuclear energy provider Electrobas has built power stations and then created worker towns around it, providing cheap, safe public transportation systems, education programmes and subsidised health care.
Firms are also embracing environmental sustainability with many examples of firms using sustainable energy to power production or recycling resources.
Brazil is also investing heavily in research and technology. It has invested in its own synchrotron – a smaller version of the large hadron collider – has a highly developed digital communication sector and is a world leader in bio-ethanol fuels. And in firms like oil firm Petrobas, they have companies which can compete on the global stage.
Tom Ridgman said: “So do we believe this BRIC story? Something makes me think they are very well positioned.
“Over the coming decades they will face issues, how to manage the influx of oil cash without seeing a decline of manufacturing – the so-called Dutch Disease and managing social inequality.
“This is still a country where people in Sao Paolo regularly commute 200 miles by helicopter while in other parts of the country they live at subsistence levels.
“But also will they continue to get interventions right? The interventions up until now have been extremely beneficial, the challenge is to ensure they remain so.”
Notes to Editors
The University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), is a division of the Department of Engineering. The IfM brings together expertise in management, economics and technology to address the full spectrum of industrial issues. Its activities integrate research and education with practical application in companies, providing a unique environment for the creation of new ideas and approaches to modern industrial practice. The IfM works closely with industry, at a regional, national and international level, providing strategic, technical and operational expertise to help companies to grow and to become more competitive.
2. MPhil in Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management (ISMM)
The MPhil in Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management (ISMM) is a nine-month postgraduate programme designed to provide graduates with the technical skills, personal development and industrial experience they need to become effective immediately in their early careers in industry. Most applicants have an engineering degree but graduates of other numerate disciplines are also eligible. A large part of the time is spent in industrial companies, doing a series of short projects.