Smart materials and new technologies are the future of manufacturing. But the key to this evolution will be a new type of broker who understands these new technologies and can explain to potential investors the new business models that they enable.

The problem currently is that private equity funders, banks and parent company funders used to backing traditional manufacturing often lack understanding of emerging technologies. This is a serious issue because techniques such as 3D printing and smart materials like graphene present big opportunities for manufacturers.

These technologies offer businesses the chance to capitalise on flexible, agile manufacturing systems and get products to market quickly. Taking an agile approach and manufacturing products close to your markets means you can respond quickly to changing demand or offer mass customisation. This means you can hold less stock and eliminates or reduces some of the risks in outsourcing manufacturing to the other side of the world.

Agile manufacturing meets the needs of increasingly well-informed customers. With access to the internet and mobile media, they are aware of new products and technology trends globally. This informs their buying decisions and manufacturers must adapt more quickly than previously.

Following the distributed approach, the manufacturer could develop a new product and produce it in batches as small as a single item. If the product succeeds, they could use a network of other manufacturers to meet the demand – sourcing them from the internet cloud and sending them the source code they need to produce the product under licence.

These sorts of innovations are already happening. For example, the aerospace industry is using 3D printing technology to reduce material content and speed up manufacturing for complex components.

The challenge for manufacturers who are embracing these sorts of opportunities is finding investors with the expertise to assess their potential – particularly as investors remain risk-averse.

If investors and manufacturers can get together behind new adaptable approaches to high-value manufacturing, there will be other knock-on benefits. These range from improved cash flow to re-shoring of manufacturing operations.

I’ve seen first-hand on Arup projects how manufacturing close to a customer in the UK has enabled businesses to be more reactive and resilient – with a resulting cash benefit. And I’m confident that if more investors can be matched with manufacturers taking these smart, adaptable approaches then the sector will prosper.